Causes of WW1
Length: 1753 words (5 double-spaced pages)
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I think that the First World War was the product of long-standing rivalries rather than a badly mismanaged Balkan Crisis because it was these rivalries that led to the Balkan Crisis. The Balkan Crisis may appear mismanaged because previous crises such as those in Morocco in 1905 and 1911 did not result in war.
In the July Crisis Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) despite not having conclusive proof. Austria-Hungary asked for German support to "eliminate Serbia as a power factor in the Balkans". Germany agreed, offering her full support for Austria- Hungary to start a war with Serbia, and this became known as the "blank cheque". Austria-Hungary and Germany could not have failed to realise the possibility of Russian intervention and a European war, suggesting to me that war was their objective. Austria-Hungary issued an impossible ultimatum to Serbia, which was likely to provoke a war. Serbia was given only 48 hours to reply, so was forced to think quickly, or other countries would be mobilized and ready to attack. Serbia accepted all but one point of the ultimatum. Consequently war was announced. If given more time Serbia could have discussed the issue further in a conference. The British foreign minister, Grey suggested a conference, but this was rejected by Germany and Austria-Hungary, suggesting that they had deliberate aims for war during the Balkan Crisis, rather than the Balkan Crisis being mismanaged.
There was a long-standing rivalry between Austria-Hungary and Russia due to their interests in the Balkans. Russia saw her role as leading and supporting her fellow Slav peoples in the Balkans. This Pan-Slav concept provided an ideal excuse to interfere in the Balkans and to extend Russia's influence towards the Eastern Mediterranean. Ideally Russia wished to open the Dardenelles straits to its warships. Austria-Hungary was concerned that this Russian encouragement of nationalism may threaten her borders and inspire nationalism within her own empire. In turn, Germany recognised that as Austria's closest ally her fate was linked with that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary was anxious to prevent Russian encroachment in the Balkans. This aim would be best served by the elimination of Serbia, Russia's Balkan ally. In 1878, Russia was humiliated at the Congress of Berlin when her proposal for a Greater Bulgarian state was rejected and Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia to maintain order amongst the nationalist revolts.
This also prevented Serbian encroachment in Bosnia, where many Serbs were. Again, Russia felt humiliated and cheated in 1908 when Austria-Hungary absorbed Bosnia and Herzegovina and Russia did not gain the Black Sea Straits as promised. Russia was forced to back down over the Straits because the issue met with widespread international displeasure. With Germany supporting Austria-Hungary, and Russia recently defeated by Japan, she was not in a position to go to war over the issue. Russia did not want to back down like this again.
France, Russia and Great Britain were alarmed at the way the balance of power had in Europe had altered by the formation of the German Empire. Franco-German rivalry stems back to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. Germany took the rich provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from France. France also had to pay massive reparations. Therefore, Germany, in a bid to prevent French revenge took steps to reduce France's potential allies. One method was the formation of the Dreiskaiserbund (three Emperor's league) in 1873:- a union between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. However, the league expired in 1887 when Russia did not renew.
Rivalry between Germany and Britain arose due to Germany becoming industrially and economically successful very quickly. This caused commercial rivalry between the two powers. "Weltpolitik" was developed because Germany was a new country and wanted a share of world power. To do this, Germany sought to develop her navy. This led to the Anglo-German naval race, which bred mistrust between the two nations. Britain saw Germany as a threat to her empire and feared Germany would use her navy against Britain.
These rivalries led to two hostile camps in Europe. Germany and Austria-Hungary formed the Dual Alliance in 1879, by which they promised to stay neutral in an attack by France and to help each other in the event of an attack by Russia. In 1882 Italy joined Austria-Hungary and Germany to make the Triple Alliance. In 1894 France and Russia formed their own alliance against the Triple Alliance. In 1904 the Entente Cordiale was formed. This was an agreement between France and Great Britain, which settled their colonial differences. By 1905 this had developed to incorporate Russia and became the Triple Entente. The formation of these alliances caused tension in Europe. The alliance system made it more likely that an incident could not be prevented from spreading.
