When asked by Austria-Hungary to back their declaration of war on Serbia, the German Empire refuses, stating that with how unstable Europe currently is a war would be disastrous.

How could WWI play out in this scenario most likely? And what significant long-term changes might be expected?

  • $\begingroup$ Exactly what István Tisza predicted. Attacking Serbia would trigger war with Russian Empire. "It is my firm conviction that Germany's two neighbors [Russia and France] are carefully proceeding with military preparations, but will not start the war so long as they have not attained a grouping of the Balkan states against us that confronts the monarchy with an attack from three sides and pins down the majority of our forces on our eastern and southern front." $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ VTC: too broad. There are far too many hypotheticals to adequately answer this question. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 13:14

4 Answers 4


There would be no world war, very obviously. It would be just one of the many little wars in the Balkans. Bye-bye Servia (as it was known in the west at that time).

But the premise is not believable: Germany was waiting with bated breath for a reason, any reason, to go to war against France. They were counting down the days until the developing French power would make a German victory unlikely, and were fervently hoping that they would find a motive to start the war before mid-1920s.

And the question is very misleading: Austria-Hungary did not "ask" Germany to back the declaration of war against Servia. They just went ahead and declared war. Germany did not declare war on Servia. Germany stayed put, waiting patiently for Russia to declare war on Austria-Hungary. Once Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany sent a 12 hour ultimatum to Russia asking them to stand down or else. The Russians did not stand down, and the or else happened: Germany declared war and mobilized against Russia. Then France mobilized against Germany. So, you see, poor little Germany had no choice: the big bad Russian bear had declared war on their dear friend Austria, so Germany had to jump in and help. Then France made ready to attack Germany, so what was Germany to do? They had to defend themselves.

That is how WW1 started. The only country which actually tried to step back and think about it was the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which actually held a round of cabinet meetings for this purpose; but in the end even they decided that they had no choice but to go to war.

Had Germany somehow been hit by an unstoppable attack of sanity and refrained from declaring war on Russia the result would have been the incorporation of Servia into the Austrian Empire part of Austria-Hungary, and a desultory lukewarm Russo-Austrian war in what once upon a time had used to be Poland, with no big losses or big wins -- both the Russian and Austrian armies being hopelessly out-of-date technologically, strategically, tactically and logistically in 1914.

  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't say Russia was out-of-date (for land army). Their main rifle went throw both world wars and still in demand. They bought a lot of modern weponory from allies (airplanes, armored cars). Their main problem was not an army, but week industry and political instability. $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ @ksbes: Second battle of Tannenberg, plus events leading to it and following it. It is not that often that an army of a quarter million men is completely destroyed by a heavily outnumbered enemy. Proof that rifles do not make an army. Their communications setup was a bad joke, they had basically no maps, the logistic setup was dismal, etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 14:11

I feel like this question rather belongs in the History StackExchange.

That being said, one can still speculate on the most plausible outcome of a refusal on the German Empire's part to back up Austria-Hungary in 1914.

First, lets provide some preliminary context :

By 1914, almost all European nations were involved in a complex maze of alliances, pacts and mutual assurances. This was because the rivalries between the different nations (France and Germany following their war in 1870 ; UK and Germany competing for naval dominance ; Germany challenging other nations' role as colonial powers) created a tense, explosive atmosphere in foreign affairs.

Eventually, two opposing sides crystallized, born from the need to seek mutual allies against the rivaling coalition : Germany, Austria-Hungary and (initially) Italy on one side, and France, Great-Britain and Russia on the other.

The respective system of alliances played out that way : Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia, stemming from (or pretexting) a necessity to help a fellow slavic nation (and probably to challenge Austria-Hungary), then declared war on the Austrians. This in turn caused Germany to declare war on Russia as was supposed to happen based on their alliance with Austria-Hungary, only for the conflict to further escalate like we know it.

With Germany suddenly removed form the equation, it is fairly likely that the conflict would have stayed mostly regional, and would have been fought out between Russia and Austria-Hungary only.

France would probably not have joined the fight, because France's primary interest was to counter (and take revenge on) Germany. With Germany out of the fight, there is little reason for France to go to war. Likewise, Great-Britain would have most likely stayed out of the war, since the lack of a German invasion of Belgium would have left them with no casus belli. Same reasoning for the US and the lack of German submarine warfare.

This leads to the conclusion that the war would have stayed mainly local, with possible exception of the Ottoman Empire which would have a clear interest in helping the Austrians fight the Russians (for territorial reasons). As for the winner, it's pretty hard to predict. If I remember correctly Austria-Hungary irl had a difficult time fighting Russia, but on the other hand Russia suffered a revolution in 1917 which immediately terminated its ability to continue fighting in the war.


That particular WW1 wouldn't happen, but another is likely around the corner

If the German Empire didn't enter into the Great War, then the conflict would have been a much more isolated conflict, one in fact that would not be uncommon for Europe up until then. This may mean 'WW1' is a bit smaller, or potentially even non-existent, until another dispute or conflict arises.

