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As we look back on the decades leading up to the start of World War 1 it
is all too easy to believe that war in 1914 was inevitable. There were two
new nation states – Germany and Italy – eager to establish their “place in
the sun”. The growing nationalism in the Balkans had contributed to the
steady decline of two multinational empires: the Ottoman Empire and
Austria-Hungary. Competition for world markets and new colonies in
China and Africa was intense. The alliance system formed to maintain
good relations between rival states, had mutated into two military
coalitions committed to supporting each other if attacked by another
power. This, in turn, had resulted in an arms race between them. There
was also growing popular support within the major powers for more
aggressive foreign policies. All these factors helped to ratchet up tensions
between the Great Powers in the 20 years before the war. And yet, it is
also important to recognise that no wars between the Great Powers had
been fought on European soil since the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. In
spite of the mounting international tensions over that period the
diplomatic process had helped to draw Europe back from the brink of war.
So when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in
Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 the foreign ministries in the capital cities of
Europe did not expect that this new crisis would drag them into a major
continental war.
The Alliance System
In 1879 Germany and Austria-Hungary formed the Dual Alliance against the threat of Russian
or French aggression. This became the Triple Alliance when Italy joined in 1882 after its aim
of gaining control of Tunis had been thwarted by France. Now all three countries were
committed to defending each other if attacked by another power.
Prince Bernhard von Bülow, German Chancellor from 1900-1909, who had been a junior
diplomat in the German embassy in Paris at the time when the Dual Alliance was forged,
explained the logic behind the agreement in his memoirs: “There was a danger that the
Dual Monarchy [Austria-Hungary], if tried too far, would lose its nerve and fall into the
clutches of Russia as the terrified dove falls to the snake. Our policy would have to put
forth every effort to keep Austria faithful to ourselves and, in the case of war – which, if we
were skilful, was avoidable, but which naturally remained a possibility – to be assured of
the co-operation of the Imperial and Royal army, still formidable and efficient enough in
spite of the inner weakness of the Monarchy. On the other hand, we must avoid letting
Austria drag us, against our will, into a world war.”
The Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. (Public domain)
George Goschen, the British Minister
responsible for the navy in the 1890s
described British foreign policy in 1896 as
follows: “[It] is not an isolation of
weakness, or of contempt for ourselves; it
is deliberately chosen, the freedom to act
as we choose in any circumstance that may
arise”.
During this time Britain pursued an
isolationist foreign policy, unwilling to join in
any military alliance with another Great
Power. At the time the ‘isolationists’ in the
government argued that this policy reflected
Britain’s geographical position and the need,
as a major imperial power, to maintain the
capacity for independent action around the
world.
Quoted in C. Howard, ‘The Policy of isolation’,
Historical Journal, 10 (1) 1967.
British Foreign Policy
An Alliance between Russia
and France
Twelve years after the formation of the Triple Alliance, Russia and France formed their own
alliance in 1894. If Germany, Austria-Hungary or Italy, or all three, attacked either of them the
other would come to their aid.
Both countries wanted something from the other. From, 1887-1890 there had been a secret
agreement between Russia and Germany, negotiated by Bismarck, that each would remain neutral
if the other was attacked by a third power. After Bismarck had been dismissed as Chancellor the
German Foreign Ministry decided not to renew the agreement with Russia (known as the
Reinsurance Treaty). France already felt diplomatically isolated and vulnerable to attack by
Germany; now Russia also felt similarly isolated and vulnerable. Also, both feared the possibility
that Britain might join the Triple Alliance.
In addition, Russia offered France the potential support of a large standing army while France
offered Russia much needed finance for investment in its industries. On the other hand, as this
cartoon shows, some observers in France (and also in Russia) viewed this agreement with a certain
cynicism.
This cartoon appeared in the pro-Monarchist
newspaper, Le Soleil, on 18 December 1893.
Marianne, symbol of France, is in bed with the
Russian Bear and says “If I return your love, will
I get your coat for winter?”
