Testing Compliance:  Italy and Romania Remain Neutral
But Later Breach Their Treaty Obligations

       The Italian alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary had always been a self-interested attempt to give the recently united Italian kingdom the status and prestige of a great power.[1]   However, the alliance had been somewhat troublesome from the beginning, given the conflicting Italian and Austro-Hungarian territorial claims and the popular sentiment in Italy against its neighboring empire.[2]   In fact, Germany and Austria-Hungary had never been confident of Italian support of the alliance (the Austrian Chief of Staff calling the alliance ìa burden and a fetter which [Italy] would cast off at the first opportunityî),[3]  and their doubts were substantiated on August 3rd, when Italy declared her neutrality in the war.  To defend its action, Italy stood on the letter of the Triple Alliance treaty, which required intervention on behalf of the allies only if they were attacked without provocation.[4]   The German and Austro-Hungarian ultimata technically made them the aggressors and absolved Italy from any obligation to join them.[5]   However, Article 1 of the treaty obligated Italy to enter into ìno alliance or engagement directed againstî its allies, and Article 4 bound the signatories to observe benevolent neutrality towards an ally at war with another great power that did not fit the terms of the defensive alliance.  Italy breached their obligations under these articles on April 26, 1915, when she joined the Entente allies after they had promised the territorial spoils from Austria she had been seeking.[6]   Thus, Italy steadfastly followed her national interest, declining to support her allies beyond the terms of the Triple Alliance treaty in 1914 and even breaching that treaty in 1915.

       Romania had also sided with the Triple Alliance camp after its treaty with Austria-Hungary first signed in July of 1892 and then renewed in the treaty of February 5th, 1913 (original French version).  But despite the pleadings of its pro-German king (King Carol I), the Romanian government followed Italyís lead in maintaining neutrality in August 1914, using the defensive nature of its alliance treaty as grounds to stay out of the conflict.[7]   Romanian nationalists had begun to clash with Austria-Hungary since the second Balkan War and were now dreaming of incorporating areas occupied by Romanian minorities within the Austro-Hungarian empire into a Greater Romania.[8]   Then when the Entente allies promised those territories to Romania at the conclusion of the war, Romania joined forces with the Entente countries and declared war on Austria-Hungary in August 1916.[9]   Thus, remarkably similar to Italy, Romania asserted a legal defense that allowed it to get out of an alliance treaty it no longer felt to be in its best interests, and instead, the country ended up fighting against its former allies.[10]   And just as Italy had done, Romania breached its obligation (in Article I of its treaty) not to enter into any alliance directed against its allies.

       As for Britain, the rapprochement embodied in the Entente with France had by April of 1912 grown into an informal naval agreement, by which the French fleet would concentrate in the Mediterranean and the British would defend the English Channel and Franceís northern coastline.[11]   This naval agreement resulted from Britainís increasing awareness of the threat Germany posed both to her naval supremacy as well as to her interests generally in a stable continental balance of power.  In the end, though, Great Britain (according to its official statements) did not enter the war against the Triple Alliance powers primarily to uphold their naval agreement with France, nor to defend its own interests on the continent, but rather on the moral grounds that it had to defend neutral Belgium from the German invasion.  Discussion of the British debate over intervention follows in the second section of this paper.  The important point, though, for purposes of this section is that Britain was under no treaty obligation to enter the war; rather, it too made the discretionary choice to fight.




1.     James Joll, Origins of the First World War, 2d ed., 1992, p. 66.
2.     Id. 
3.     Id. at 25.
4.     James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of World War I, 1981, p. 105.
5.     Id.  Germany had foreseen the such reliance on the defensive nature of the treaty, realizing that if it pushed Austria-Hungary to reject Serbian concessions, it would lose Italy as an ally.  But the knowledge did not change the course of German action.  Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, 1962, p. 83. 
6.     Stokesbury, supra note 4, at 106.
7.     Bernadotte E. Schmitt and Harold C. Vedeler, The World in the Crucible:  1914-1919, 1984, p. 13.
8.     Id. at 12-13.
9.     Stokesbury, supra note 4, at 165.
10.   See Joll, supra note 1, at 30.
11.   Id. at 22.