However, although WW1 was a tragic and unbelievably horrific war, it brought about some measure of reform, and hardened lessons for humanity at the time. The lessons learnt were:

  • The inadequacy of the 'status quo' of old European empires jostling for dominance at the expense of their people. After WW1, the (although ultimately unsuccessful) League of Nations was established for this reason. If WW1 didn't happen the 'status quo' would continue, likely to when armies were more highly mechanised and capabilities were much greater.
  • The downfall of Ottoman, German and Russian Empires were in part due to WW1, replaced with republics or single-party states. These empires would still remain, and monarchs would still hold power over much of continental Europe and Asia. Democracy and republicanism worldwide may be delayed substantially due to monarchial dominance.
  • The growth of nationalism (one aspect being nazism) and right wing fundamentalism would still slowly boil. This may result in revolutions in the Empires eventually, but without a democratic system installed after the horrific WW1, may actually result in more totalitarian states. A 'perfect storm' gathering of nationalist movements with greater technology is brewing, and 'WW2' would likely become the new 'WW1'.
  • The harsh military lessons of WW1 would also not be learnt, such that WW2 would occur without them. For instance, the use of air power, artillery, and mechanisation would be delayed, but the inexorable technological development would continue. This could mean horrific mistakes would occur in WW2 (now WW1) but with WW2 level technology.
  • The role of the U.S. - the United States from WW1 onwards played an enormous part in geo-political events. Their involvement has influenced every conflict, but it wasn't always the case. In WW2, many in the U.S. were more concerned with communism than they were with nazism. Totalitarian states weren't seen as critically as they are today. If WW1 didn't happen, it may be the case the U.S. would have a more 'stand-off' role than they did throughout the last century. As such, their involvement in the new WW1 (old WW2) would not be guaranteed.

1) Serbia is gone: they wouldn't be able to hold against the austrians.

2) Russia and Austria would fight a long, bloody war in Poland. Difficult to predict who would win, as both countries were very weak, with poor economies (when compared to France or Germany), obsolete armies and bad commanders. The russians have more manpower but the austrians are a bit more developed and the war would happen nearer to the austrian supply centers. Probably they would suffer from mutual destruction.

4) As the war raged on, some military lessons would be learned: horse cavalry is useless against machine guns. Artillery and machine guns nests can stop mass infantry. The french, british and germans would learn, from this war, that they need very strong fortifications and replacements for the horses, like some kind of armored automobile with machine guns or light cannons. But in the sea, the lessons of the battle of Jutland wouldn't be learned so the great powers would still insist in light armored fast battlecruisers (like the ones that got blown in Jutland in our timeline) instead of going to super heavy battleships like the Missouri or the Bismark. Also, the danger of submarines wouldn't be realized.

5) Both the russians and the austrians would exhaust themselves in this war and their empires would crumble. Russia was alredy under revolutionary agitation since 1905, the austrians nearly fragmented in 1845. That war would be the last straw and revolutions would happen. The russian revolution would probably follow the same path it did in our timeline, ending with a communist government. The austrian would be nationalist rebellions shattering the empire. The balkanization of Austria would be important to the future.

6) France, Germany and Italy would struggle against each other, dividing the austrian and russian (Finland, Poland, the Baltic states) fragments and that struggle, a new Great Game, would pave the way to the next war. I predict that the germans go after the core of the austrian empire (Austria and Bohemia), the poles would ally with the french, the finns with anyone that would protect them from the Soviet Union (maybe the british?) the italians would go after what in our timeline would be Yugoslavia, annexing Croatia and Albania. Some territories would be annexed, others turned into puppets.

7) The Soviet Union would be a source of instability, exporting communism and threatening the old order. But noone would do anything about that because no one wants to risk a two front war. These communist movements would be a threat to the german empire, with it's massive well educated proletarian population but without a crisis to provide an opening to a revolution there would be no german communist revolution.

8) The US would keep growing in economic power, threatening the old european powers, and, together with the soviets, would sabotage the colonial empires. Both the soviets and the americans would be interested in dismantling the colonial empires, the US to open more markets, the soviets to acquire allies.

9) Since Great Britain wouldn't be weakened by a large scale war their rule over India would not weaken. They would make no concessions to the indian nationalists and the indians would rebel like the americans did (they even had their own version of the Continental Congress in our timeline).

Flashpoints for the true Great War in this new Timeline: - The ruins of the austrian empire. - German Empire deciding they had enough of the Soviet Union. - The indian war of independence. - Japanese conquest of China. - American-Japanese rivalry.

Evolution of the balance of force: - The french would soon reach parity with the germans and both would be locked in an arms race. - The Unites States would become the largest economy in the world and would have to compete with the british for the control of the seas. - The british would be drained by the war in India. - The Ottoman Empire would stabilize, reform itself into a somewhat modern State and when the oil extraction in Arabia and Iraq begins they will start getting very rich. - The japanese will keep conquering China until the US decide they had enough.

Possible alliance for the World War, assuming war for India: GB will be hostile to anyone helping the indians and afraid of the growing US and german might. To counter Germany, they must ally with France and probably Italy.

The US needs to open a second front should war with GB comes. That means alliance with Germany and maybe the Ottoman Empire. The US needs someone to help them against the japanese. That means the Soviet Union.

PS: forgot about nukes - They would be developed. The discovery of atomic decay made that inevitable. The longer it takes for the Great War to happen the greater the chance that the americans, germans, french and british will have atomic bombs and will use them, at least against military formations. Since Europe is small and the cities are packed tightly even nukes as blitzkrieg bombardment will burn some cities. The japanese, on the other hand will bomb the chinese cities with nukes because they didn't care about the consequences of atrocities (in our TL they used chemical and biological warfare against defenseless chinese).


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