Public domain
An end to Britain’s Splendid Isolation
Britain’s period of “splendid isolation” came to an end in
1902 when she agreed an alliance with Japan. After
defeating China in 1895 Japan was a rising power in the East
but it was looking for a European ally. Since France,
Germany and Russia had united to force Japan into giving up
some of the territory it had gained in the Sino-Japanese War,
she turned to Britain. Since Britain was not in alliance with
any of the other European powers there seemed little risk
that Japan might be dragged into a European war.
Britain also saw advantages in the alliance. Japan was buying
warships from British naval yards. Also, as Lord Curzon, then
a junior minister in the Foreign Office but later to be
Governor-General of India, wrote to Lord Salisbury the Prime
Minister in 1897: “If European Powers are grouping
themselves against us in the Far East we shall probably be
driven sooner or later to act with Japan. Ten years hence she
will be the greatest naval Power in those seas”. [Quoted by
I. Nish in P.P. O’Brien, (ed) The Anglo-Japanese Alliance ,
New York 2004.]
As this cartoon in the British
magazine Punch (1905) shows,
the Anglo-Japanese alliance
was popular in Britain.
(Public Domain – US)
The Entente Cordiale
In 1904, Britain and France signed the Entente Cordiale. There were no provisions for
military or naval support if either country was attacked by another Power. It was a means
of settling their differences, particularly over colonial influence in North Africa.
A French postcard published in 1904, depicting Marianne, symbol of France, and Britannia, symbol of Great Britain, dancing
together.
Public Domain
The Triple Entente
A year later, at the height of the Second Moroccan crisis,
and with Russia defeated by Japan in the Far East,
Britain and France began to hold secret talks about a
military alliance to restore the balance of power in
Europe. This was followed by the Anglo-Russian
Convention in 1907. Like the Entente Cordiale, this was
essentially a means of resolving imperial disputes, in this
case over Central Asia.
The Triple Entente was not, at first, a military alliance in
the same sense as the Triple Alliance. But it did state
that there was ‘a moral obligation’ to support each
other. That ‘moral obligation’ was put to the test in 1914
after German forces invaded neutral Belgium heading for
France.
This Russian poster, published in 1914, is
full of symbolism. Mother Russia is
flanked by Britannia and Marianne.
Behind them a battle is taking place.
Mother Russia holds above her head a
cross symbolising ‘faith’ while Britannia
holds an anchor, symbolising both the
strength of her navy but also a
traditional image of ‘hope’. Marianne
holds the sacred heart, traditionally a
symbol of ‘charity’.
(Public Domain).
“The Chain of Friendship”
In theory these alliances were meant to act as a
deterrence to war. In practice they tied allies to
each other. If one was faced by the prospect of
war the others would be obliged to support
them as this cartoon suggests.
But there were still tensions within both
alliances. There was a pro-German faction
within the Russian government and court. Many
in France still saw Britain as the main threat to
French interests, especially outside Europe.
In Germany there were critics of the Triple
Alliance who could not see why Germany should
put itself into a position where it could be
dragged into a war in defence of the declining
Habsburg Empire over a conflict with Russia
about control of the Balkans.
In Italy there were many nationalists who saw
Austria-Hungary as the real enemy because it
still controlled parts of the north where most of
the population was Italian.
Cartoon published in the US newspaper, The
Brooklyn Eagle, in July 1914 just days before war
was declared.
(No Known Copyright Restrictions)
At the same time, European governments and various private vested interests were beginning to
engage in a propaganda battle that reflected the divisions that had emerged in Europe by 1914.
These two satirical maps are relatively sophisticated versions of what were often more crude
forms of xenophobic and stereotypical insults. What is particularly interesting about both maps is
that they were first produced in Britain in 1914 but then re-produced in Germany without
permission and used as counter-propaganda. Can you see why?
‘European Revue – Kill that Eagle.’ This uses a number of
typical national symbols of the time, such as Marianne
for France, John Bull for Britain, the Russian Bear and
the German Eagle.
