At the end of WW1 both Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman empire were broken up, but Germany was left intact, apart from some bits of territory given to Denmark, France and Poland. Why did this happen? if Bismark's nation building had been undo, things might have been very different.

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    It was broken up - with substantial German populations in the Rhineland, Pozen, Gdansk corridor, Sudetenland and Austria. That "insult" was part of the discontent that fueled the Nazi Party's rise to power. Unlike the new nations established from the AH and Ottoman Empires, Germany was uni-ethnic. Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 13:53
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it presumes a contra-factual. Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 14:05
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    When you compare what happened to The Austro-Hungarian Empire, The Ottoman Empire, and the German Empire, its pretty darn clear that two of them got completely dismantled, while the latter was only shorn a bit.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 15:17
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    @Dave is a new user, and is probably unfamiliar with our stance on counterfactuals, or the need to document preliminary research.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 16:05
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    The Ottoman Empire had a division forced on it by the Treaty of Sevres in 1920, which led to a war that the Turks won, and a lot of the old Ottoman Empire was reassembled as Turkey by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. So Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire were really three different cases. Also, Austria-Hungary had come apart at the seams even before the armistice. The Allies couldn't have kept it intact if they had wanted to.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 0:45

2 Answers 2


It's much too complicated to reduce entire libraries to a Stackexchange answer.

It's all about interests. But it was an interplay of (balance of power) play, economic considerations, desire for peace, peace in the future, and the desire for revenge and punishment. Every delegation pulling their own strings, but often in opposite directions.

World War One was the war to end all wars. That means, peace should then be the default condition for Europe, better yet, the world. But OK.

For example Italy wanted a grab of land, France wanted a grab. All those nationalists in newly to be formed countries wanted their own territory and power. England mainly wanted peace, as in peace the economy flourishes across the board, and not just for war equipment. The US were largely in the same boat as England. But the powers that did negotiate peace terms, meaning: excluding those who lost the confrontation, all had different ideas on how to accomplish their interests.

While France's Clemenceau wanted to squeeze every last drop out of Germany to pay for the war, to punish Germany, and to strengthen France and prevent another war by stripping Germany of any capability to wage one, England calculated more coldly that only a Germany that was halfway about her wits would be able to pay for all the damage done and participate in world trade in the future. Meaning: to sell to England and to buy from England.

Then by 1917 we had the Soviet Union on the map but firmly pushed to the kids table, despite everyone being scared that the ideas taking hold in Russia might make the rounds, perhaps by force. In such a case a military bullwark called Germany that stops armed spread of communism would come in handy for al the reactionary powers further West.

When it comes to comparing the fate of German Empire to Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, then there comes the perverse spectre of nationalism. While Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empire were seen as multi-national states, Germany was the exact opposite of it. In fact the German Reich was founded by excluding Austria from it as it was not nationally homogenous enough. As nationalism was seen by many as the guiding principle of the day, it stood almost to reason to reorganise the political map of Europe according to those principles.

Only that that failed, predictably, since the conditions on the ground were quite different than nationalists from all sides fever dreamed into their own reality or futures. Europe consisted of so many minorities, that also settled so intermingling, that drawing clean borders derived from these principles would result in an atomised map with more principalities than there were in the Holy Roman Empire.

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    Then of course everyone voted in favour of the new monster of Greater Serbia that completely defied all the logic regarding dismantling of the A-H Empire. Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 16:14
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    "In fact the German Reich was founded by excluding Austria from it as it was not nationally homogenous enough." No. Austria was excluded because of its rivalry with Prussia (the Habsburg family would not have accepted becoming subordinates of a Prussian emperor) and because they whole coronation happened kinda spontaneously after a won war - which Austria didn't participate in. Ethnic homogenity did not play that much of a role.
    – Annatar
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 8:23
  • @Annatar didn't Austria fight Italy in the Alps? Commented Jun 24, 2022 at 9:27

At the start of the war, prior to US entry, President Woodrow Wilson released his Fourteen Points, a set of principles on whose basis the postwar peace should be negotiated.

This was essentially a view that wholeheartedly endorsed Nationalism: the idea that different peoples should have different governments. Where there's a dispute, it should be put up to a vote.

There were some outs here. It also flat-out stated that Alsace Lorraine needed to go back to France, and (overwhelmingly German) Austria needed to remain independent of Germany. But still this philosophically represented a post-war situation that would imply very little loss of German territory, while being an utter death-knell for multicultural "empires" like the Ottomans' and Austria-Hungary.

In practice perhaps you are correct this was a bit of a tactical mistake, as Germanys' two multi-national Imperial allies were arguably more liabilities in the war than aids to Germany, while the most dangerous opponent was just left stung rather than dismantled. Machiavelli certainly wouldn't have approved. However, the idea behind the 14 points was to leave behind a Europe where political boundaries matched cultural ones, and thus there shouldn't be as many ethnic festering wounds lying around generating conflict (without having to resort to periodic Machiavellian violence).

  • The point about Austria in point X seems to contradict your answer (and "the idea"…). That was a later development not foreseen. But I guess the exegesis of "autonomous development" might be alone reason for fierce disputation. But I think that no-one in German or Austria did read it the way you present it here. Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 14:59
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    @LangLangC - I think I see what this comment is saying. Yes, you weren't the only one to notice that contradiction. German Nationalists certainly made hay with it after the armistice was safely signed. Of course realistically you couldn't "punish" Germany for the war by giving them Austria, thus making them stronger than they were when the war started.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 15:30
  • Point X does not say, and surely wasn't understood that way, that German-Austria was/is forbidden to join Big-Germany. The 14-points were well received when announced, true. But from Compiegne to when Versailles approached, well, see this first picture. The Germans may have misjudged their position – and perhaps Wilson's power. Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 15:31
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    But the 14 points were so deformed when it came to signing that they are reduced to just one small step in reaching the situation that unfolded until well into the 20s. Or other way round: "The settlement" was not made on the baais of the 14p, although the Germans thought so, it was either an honest offer Wilson could not fullfil or just a ruse and not a precondition. Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 15:31
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    The reason it became 0 point was, by that point the Entante had won.... Consequently, their list of demands grew exponentially. And why would that surprise anyone. These guys (Entante or Central power) made big demands when they were slightly behind, huge demands when were ahead, ridiculous demands when they were really ahead, and next world war ready demands when they have won. That was the nature of the combatants in that conflict. Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 16:13

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