A series of three wars in less than a decade had seen the creation of a unified Germany directed by the Realpolitik of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Keen to consolidate the newly-united country, he turned to diplomacy in an attempt to ensure the status quo in Europe.
Despite forming the Dreikaiserbund with Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1873, a power struggle over territory in the Balkans from 1875-78 led to Bismarck playing the role of ‘the honest broker’ at the Congress of Berlin to resolve tensions between his allies. The congress was a diplomatic defeat for Russia and left the Dreikaiserbund in tatters, leading Bismarck to negotiate the new Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary.
Although specific details of the Dual Alliance were kept secret until 1888, it was a defensive alliance in which both countries agreed to assist each other if they were attacked by Russia. Bismarck and Austria-Hungary’s Secretary of State, Count Julius Andrássy, also agreed to remain neutral in the case of an attack from another country in what is known as benevolent neutrality.
The announcement of the alliance surprised some observers, who noted the threat that the burgeoning German nationalism posed to the Habsburg Empire. The Austro-Prussian War had only been fought between the two countries thirteen years earlier, but the relatively generous peace terms that had been agreed in its wake left the door open to future cooperation. This, combined with Germany and Austria’s shared linguistic and cultural connections, ensured the Dual Alliance lasted until the end of the First World War.