Strategic Diplomacy (Part 2) – Austria-Hungary

by Harry Drews

Austria-Hungary (Austria hereafter) is a delightful position to play. Very weak and vulnerable at the start, the country can be nursed to eight or ten centres with a little care. From this middle position some skilful manoeuvring is needed to achieve victory.

The overriding fact about Austria is that she is totally a land power. Fleets are of no use and should not be built even if they could be built. Either Austria is allied with a naval power and so has no need for fleets or she is fighting a naval power and is hopelessly outclassed in the race to build fleets. The one exception to this rule occurs when Italy is very weak and no other power has filled the naval vacuum. Look at the geographical position of Austria: it may be likened to a central plain ringed by obstacles which cannot be transversed without external assistance or unless opposition is totally lacking. These obstacles are Switzerland and the bodies of water that surround her almost completely.

When a player is assigned Austria, the first thing to do is count up eighteen possible centres. The centres that can be taken comparatively easily are Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Warsaw. Also accessible are Sevastopol, Moscow, Munich and Venice. But immediate conflict with one or more of Germany, Russia, Turkey or Italy is inescapable. At the same time these countries can unwittingly become the tools of Austria on the road to domination. The furthermost areas of expansion that are reasonably possible are St. Petersburg, Berlin, Munich and Naples. Europe is split in two and seventeen centres lie within this boundary.

Since Austria is so dependant on external assistance the contribution of each neighbour must be evaluated. Germany as ally can assist in taking the Russian centres. Her presence is not really desirable since there will be open competition between Austria and Germany for the same centres. Germany can best serve as a containing force against France and England so that they cannot race first to victory. Also if Germany initiates the threat against Russia or if Russia is entangled in an English drive, then Austria has the opening needed to grab the Russian centres before the German has become aware. Germany can also be used to cut any Russian supports of St. Petersburg from Scandinavia. Germany’s final sacrifice often is to donate Berlin and Munich to the Austrian march to victory. Note that it is unreasonable to ever suppose that Austria can take a Scandinavian country or that any more centres on the European plain can be seized. A stalemate line can be formed too easily.

Turkey can be of early assistance to Austria. From the Black Sea and Armenia, Turkey can generate the force to disembowel Russia. Regretfully, an alliance with Turkey though will work all to Turkey’s advantage and not at all to Austria’s. Rumania, Sevastapol, and Moscow as spoils likely will be gobbled up by Turkey. Austria gets Warsaw as a crumb and then is the next course on the menu for Turkey. Thoroughly unsatisfactory. Turkey can generate an awesome tandem force of fleets and armies. Turkey will find it distasteful to restrain herself to a weak drive through the Ionian to Italy. Moreover, Italy can easily blockade this route. Alliance with Turkey necessarily means long-term elimination for Austria.

Is Russia much better than Turkey as a long-term ally? Let us see. Turkey can be dismembered easily enough. Austria will gain Bulgaria and perhaps Constantinople. But this is the extent of her gains. Russia is the one in a position to go after Germany next. Austria’s options are to attack Italy or to stab Russia. What has Italy done in the meantime? She will either have participated in the destruction of Turkey, and so has good coverage on Austria, or will be too strong to take with one fleet. If she is losing then the typical Italian reaction to an Austrian stab will be to resist Austria and let the French take her centres. So in every case Italy will be too strong to take or France will be there first licking his lips. Suicide is the verdict, if Austria stabs Russia on her own. Russia has the muscle to take Turkey over completely. Then in an arc from Constantinople to Galicia the Russian hordes will converge on the empire. What about German or English aid against Russia? If it’s Germany then the same problem of one meal for two people. True that Austria can claim the southern centres, but then war with Germany. If England helps against Russia, Germany is gone and it is a foregone conclusion that England wins. We are after first, not second or third.

The conclusion to be drawn so far is that alliance with any one of Turkey, Russia or Germany gives Austria the short end of the stick. Our sole hope is Italy. Here are the fleets required to decimate Turkey. But Italy is not a contender for the Russian centres. Also, Italy has a viable alternative in attacking France. If Austria keeps a wary eye on the back door an Austrian-Italian alliance can bear fruit. Should the relationship sour, then Austria has a reasonable chance of squeezing some of the Italian spoils, particularly if Italy and France have become embroiled in a war. In most games, the odds of the latter are quite high. This is the one alliance that Austria can dominate.

Recall the seventeen centres listed earlier as being the most attainable. To reach eighteen centres, Turkey and Russia must be eliminated. Either Germany or Italy must provide the rest. War with Germany can only be avoided if German fleets have gone round to the Mediterranean to distract the Italians so that Austria can take Italy. Unlikely to happen and unlikely that Germany would donate those centres. Same situation if Austria wants the German heartland. Even a saint playing Italy would not be so generous as to do all the work and give the rewards away. The conclusion can only be that Austria cannot win by brute force alone. One player after another must be coaxed into inadventantly giving to Austria what she could not have otherwise.

To summarize: Russia or Turkey must fall first and it is better that Turkey be chosen for first honours. Italy more than any other power will provide the assistance necessary for victory. And it is this alliance alone that Austria can possibly dominate. Care should he taken, however, that Italy does not develop the urge to absorb Austria. Diplomatically, sweet persuasion must be used to overcome Austria’s four weaknesses. These weaknesses are: 1. early susceptibility to a blitz from Italy, Russia and Turkey; 2. late-game problems in taking, say, the final four or five centres; 3. the lack of a balanced arsenal of fleets and armies; and 4. geographic restrictions which limit Austria to only about half of the board.

There are some strong points that come with the Austrian position. They are 1. a good initial position from which to bargain — no—one fears Austria; 2. the two other weak powers, Germany and Italy, isolate Austria from western disturbances and are unlikely to prove an initial threat; and 3. Turkey and Russia may be receptive to Austrian ploys to divide and conquer this potentially explosive alliance. 

(Reprinted from Paroxysm 3, March 1975.)