6 JULY 1914
After meeting with counts Hoyos and Szögyény on 5 July, Wilhelm convenes a meeting of the top diplomatic and military officials who are still in Berlin, including Arthur Zimmermann, sitting in for the vacationing secretary of foreign affairs, Erich von Falkenhayn, the Prussian minister of war, and Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the imperial chancellor, to discuss Vienna's plans to take action against Serbia in response to Franz Ferdinand's assassination. The conference agrees to back Austria-Hungary in the event Russia intervened on the side of Serbia. On the following day, Bethmann Hollweg informs the Austro-Hungarian emissaries of the German government's resolve to support the Dual Monarchy, even though, at this point, even Vienna does not know what it intends to do. Meanwhile, the kaiser leaves for his annual yachting trip on the Baltic Sea.
Berlin's assurances of support, conveyed to Austria-Hungary on 6 July 1914, constituted the infamous "Blank Check," which played an important role in assigning blame to Germany for starting the world war, and it marks one of only two points during the July Crisis at which the march to war could have realistically been halted. There's no doubt that Germany's unqualified support gave Vienna the resolve to stake everything on a forceful action against Serbia.
Had Germany counseled caution or moderation at this point, it is unlikely that Austria-Hungary would have issued the kind of ultimatum to Serbia that it did seventeen days later. From Berlin's point of view, however, its ally was facing an existential crisis. If Vienna backed down now, it would embolden its enemies even further, and a Russian-led Balkan League would be the end result. Consequently, leaders in both Berlin and Vienna increasingly took a "now-or-never" attitude regarding the crisis.
The question arises: what did Germany's leaders think Austria-Hungary would do with the "Blank Check?" It's naive to suggest, as some argued in the aftermath of the war, that they were unaware that military action against Serbia could provoke a continental conflagration. Indeed, the European powers had been dealing more-or-less successfully with one Balkan crisis after another since the beginning of the century in the hopes of avoiding just such a war. Instead, it's likely that both Berlin and Vienna hoped that a decisive action against Serbia would work out the same way that the Bosnian Crisis
worked out in 1908-09. At that time, Austria-Hungary annexed the Turkish territories of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which the Dual Monarchy had occupied since 1878. Serbia wanted to go to war over the annexation of these provinces, populated in part by ethnic Serbs, but Russia backed down in the face of its own internal weaknesses and a general indifference on the part of France and Great Britain. Circumstances had changed drastically since 1909, however, and there would be a far different outcome this time around.