In 1905, Count Alfred von Schlieffen, Chief of the German General Staff, presented his plans for a two-front war against France and Russia. Germany had already fought a war against France in the 1870s and a series of pacts between European powers indicated that Germany would have to intervene if its ally, Austria-Hungary, went to war. But Schlieffen’s plan stemmed from his understanding of geography: Germany, on the North European Plain, was exposed and vulnerable to invasion from France and Russia. Germany’s tactics for managing this threat over the coming century would shift dramatically, but Berlin’s imperatives, shaped by its permanent geopolitical challenge of inhabiting the flat North European Plain, would remain largely the same.
Germany lies south of the Baltic and North Seas, and north of the Alps. The country is situated on the flat North European Plain, a low-lying area that also includes parts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, southern Scandinavia, Poland and We