(Public Domain)
Hark! Hark! The Dogs Do Bark! A line taken from a
children’s nursery rhyme, used by the cartoonist to
highlight that the “Dogs of War” had been let loose in
Europe.
(Public Domain)
A propaganda battle
A divided Europe
By 1914 Europe was divided into two armed camps. While it could be said that
the emergence of these two alliances was a major contributing factor to WW1
it could also be argued that not one of the Great Powers in 1913 was absolutely
certain that its allies would come to its aid if they were attacked by another
power. Diplomatic negotiations seemed to be the safest bet.
Public Domain
The colonial world
in 1900
By 1900 the British Empire extended over five continents. France controlled large areas of
Africa and Indo-China. Belgium held the Congo in Africa and had important economic
contracts for developing railways and communication systems in China. The Dutch held
colonies in the East Indies and the Caribbean. Spain and Portugal held colonies in Africa,
while the newly-unified Germany and Italy were also looking for potential colonies in Africa.
Public Domain – modified by R. Stradling
Colonial ambitions
Germany came late to colonialism but by 1895 she had acquired colonies in east, west and south
west Africa as well as New Guinea and some smaller islands in the Pacific. Italy joined the
scramble for colonies in Africa, particularly East Africa, and invaded provinces of the Ottoman
Empire in 1911 to acquire what came to be known as Libya. Portugal, having lost its American and
Asian colonies, acquired Angola, Mozambique and several smaller colonies in West Africa. Spain
had lost its global Empire but acquired territories in North Africa in the 19th Century, including
Morocco and the Canary Islands and in West Africa around the Gulf of Guinea.
In the 1870s only 10 per cent of Africa was colonised, mostly on the coast. Improvements in
transport, communications and medicine (to combat tropical diseases) led to the so-called
“scramble for Africa” in the 1880s and early ‘90s. By the end of the century the scramble for new
colonies was over. The Great Powers were now more concerned with gaining territories in the old,
failing empires such as China, Persia and the Ottoman Empire.
The opening of the southern Africa railroad
which provided a link to the Mozambique port of
Beira for landlocked states such as Rhodesia,
Malawi, Zaire and the Congo.
(Public Domain)
“The Scramble for Africa”
How Africa was colonised between 1880 and 1913. Public Domain
From the reign of Catherine the Great onwards Russia had begun its expansion westwards
into Poland, most of Belarus and Ukraine, further south into the Crimea, south east into the
Caucasus and further east to the Pacific. Also the United States, whilst critical of the
imperialism of the European powers was busy acquiring Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines and
other Pacific islands as well as extending its economic and political influence further south.
Meanwhile, a new imperial power, Japan, was emerging in the far east. Industrialisation
necessitated raw materials and new markets. Militarism required conquests and colonies.
Between 1894 and 1910 Japan acquired Taiwan, Korea and southern Manchuria by force.
Expansion of the
Russian Empire
between 1800 and
1900
Map created by J.S. Pivey
(CC BY-NC 3.0)
International rivalry as a source of tension
Undoubtedly this imperialist desire for colonial expansion added
to the growing sense of international rivalry and tension. It
created tensions between Britain and Germany, France and
Germany, Britain, Japan and Russia, Britain and the United
States, Spain and the USA. German foreign policy in this period
(“Weltpolitik”) certainly heightened tension with France and with
Britain, particularly the Kaiser’s tendency to interfere in French
or British spheres of interest (e.g. Morocco or South Africa). But
the rivalry was apparent within the Alliances as well as between
them. Sometimes these tensions led to war or the threat of war.
However, these conflicts were not fought on European soil and,
for the most part, they were ‘managed’ through diplomatic
negotiations.
Imperialism was certainly one of the many factors contributing to
international tension. But historians disagree about the extent to
which it could be described as a cause of the Great War and some
historians question why it should have led to war in June 1914
rather than earlier, when the scramble for colonies had been at
its height.