The formation of the Entente Cordiale and the Franco-Russian alliance worried the German government as they felt they were becoming encircled by the France, Russia and Great Britain. Germany felt threatened and so decided to try and break up the Entente Cordiale. She also wanted improved trading links, to gain land, as demonstrated by Weltpolitik and to show German strength, as illustrated in the Anglo-German arms race. Germany hoped to achieve these aims through the Moroccan crisis. Germany encouraged the Moroccan Sultan to resist French designs on the country. The Kaiser challenged French power in Morocco by landing in Tangier and declaring his intention to support the independence of Morocco (a deliberately vague statement). Germany was challenging the French, by asserting German power. Franco-German rivalry had already been born out of the Franco-Prussian war. Germany demanded a conference to settle the Moroccan question, which she had not been consulted over as agreed in the Treaty of Madrid (1880). The 1906 conference at Algeciras made Germany look weak and therefore feel humiliated. Austria-Hungary was the only country to stand by Germany. Germany won only commercial freedom. Control over the bank and police was dominated by France. Germany underestimated the strength of the Entente Cordiale as she assumed it would crumble. The Entente Cordiale had not only held together but had in fact been strengthened, as Britain supported France in this crisis, much to the annoyance of Germany. In 1911 there was a second Moroccan crisis, again increasing the tension in Europe. French troops occupied Fez, the capital of Morocco. Other European powers saw this as the first step of France's annexation of Morocco. Germany did not want the 1906 Algeciras agreement to be broken. The German foreign minister, Kinderlen demanded the French Congo as compensation for their commercial losses incurred by the transfer of Morocco to French control. Germany sent a gunboat- the Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir in an attempt to achieve her demands. Britain feared that Germany was planning to establish a naval base at Agadir. Germany kept silent over her intentions in Morocco. Lloyd-George issued a statement that warned that Britain would be prepared to fight to maintain her position in the world if necessary. If war resulted Britain would side with France. This increased the rivalry that already existed between Germany and Britain due to economic rivalry, Weltpolitik and the arms race. Britain and Germany appeared on the brink of war, but Germany was forced to back down when her allies did not support her. Germany felt humiliated after the Moroccan Crises, as she had failed to prevent French domination of Morocco.
In 1912, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro formed the Balkan League, opposed to Turkey and the great powers. In the first Balkan war, these countries attacked Turkey and drove her out of all her European territories. Austria- Hungary was horrified by the success of the Balkan League and opposed to Serbia having an Adriatic coastline. Russia (seen to be helping her fellow Slavs) and France supported the idea of an enlarged Serbia. Austria-Hungary and Russia mobilized their troops to respectively oppose and support an enlarged Serbia. Russia was forced to back down rather than risk war. The great powers intervened and imposed the Treaty of London. Serbia was humiliated that she was kept from the coastline of the Adriatic coastline and felt that her share of Macedonia was inadequate. Bulgaria refused to acknowledge that Serbia was entitled to more of Macedonia than had been agreed in the 1912 treaty and said that under the treaty the Tsar should agree the division of Macedonia. In 1913 a second Balkan war broke out between Bulgaria on one side and Serbia, Greece, Romania and Turkey on the other. As a result of the war (the Treaty of Bucharest) Bulgaria lost land to Romania and Serbia, and Greece kept possession of these parts of Macedonia that they had captured. The Balkan wars were very worrying for Austria-Hungary because they challenged the plans of Austria-Hungary to dominate, if not, annexe the Balkans. Serbia is expanding, so Austria-Hungary sees her as more of a threat.
The official report on the origins of World War One presented at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 stated that the war was premeditated by Germany and her allies and resulted from "acts deliberately committed in order to make it (war) unavoidable". In 1961, German historian Fritz Fischer published a book agreeing with the official report of Versailles: that Germany had deliberately started the war. The Fischer Thesis claims that this was because the Reichstag was becoming more socialist and the Kaiser was having trouble controlling it. Fischer suggested that Weltpolitik was a means of diverting attention away from domestic discontentment in hope of producing a wave of patriotism. Fischer thinks that through Weltpolitik, Germany was attempting to scare Britain into an alliance, but instead a hostile rivalry resulted. In Fischer's opinion, Germany issued a "blank cheque" to Austria-Hungary as an essential part of a pre-existing policy to start a war. Critics of Fischer, such as Zechlin and Erdmann claim that Germany was aiming for a limited, defensive war. In my opinion, this does not account for the level of support that Germany gave Austria-Hungary- that is, the "blank cheque". I agree with Fischer, that Germany deliberately started the war in order to become a great power.
In conclusion, I think that the war was a result of long-standing imperial and commercial rivalries. The alliance system made it more likely that an incident could not be prevented from spreading. Without these long-standing rivalries the Balkan Crisis would never have happened, so the outbreak of World War One cannot be blamed in full upon the Balkan Crisis.