Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914–1918 by Alexander Watson - review by Norman Stone

Norman Stone

Building Mitteleuropa

Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914–1918


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There is a spectral presence in today’s Europe and it comes from the world of this book. When the Soviet Union broke up, its western regions saw the revival of states first brought into being by Germany almost a hundred years ago. On 3 March 1918, the Central Powers forced the Russians to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and recognise the German satellite states established on the richest quarter of European Russia. From Finland, helped into independence by General von der Goltz, to Georgia, where Graf von der Schulenburg established a nationalist army, a new German empire was developing. The essential part was Ukraine, forty-million strong and rich in minerals.

The treaty was not a success. The Germans are not very good at taking over other people’s countries. Nonetheless, there was a coherent programme in eastern Europe. In 1915 Friedrich Naumann, a well-known, honest and well-intentioned liberal, wrote a book entitled Mitteleuropa, which became a wartime bestseller. It set out the programme: a sort of Germanic commonwealth, with free trade between Berlin and points east, as far as Baghdad. German industry would slip in alongside Austrian banks and everyone else’s agriculture. In May 1918 in Budapest there was a gathering of

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