“In spite of the fact that we have no such fleet as we should
have, we have conquered for ourselves a place in the sun. It will
now be my task to see to it that this place in the sun shall
remain our undisputed possession, in order that the sun's rays
may fall fruitfully upon our activity and trade in foreign parts,
that our industry and agriculture may develop within the state
and our sailing sports upon the water, for our future lies upon
the water.” Extract from a speech given by Kaiser Wilhelm II,
Hamburg 18 June 1901.
A British postcard purporting to show
what would happen if the Kaiser
fulfilled his dream of Germany’s “place
in the sun”.
Public Domain
Economic Rivalry
In late 19th century Europe imperialism and economic rivalry
went hand-in-hand. Colonies were a means of expanding
territory, acquiring scarce raw materials and minerals such as oil,
tin, copper, lead, zinc and phosphates, and obtaining desirable
goods such as diamonds, gold, silver, coffee, cocoa, rubber, palm
oil and cotton. They also offered new markets for European
exports and new opportunities for financial investment.
Britain had begun industrialising in the second half of the 18th
century and Belgium followed suit from the 1820s onwards. The
second industrial revolution began after 1870 in the United States
and in the newly-unified Germany and by the end of the century
Japan and most countries in north and west Europe were rapidly
industrialising.
Before 1880 Britain was the dominant force in the global
economy, mainly because of her exports of manufactured metal
goods (engineering, precision tools, steam engines, etc), cotton
and woollen textiles and coal. But over the next two decades
Britain was overtaken by Germany and the United States in terms
of the production of iron and steel and chemical and electrical
products.
US advertising poster, 1886
The adoption of mass production
techniques created a new mass
consumer market. Steamships and
railways opened up new markets
in other countries for the newly
industrialised nations.
(Public Domain United States)
The emergence of a global economy
By the 1880s and ‘90s a global economy was emerging. The
increasing mechanization of farming, the use of mass production
techniques and assembly lines and the conversion of merchant
shipping to steamships capable of transporting goods around the
world at lower costs than ever before meant that industrialised
nations were opening up markets for their goods all round the
world. Since most of them were not self-sufficient in essential
raw materials they were also increasingly dependent on other
less-developed nations for their supplies. Established producers
in the USA and West Europe soon found they had new
competitors, some of whom were offering products at cheaper
prices than could be produced by domestic industries and farms.
For example, German farmers were now having to compete in
their own markets with imported grain shipped from Odessa in
Russia.
By the end of the 19th century Britain was still the largest
exporting country in the world, but her rivals, especially the
United States, Germany and France, were catching up.
Colonialism was driven as much by the need for new markets and
sources of raw materials as it was by the desire for the prestige
of being an Imperial Power.
In some instances the Great Powers colonised parts of Africa and
Asia just in order to deny their rivals access to those markets.
The Suez Canal was opened on
17 November 1869. It allowed
ships travelling between Asia
and Europe to avoid sailing
around Africa, saving a
distance of 7000km.
(Public Domain)
Economic dependencies
As with imperialism, there is a sense that growing economic rivalry between five major global powers
produced a sense of heightened international rivalry. As the chart here shows, the ‘league table’ position
of each of the Great Powers based on wealth was gradually changing over the four decades before the
war.
But, at the same time, the Great Powers were becoming increasingly dependent on trade with each
other. By 1914 Britain was Germany’s best customer. German capital helped to finance iron ore mining in
France. Levels of trade between France and Germany (enemies as recently as 1871) was growing
significantly. By the start of the war 45% of Russia’s trade was with Germany and 20% with Britain.
France’s main trading partners were Britain, the USA, Germany and Russia. Around 20% of US trade was
with Britain and 14% with Germany.
Ultimately this economic interdependence did not stop these nations from going to war in 1914 but four
of these Great Powers did fight on the same side. It would be misleading to argue that their economic
rivalry proved stronger than their economic interdependence. Even today, economists argue that banks,
commerce and industry need political stability and certainty about the future. It is by no means clear
that economic rivalry between Germany and the other Great Powers directly led to war in 1914.
