Three Emperors' League

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The Three Emperors' League, or Dreikaiserbund, was part of the diplomatic web created by Otto Bismarck (18151898) to keep France isolated. An initial agreement between Alexander II of Russia, William I of Prussia, and Francis-Joseph of Austria-Hungary was reached in September 1873. This phase of the Three Emperors' League is sometimes referred to as the Three Emperors' Treaty. The agreement was renewed in June 1881, with the same signatories for Prussia and Austria-Hungary, but with the new tsar, Alexander III, representing Russia.

The dual goals of the league were to prevent intervention by Austria-Hungary or Russia in the event of an outbreak of hostilities between France and Germany and to prevent friction between Austria-Hungary and Russia over territorial claims in the Balkans. Both of these goals are apparent in the terms of the agreement. Article 1 addresses the potential of a Franco-German conflict by stating, "In case one of the High Contracting Parties should find itself at war with a fourth Great Power, the two others shall maintain towards it a benevolent neutrality and shall devote their efforts to the localization of the conflict." The issue of potential conflict over the Balkan territories of the Ottoman Empire is dealt with in Article 2. It states, "The three Courts, desirous of avoiding all discord between them, engage to take account of their respective interests in the Balkan Peninsula. They further promise one another that any new modifications in the territorial status quo of Turkey in Europe can be accomplished only in virtue of a common agreement between them."

Ultimately, this alliance foundered over the issue of Balkan territorial claims. The Austro-Hungarian Empire contained a sizeable number of Slavs who were sympathetic to the plight and aspirations of their Balkan brothers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Simultaneously, the Russian tsar was under pressure from the Pan-Slavs to intervene in the Balkans because the Pan-Slavic movement regarded Russia as the protector of the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire.

A series of uprisings against the Ottoman Empire and reprisals by the Turkish forces occurred in the Balkans in the mid-1870s. These events led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. Although the Russians decisively defeated the Turkish forces, opposition from Austria-Hungary and Great Britain led to the final settlement being decided at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Under the auspices of the honest broker Bismarck, much of the fruit of the Russian military victory was plucked from their hands. The Russians felt that they had won the war but lost the diplomatic negotiations. Both the Balkan nationalists and the Russian Pan-Slavists felt a lingering resentment toward Austria-Hungary and Germany for depriving them of the fruits of the Russian military victory.

The Three Emperors' League was not renewed when it expired in 1884. Instead, Russia moved closer diplomatically to France. This shift culminated in the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894. The dissolution of the Three Emperors' League took Europe a step closer to the outbreak of World War I.

See also: austria, relations with; germany, rela tions with; panslavism; russo-turkish wars; world war i


The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. (2003). "The Three Emperors' League." <>.

Eyck, Erich. (1968). Bismarck and the German Empire. New York: Norton.

Glenny, Misha. (2001). The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 18041999. New York: Penguin.

Jean K. Berger

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Three Emperors League

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