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Secret Reinsurance Treaty with Russia (June 18, 1887)

Bismarck’s system of alliances had bound Austria close to Germany, principally through the Dual Alliance of 1879. To prevent a two-front war, Bismarck also tried to bind Russia to Germany. When the Three Emperors’ League between Austria, Germany, and Russia expired in 1887, a new agreement with Russia was considered necessary. The result was the Secret Reinsurance Treaty between Germany and Russia – perhaps the most controversial of Bismarck’s complicated alliances. The text of this treaty bears similarities to the 1881 Treaty of the Three Emperors. The two powers assure each other that they will remain benevolently neutral in a future conflict, except in the case of an unprovoked attack by Germany on France or by Russia on Austria-Hungary. Otherwise, Bismarck sought to avoid any contradiction to his obligations toward his ally Austria-Hungary. The treaty, however, included a strictly secret protocol, which was not revealed until the First World War. The protocol was less easy to reconcile with Germany’s adherence to the Dual and Triple Alliances. This incompatibility – taken as a sign of Bismarck’s desperation to keep his alliance system intact late in his career – resulted in the non-renewal of the Secret Reinsurance Treaty in 1890.

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Secret Reinsurance Treaty between Germany and Russia from June 18, 1887

The imperial courts of Germany and of Russia, animated by an equal desire to strengthen the general peace by an understanding destined to assure the defensive position of their respective states, have resolved to confirm the agreement established between them by a special arrangement, in view of the expiration on June 15–27, 1887,* of the validity of the secret treaty [ . . . ] signed in 1881 and renewed in 1884 by the three courts of Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary.

To this end the two Courts have named as plenipotentiaries: [ . . . ]**

Article I. In case one of the high contracting parties should find itself at war with a third Great Power, the other would maintain a benevolent neutrality towards it, and would devote its efforts to the localization of the conflict. This provision would not apply to a war against Austria or France in case this war should result from an attack directed against one of these two latter Powers by one of the high contracting parties.

Article II. Germany recognizes the rights historically acquired by Russia in the Balkan Peninsula, and particularly the legitimacy of her preponderant and decisive influence in Bulgaria and in eastern Rumelia.*** The two courts engage to admit no modification of the territorial status quo of the said peninsula without a previous agreement between them, and to oppose, as occasion arises, every attempt to disturb this status quo or to modify it without their consent.

Article III. The two courts recognize the European and mutually obligatory character of the principle of the closing of the Straits of the Bosphorus and of the Dardanelles, founded on international law, confirmed by treaties, and summed up in the declaration of the second plenipotentiary of Russia at the session of July 12 of the Congress of Berlin (Protocol 19).

* That is, the Three Emperors’ Treaty. [All footnotes adapted from Ernst Rudolf Huber, ed., Dokumente zur Deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte (Documents on German Constitutional History), 3rd rev. ed., vol. 2, 1851-1900. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1986, p. 495-96.]
** What follows is the naming of the plenipotentiaries on both sides: Count Herbert v. Bismarck, the State Secretary of the German Foreign Ministry and Count Paul Shuvalov, Russian Ambassador in Berlin (1885–94).
*** The province of eastern Rumelia had been created by the “Treaty of Berlin.” Nominally, it remained under the sovereignty of the Turkish Empire, but it had been de facto incorporated into the Kingdom of Bulgaria after a coup d’état in the province of southern Bulgaria in 1885.

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