Chart created from data in J.
Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of
Great Power Politics, NY 2001
p.220
The Arms Race
The late 19th Century saw a rapid growth in the standing armies of all of the Great Powers.
Between 1900 and 1914 the combined military expenditure of the five main European
Powers increased by 50%. In Germany defence expenditure increased during that time by
73% with a large part of that going to the construction of warships. At the same time other
European countries, particularly in the Balkans, were also increasing their military
expenditure.
As this table shows, the main expansion in the Powers’ standing armies and reserves took
place between 1910 and 1914. As one country increased its armed forces so all the others
responded by increasing theirs. But the rapid increase in expenditure also reflected the
desire of the armed forces for new and improved weapons and equipment, including
battleships, submarines, machine guns and longer-range artillery. Each Great Power feared
that they would be left behind in the race to modernise their armies and navies.
This table draws on a number of different sources. The
figures for August 1914 come from John Simkin:
http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWarmies1914.htm.
The figures for 1905 and 1910 are best estimates based
on statistics provided in A.J.P. Taylor, Struggle for
Mastery in Europe from 1848 to 1918 (Oxford 1971) ;
David G. Herrmann, The Arming of Europe and the
Making of the First World War (Princeton 1996); and J.S.
Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (New
York 2001).
The Naval Race
One aspect of the arms race that has received
considerable attention from historians is the
naval arms race between Britain, the pre-
eminent naval power at this time, and Germany.
In Berlin it was believed that Germany could
only sustain its newly-found ‘place in the sun’ if
it had a sizeable navy that could protect its
colonies and its overseas trade.
At the beginning of the new century Germany
embarked on an ambitious naval programme
that dominated German defence expenditure for
a decade. In 1902 the British embarked on their
own naval construction programme, focused
particularly on the development of a new kind
of battleship, the Dreadnought.
By 1914 the British had built 38 new
Dreadnoughts and Battlecruisers (comparable in
size and firepower but faster) and 11 other
warships while Germany had built 24 battleships
equivalent to those of the British and 5 other
warships.
By 1913 the naval arms race had ended in
Britain’s favour.
HMS Dreadnought, the first of a new class of British
battleships built in 1906. (Public Domain United States, US
Naval Center)
SMS Nassau, the first new German battleship, launched in 1908 to
match the naval capacity of the British Dreadnoughts. (National
Archives and Records Administration, ARC Identifier 533188)
A vicious circle.
Each Great Power feared that it would quickly become a
second-rate power if it did not take part in the arms
race. Although the word deterrence was not generally
used in a military context at that time, there was a
widely-held belief that a large, well-equipped army or
navy would deter other powers from threatening war. To
some extent the policy seemed to work. The threat of
war with France and Britain pushed Germany into
backing down over Morocco. Russian mobilisation in
1912-13 was sufficient to persuade Austria-Hungary not
to intervene militarily against Serbia during the Balkan
Wars.
But, at the same time, this created an atmosphere of
brinkmanship amongst the Great Powers, with an
emphasis on bluff and counter-bluff, thereby creating a
heightened sense of international tension and
uncertainty between the powers.
1909 cartoon in the American
satirical magazine Puck. It
shows the United States,
Germany, Britain, France and
Japan engaged in a naval arms
race in what the cartoonist
calls a "no limit" game.
(Public Domain United States)
Historically the term ‘militarism’ has been applied to those countries where the interests of the
military were considered to be identical to those of the nation as a whole and the dividing line
between the military and civil authorities was blurred.
A militaristic culture gradually emerged in Prussia after defeat by Napoleon in 1806 and became
dominant after the army was modernised. After Germany was unified in 1870 the Prussian army
formed the core of the new German army. The Kaiser was the supreme commander, supported by
a military council, and the elected Parliament had little say in military matters. In the decade
before 1914 the German army was often described as a “state within the state’.
