- On the heels of the June 1902 renewal of the Triple Alliance pledging Austrian, German, and Italian cooperation in the event of a general European war, Italy sought to ensure its own freedom of maneuver. Essentially, it did what the German Foreign Office had accomplished with “Reinsurance Treaties”: leaving in one’s own hands the final decision of whether or not to commit military forces to the side of an ally in the event of war. In Rome, the French ambassador was Camille Barrere, to whom the Italian foreign minister, Giulio Prinetti (1851–1908), presented in 1902 a note assuring Barrere that should France be attacked, Italy would remain neutral. The same would occur even if, as a consequence of a direct attack, France felt herself “compelled, in defense of her honor or her security,” to declare war. This meant that Italy might join in hostilities if, in Italy’s view, France was attacking Germany without provocation. Reciprocal recognition of Italian claims in Libya and French claims in Morocco was also included. Italy’s agreements with Germany specified that in the event of a French attack on Germany, Italy should come to Germany’s assistance. On the other hand, if Germany attacked France, Italy would remain “benevolently neutral.” Only neutrality was pledged, just as Germany’s secret “Reinsurance Treaties” had left in Germany’s hands the question of which to choose in the event of an AustroRussian conflict: assistance to Austria or “benevolent neutrality”— that is, only if France attacked Germany was Italy pledged to provide assistance.Historians use a different measure in looking at Germany’s diplomacy in this period from the one used when examining Italy’s initiatives, however. Germany’s protection of its freedom of maneuver is defined as an exercise of Realpolitik, while Italy’s efforts are oddly alleged to reveal a basically duplicitous nature. These commitments were not made known beyond their principals until the 1920 publication in France of collections of Foreign Ministry documents.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.
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