Opportunist or Planner?
His contribution to the Unification of Germany by 1871

The years 1870 and 1871 were dramatic for Bismarck and Europe, with France defeated, Germany united as an Empire and the balance of power in Europe totally altered. How much was this due to Bismarck?
It is possible to argue that Bismarck did not make Germany: rather Germany made Bismarck.
A variety of factors - German nationalism, Prussian economic growth, the international situation in the 1860s, the Prussian army - were such that Bismarck was able to gain the credit for bringing about a unification which may well have developed natu­rally, whoever had been in power.
However, whatever view is taken about the 'inevitability' of German unification, it is clear that it hap­pened as it did and when it did largely as a result of Bismarck's actions.
His precise aims baffled contemporaries and continue to baffle histo­rians. It is difficult to disentangle his motives and to decide how far he planned ahead. While it is probably wrong to believe he came to power in 1862 with a master plan for German unification, it is equally wrong to imagine that he had no long-term objectives and fumbled his way through events simply by good luck.
He manipulated situations even if he did not always create them. He had clear aims but the exact means of achieving them were left to short-term decisions based on the situ­ation at the time.
Perhaps his main skill as a diplomat lay in his ability to isolate his enemy. He was not essentially a warmonger. For Bismarck, wars were a risky means to an end.
However, confident in the strength of the Prussian army, he was prepared in 1866 and in 1870 to engineer war to achieve his end.
Having created a united Germany, the main question now was whether he would be able to deal with the domestic and foreign problems resulting from the unification process.

The Unification of Germany 1815 � 90, Andrina Stiles and Alan Farmer, Access to History Series, Second Edition 2001; page 95