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The Third Supreme Army Command and German War Aims (May 11, 1918)

During the last two years of the war, the debates on war aims and domestic political reform associated a compromise peace with the end of a semi-authoritarian constitutional system. In the eyes of its leaders at least, Germany had entered and prosecuted the war in order to maintain the old order, which was now under attack from within. The decision to pursue a compromise peace thus lay in the hands of the German leadership, the representatives of classes whose power and privilege would have been sacrificed in compromise but validated in victory. The military victories in the south and the east had buoyed German spirits at the close of 1917 and raised prospects of a triumphant end to the war in 1918. The eastern victories seemed to offer an opportunity to win in the west, before the anticipated arrival of the Americans in late 1918. Here, we see members of the Supreme Command discuss the precarious situation of the Central Powers in May 1918, after the Ludendorff Offensive had failed to turn the tide on the western front.

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[Spa, May 11, 1918]

The Chancellor opens the conference by explaining that the upcoming meeting between the two monarchs in Spa is to be used to lay the foundation for renewing the alliance with Austria-Hungary. He reads the draft of an agreement between the two monarchs and explains that it seems advisable to put the political alliance at the top of the agenda.

General Ludendorff agrees.

State Secretary von Kühlmann thinks that one has to agree immediately about the duration of the alliance. Twenty years appear appropriate to him. The negotiations that regulate relations between Austria and Hungary usually cover a period of 20 years. He cannot recommend a shorter period, since it is now essential to demonstrate both to the domestic population and the rest of the world that Austria-Hungary is willing and compelled to remain on Germany’s side. A period shorter than fifteen years is probably out of the question, because no economic alliance can be envisaged for less than fifteen years.

General Ludendorff is of the opinion that twenty years is probably too short a period.

State Secretary von Kühlmann also approves of a longer period of time and adds that the relationship between the two empires should also be subject to termination at the discretion of each party.

Ambassador Graf Wedel remarks that Graf Czernin has been thinking of a period of thirty years for the alliance, whereas Kaiser Karl had once spoken out in favor of 25 years.

The Chancellor concludes that general agreement reigns on this issue and that a final decision about the duration of the alliance can be reserved for discussions between the ministers.

At this point the question of the military alliance comes up for discussion.

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