Causes of World War One

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Last updated: November 4, 2019

There many factors contributing to the start of World War One, one of the bloodiest wars ever fought, both short and long term. The long term causes were Militarism, the Alliance System, Imperialism and Nationalism. The short term events include the First Moroccan Crisis, the Second Moroccan Crisis at Adagir, the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany’s “blank cheque” and finally the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo. Militarism was ripe in the European countries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.Militarism means; “The belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests”.

One example of militarism leading up to World War One are the British-German Naval Race. The Naval Race began after Kaiser William II announced the Tirpitz Plan to increase Germany’s naval size. Britain, who went by the “Two-Power Standard” at that point, also increased their naval size.However in 1906 Britain introduced the HMS Dreadnought into service. The Dreadnought was a revolutionary ship, rendering most previous battleships obsolete with its superior speed, thicker armor and bigger guns which had a far larger range.

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By 1914 Britain had 38 dreadnoughts and dreadnought battle cruisers while Germany only had 24. The naval race increased tension between Britain and Germany. Apart from the Naval Race there were other examples of militarism in the lead up to WW1.France and Germany built up huge conscript armies, which meant that all young men had to go through a period of military training after which they would become part of the country’s military “reserve” of men who, in the case of war, could be called upon to fight. Railways were also extended in most countries to enable troop movements to become faster and more efficient and as weapon technology became more advanced the various governments spent more and more on increasingly expensive weapons making armament manufacturers wealthy.Prior to 1905 there were few full-time soldiers in Britain, R. B Haldane, a Scot and also Secretary of State for War reformed the army, now called the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), created the General Staff to help military planning and founded the Territorial Army to backup the BEF. The Alliance System was the reason, what should have been a small conflict between two countries, developed into the biggest war the world had ever seen.

There were two main groups, the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. The Triple Alliance consisted of, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy while the Triple Entente consisted of Britain, France and Russia. Although Russia and France had an alliance together and had promised to fight with each other, Britain only had an entente with Russia and France which meant she was only promising to talk. However Kaiser William II was not as clever as his predecessor Bismarck at making alliances with other countries.Bismarck was the old Minister-President of Prussia and had overseen the formation of the Second German Empire and had a policy of politically isolating France and orchestrated the “League of Three Emperors” between Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary and when that broke down he signed, in secret, the Reinsurance Policy with Russia in 1874.

This agreement meant Russian neutrality if France was to attack Germany. When Russia wanted to renew this treaty in 1890 Kaiser William II refused because he wanted to improve the British-German relations and Russia was not Britain’s favourite country at that time.This failure to renew the Reinsurance Policy lead to the Russian-French alliance, ending France’s political isolation and is ultimately seen as Kaiser William II’s greatest political error during his reign. Another of William II’s great diplomatic errors was during the Moroccan Crisis in 1906 when against his personal wishes but under pressure from the German ruling elite, he made a diplomatic journey to Tangiers, Morocco. During a speech there he made remarks supporting Moroccan independence.

This upset France who had intentions to colonize the region. This eventually led to the conference at Algeciras where the result was in France’s favour, furthering the British-French friendship and further isolating Germany. Imperialism was the main cause of the Moroccan Crisis with Germany, being a relatively new country at the time wanting, as Kaiser William put it “a place in the sun” but at that time most of the most profitable areas had already been colonized by the French and the British.This led to increased tension between the Britain and Germany and between France and Germany although the British-French Entente was strengthened.

Nationalism was another of the main reasons for WW1 and was mainly in the Balkans. The Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time was interested in expanding into the Balkans at the time and Russia did not approve as most of the population in the Balkan area were Slavs, like the Russians. The Austrians however were of the Germanic race but the Austro-Hungarian Empire at time had many different nationalities within its borders.Apart from the Austrian native people there were Serbs, Romanians, Magyars, Germans, Czechs, Poles, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Serb-Croats, Muslims and Croats. As you can see, many nationalities. The big independent state in the Balkans at the time was Serbia and after the Austro-Hungarians annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 the Serbs were very angry as they did not want their fellow Slavs under the rule of a Germanic empire. Russia supported this view and started a policy called “Panslavism”.This Policy was intended to unite the Slav people under one banner.

This Slav Nationalism eventually led to the spark that started the whole war. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1914 by the Serbian radical group called the Black Hand. During an official visit to the city to try to quell Anti-Austrian thoughts and to show to the world that they were in control of the Bosnians. During the initial procession to the Town Hall, the Archduke and his wife’s open topped car had a primitive bomb thrown at it.Although the bomb missed the Archduke wanted to visit his staff injured in the attack in the hospital. He told his driver this but the driver got confused and turned the wrong way and by chance stopped the car near a cafe where one of the members of the group of the Black Hand assassins, a man named Gavrilo Princep who was dieing of tuberculosis and had nothing to lose. Princep fired two shots, the first taking the Archduke through the neck, the second hitting his wife Sophie in the stomach.

Sophie was later believed to have been pregnant.

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