1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aehrenthal, Aloys Lexa von, Count
AEHRENTHAL, ALOYS LEXA VON, Count (1854-1912), Austro-Hungarian statesman (see 3.25; 9.951), was born at Gross-Skal, Bohemia, the son of Baron (Freiherr) Johann Lexa von Aehrenthal and his wife Marie, née Countess Thun-Hohenstein, and began his diplomatic career in 1877 as attaché to the Paris embassy under Count Beust. He went in 1878 in the same capacity to St. Petersburg, and from 1883 to 1888 he worked at the Foreign Office in Vienna under Kalnoky, with whom he formed close relations. In 1888 he was sent as councillor of embassy to St. Petersburg, where he exercised considerable influence with the ambassador, Count Wolkenstein. Recalled in 1894 to service in the Foreign Office, he undertook important duties, and in the following year went to Bucharest as ambassador. Here he succeeded in strengthening the relations between the courts of Vienna and Bucharest, the secret alliance which King Charles had concluded in 1883 with the Central European Powers being renewed on Sept. 30. In 1899 he became ambassador in St. Petersburg, where he remained until his appointment as Foreign Minister in Oct. 1906. Aehrenthal at this time thought that Austria-Hungary must, even at the cost of some sacrifice, come to an agreement with Russia. In this sense he endeavoured to continue the negotiations successfully begun by his predecessor, Prince Franz Liechtenstein (b. 1853), for the bridging over of the differences on Balkan questions between Vienna and St. Petersburg, in order to create a basis for a permanent friendly relation between Austria-Hungary and Russia. He played a principal part in concluding the Mürzsteg Agreement of 1903. During the Russo-Japanese War he took a strong line in favour of a benevolent attitude on the part of the Vienna Cabinet towards Russia. When, in Oct. 1906, he succeeded Count Goluchowski as Foreign Minister he at first maintained the views which he had professed as ambassador. He was determined to preserve the interests of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans, but also showed himself prepared to meet the Russian wishes in the Dardanelles question. Accordingly he entered into negotiation, after the outbreak of the Young Turk revolution in the summer of 1908, with Isvolski, arranging with him Sept. 15 at the château of Buchlau, in Moravia, an agreement which aimed at securing for Austria-Hungary the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and for Russia the opening of the Dardanelles to Russian warships.
It was only when Isvolski's proposals were wrecked on the opposition of England, and the Russian minister protested against the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had meanwhile been accomplished, and supported the Serbs in their opposition to Austria-Hungary, that Aehrenthal abandoned the idea of a friendly accommodation with the Russian Government. In the sharp struggle during the annexation crisis, not only with Russia and Serbia, but with the Western Powers, he held with tenacious energy to his purpose, and, powerfully supported by Germany, succeeded in carrying out his intentions after excited negotiations which threatened to lead to war. The annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was acknowledged by the Powers; an agreement was reached with Turkey; Serbia, after long hesitation, was obliged to submit. For this achievement Aehrenthal was rewarded by his master by elevation to the rank of Count (Aug. 18 1909), while at the courts of his opponents he was hated but respected.
This was the zenith of his political career. Few at this time realized the danger which arose later from the closer adhesion of Russia to the Western Powers, especially as Aehrenthal took the greatest pains to prove in all quarters, after the conclusion of the annexation crisis, that Austria-Hungary cherished no far-reaching plans of conquest. In this spirit he offered the most decided opposition to those circles at the court of Vienna which advocated a bloody reckoning with Serbia. He held fast by the Triple Alliance, for he saw in this the surest bulwark of peace. He sought to form the most intimate relations with the German Empire, but insisted on the independence of the Habsburg Monarchy, and energetically repulsed all efforts on the part of the German chancellery to set limits to that independence. One of his most difficult tasks was to adjust the ever-recurring conflicts with Italy, who, while officially supporting the political action of the Triple Alliance, often embarked on courses directly opposed to the interests of Austria-Hungary. A succession of agreements which he concluded with the Italian Foreign Minister, Tittoni, justified his efforts, and enabled him to maintain correct relations with the Italian Government. Yet, by the maintenance of his peace policy, which had the full approval of the Emperor Francis Joseph, he came into serious conflict with the party led by the chief of the general staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, which championed a policy not afraid of energetic, warlike methods. The battle, carried on on both sides with tenacious endurance, ended in 1911 with the victory of Aehrenthal and the resignation of Hötzendorf.
In the solution of questions of internal policy Aehrenthal, as Foreign Minister, only took part in so far as they seemed to him to affect the interests of the monarchy as a whole. With the Czechs, who on his accession to office had shown some suspicion on account of his intimate connexion with the leading members of the loyal Bohemian landed aristocracy, he succeeded in maintaining reasonably good relations. As against the Magyars, he upheld the view that the unity of the monarchy must not be shaken, and he therefore offered a determined resistance to the attempts of the party of independence to intrench on the rights of the Crown in military matters. He realized the need for an increase of the army and the reorganization of the army and navy, but he opposed the far-reaching demands of the War Minister and the chief of the general staff.
Aehrenthal married in 1902 Pauline, Countess Széchényi. He died Feb. 17 1912.
Even during his lifetime the estimate of his political policy fluctuated violently. On the one hand it was blamed as provocative, on the other as weak. After the disastrous result of the World War, bringing with it the downfall of the Habsburg Monarchy, it is still more difficult to answer the question whether the path pursued by Aehrenthal in foreign affairs was the right one. It is certain that the Entente Powers were drawn more closely together by the active part played, during his period of office, by Austria-Hungary in Balkan affairs. It is true that the chances of success for the Central Powers in an international struggle were better in the years 1909 and 1911 than in 1914. But the question remains undecided whether, if his activity had been longer continued, Aehrenthal would have been able to maintain the position of Austria-Hungary as a great power without an appeal to the decision of arms. There is no doubt that Aehrenthal was a statesman of considerable mark, a man of wide knowledge and well-ordered intelligence; he was ambitious, but not vain, and an untiring worker. Moreover, in moments of great excitement he was able to maintain outward calmness. He was convinced of his own value, but had no desire to parade it. The Emperor Francis Joseph esteemed him, stood by him in the good and evil hours of his administration of foreign affairs, and repeatedly refused to accept his tendered resignation.
See B. Molden, Alois, Graf Aehrenthal: Sechs Jahre auswärtiger Politik Oesterreich-Ungarns (1917); and the article “Aehrenthal” in the Deutsche Nekrologen (vol. xviii., 1917, pp. 230 seq.).