Cause of WWI - European Alliances
The main cause of WWI was the European alliances. To what extent do you agree with this statement
Before 1914 the five Great Powers, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia controlled Europe. In 1914 World War One broke out in Europe. Historians have debated the causes ever since. As a historian it will be difficult to conclusively establish a single cause - a number of significant causes is a far more helpful outcome. Although the European Alliances
were certainly a cause of WWI, there were many other causes as well. Along with the European Alliances there was Nationalism, Imperialism, Militarism, and of course the physical conflicts leading up to the war. All these issues blew up the balloon of tension, which just needed a tiny pinprick to burst into war.
The European Alliances had a major part in beginning WWI. After the build up of tension from Nationalism, Imperialism and Militarism, the Powers were worried about being attacked by each other. To counter this alliances were formed. Germany made a secret alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879. Three years later Italy joined this Dual Alliance to form the Triple Alliance because it was annoyed with France for stopping its plans to colonise North Africa
. The rest of the Great Powers
became increasingly worried about the strength of the Triple Alliance. Believing they could be defeated by Germany, Austria and Italy acting together. France and Russia agreed to help each other if attacked. Britain was worried because it had no allies among the Powers, but it was not prepared to ally with Germany after the Boer War. In 1904 France and Britain were prepared to forget their previous quarrels and enter an agreement. Finally in 1907 France brought all three nations together to form the Triple Entente. The Alliance System was definitely a prominent cause of WWI. If Germany hadn't allied with Austria the war might've been averted. For example if a conflict occurred just between Germany and Great Britain the rest of Europe would not be pulled into it. World War One spread because of the Alliance system, even with the tension build up it would've still been just another European war.
Nationalism was the next major long-term cause of WWI. Nationalism involved all those who shared a common language, history and culture. It was a strong feeling of support for one's own nation. Nationalists believed that the needs of their nation were more important than the needs of other nations. Nationalists were so proud of their nation that they wanted it to be the richest and most important - and recognised as such. Such strong feelings made the countries very aggressive towards other nations and quite unforgiving if their nation had been offended. It was nationalism that encouraged Givrilo Princip to shoot dead the Austrian heir. Nationalism greatly blew up the tension and had an influence in causing WWI.
Imperialism was another long-term cause of tension among the Powers, which led to war. Imperialism is the desire of nations to own colonies and form an empire. European countries had been taking over colonies throughout the world since the fifteenth century. From 1870 on there was an unwritten competition to take over parts of the world they had earlier considered not worth colonising. Britain and France, and Germany and France had almost gone to war over clashes in North Africa. Italy resented France because they prevented the setting up of Italian colonies, and the British and Russians clashed over who should have control in Persia (modern Iran), but were both worried that Germany would take land in the Middle East. Imperialism had an important side effect that explains why the 'Great War' became a world war. As each European country gained colonies, those colonies became committed to helping the 'motherland' in the event of a war.
The last long-term cause of WWI is Militarism. Militarism also built up the tension and fear among the Great Powers of Europe. Britain at the time was the largest empire in the world, and it also had the largest navy. The Kaiser William II of Germany hated and envied Britain for having a stronger navy than his. He increased the German navy and built many warships. Britain responded by building more ships and increasing its navy too. This started a race for building more and better warships and it created tension and competition between the two nations. All conflicts in Europe resulted in the building up of the nation's army and navy. By 1914 Europe was in a state of 'armed peace'.
There were also some physical disputes that had an impact in causing WWI. The long term causes of WWI produced tension among the Great Powers. This tension was heightened by a series of crises. The first clashes were over the French owned Morocco. In March 1905 the Kaiser set sail for Morocco and met with the Sultan. The visit was intended to serve as a demonstration that Morocco could count on German help against French expansion. Tension flared and Great Britain and France were extremely angry over what they considered to be their business. France and Britain became even closer allies, this was not the result Germany was hoping for. Only 6 years later the Moroccans rose against French control. The French sent troops to put down the rebellion. Germany decided to interfere, and sent the gunboat Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir. The French and British were furious and the British navy prepared for war. However, at the last moment Germany withdrew Panther, preventing war.
The last major crisis before the pinprick was the Balkans. The Balkans had been a problem for Europe for at least a century. The many ethnic groups in the Ottoman Empire wanted to break away and form their own nation. To prevent war the Great Powers met and formed two more countries, Montenegro and Serbia, and gave Austria the control of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbia still wanted to form a new nation, Yugoslavia, out of Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Austria opposed this. In 1908 Austria decided that it wanted to own Bosnia-Herzegovina, so they annexed it, making it part of their own empire. The Serbs and Russia were furious. For a time it seemed Russia would declare war on Austria, however Germany backed Austria, its good friend and ally. Russia knew that the German army was too strong for Russia's, so it did nothing. Three secret societies sprang up in Serbia whose aim was to throw off Austrian control and create a new nation. The situation grew increasingly unstable. In 1912 the leaders or Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece decided to push the Turks out of the Balkans forever. They attacked the Turks and won, however war broke out among the Balkan states as they quarreled over new boundaries. The Great Powers intervened and settled the dispute. The Serbs were furious with the dispute because they did not get the land they wanted to form Yugoslavia. Tempers ran high in the Balkans. The only friendships that remained were the Alliances. War was inevitable, all it was going to take was a little disturbance that would bring in the allies, who would call on their colonies creating a world war.
The final cause of WWI was the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand. The heir to the throne was on his way to visit the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo, with his wife. A young man of 19 shot the Archduke on their way to the station to return home. Givrilo Princip's actions were of nationalist intentions. Princip, the assassin was a member of a secret society in Serbia. The Emperor of Austria was determined to make Serbia pay. He presented Serbia with a series of demands to be met, Serbia met the majority of them but Austria was not satisfied. Austria declared war on Serbia who gained the Russians help. The rest of the European Powers followed due to the Alliance system, then the rest of the world followed due to imperialism.
It is therefore reasonable to suggest that the Alliance System was a significant cause of the war in Europe escalating into a world war. A number of other factors were also significant, including nationalism, imperialism, militarism, the Moroccan crisis, the Balkans War and the assassination of the Austrian Archduke. Although the immediate trigger of WWI was the assassination, the war would never have happened without the pre-war tension buildup.
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