Tony Barber at the Financial Times:
Events in the decade before 1914 pushed Europe closer to war. After Britain and France settled their colonial disputes in the Entente Cordiale, Germany tried to exploit the first Moroccan crisis of 1905-06 to drive a wedge between them. Rivalry between Vienna and St Petersburg intensified thanks to diplomatic duplicity and incompetence on both sides over Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. Arguably, the second Moroccan crisis of 1911 and two Balkan wars in 1912-13 inured politicians, generals and the European public to the idea that war was becoming inevitable.
Yet why did Europe’s leaders, having prevented earlier crises from triggering a general war, fail to do so in 1914? McMeekin, a US historian based at Koç university in Istanbul, contended in The Russian Origins of the First World War (2011) that Russia bore far more responsibility than once thought because it aimed to break up the Ottoman Empire, conquer the Turkish straits and seize Constantinople. July 1914 plays down this argument. At times it adopts the more established view that a decisive moment came on July 5-6, when Germany gave Austria-Hungary its infamous “blank cheque”. This allowed Vienna to intimidate Serbia with an ultimatum in the knowledge that, if war came, Germany would fight at Austria’s side.