In Tsarist Russia military officers worked alongside civilian bureaucrats in some of the ministries;
the governors of most of the provinces and major cities were also the commanders of the local
military districts and large parts of eastern Russia were under direct military control. The High
Command was also very influential within the Tsar’s Council. However, civilian ministers were
often able to overrule the Ministry of War on major decisions affecting the army and navy and
Russia’s international relations.
Militarism.
“It shoots further than he dreams”.
Drawn by American cartoonist John F. Knott, a 19th century
immigrant who was originally from the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. The cartoon, depicting the Kaiser firing a cannon
around the world, was labelled “Militarism”. It was first
published and syndicated across the United States in March
1918.
Pressing for preventive wars
In all the Great Powers before the war there were disputes between the military and the
civilian ministries. The Finance ministries came into conflict with the military command
about the size of defence budgets. The Foreign Ministries argued for diplomatic
negotiations rather than military action.
Diplomats attached to embassies spent a lot of time trying to identify who were the “hawks
and doves’ in the various ministries of each Great Power.
From 1911 onwards the hawks appeared to be getting stronger but the divisions between
the two factions, even within ministries, often made it difficult to predict how each Great
Power government would respond to any international issue or crisis.
In Austria-Hungary Conrad von Hötzendorf, the
Chief of General Staff had created a ‘war
party’ within the General Staff and War Ministry
after 1906 which regularly pressed for
preventive wars against Serbia, Russia, Italy,
Montenegro and Romania. But his efforts were
repeatedly blocked by the Emperor and,
ironically, by Archduke Franz Ferdinand who
was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914.
Public Domain
Nationalism.
The American and French Revolutions spread the ideas of popular
sovereignty and national self determination. These events encouraged
nationalist aspirations in the German and Italian states which, for a
time, were encouraged by Napoleon who created a Kingdom of Italy
and reduced the number of small independent German states.
Although the Congress of Vienna in 1815 restored most of Europe to its
pre-revolutionary status quo it did not dampen down nationalist hopes
for independence.
These aspirations re-emerged during the 1848 revolutions which
occurred in most of Europe but these failed to secure either
constitutional democracy or the unification of Italy and Germany.
However, the drive for independence was becoming irreversible under
the leadership of Cavour in the Italian peninsula and Bismarck, the
Chancellor of Prussia.
Strong nationalist movements also emerged amongst the peoples in
the Balkans who were either subject to Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman
rule; amongst Poles under Russian control and amongst the Irish under
British rule. Nationalist ideologies were also gaining support within the
Great Powers as military and economic competition grew between
them. The overall effect was a more de-stabilised Europe.
The Boiling Point. A cartoon that
was published in the British
magazine Punch, 2 October 1912.
The Great Powers are trying to
keep the lid on a bubbling
cauldron of nationalist tensions in
the Balkans.
(Public Domain UK)
Why and how did the war break out?
Questions of why and how are logically inseparable, but they lead us in different directions. The
question of how invites us to look closely at the sequences of interactions that produced certain
outcomes. By contrast the question of why invites us to go in search of remote and categorical
causes: imperialism, nationalism, armaments, alliances, high finance, ideas of national honour,
the mechanics of mobilization. The why approach brings us a certain analytical clarity, but it also
has a distorting effect, because it creates the illusion of a steadily building causal pressure; the
factors pile up on top of each other pushing down on the events; political actors become mere
executors of forces long established and beyond their control…. Nationalism, armaments,
alliances, and finance were all part of the story, but they can be made to carry real explanatory
weight only if they can be seen to have shaped the decisions that – in combination - made war
break out…… : a journey through the events that is not driven by the need to draw up a charge
sheet against this or that state or individual, but aims to identify the decisions that brought war
about and to understand the reasoning or emotions behind them. This does not mean excluding
questions of responsibility entirely from the discussion – the aim is rather to let the why answers
grow, as it were, out of the how answers, rather than the other way around.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p.562
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DISCLAIMER
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support for this publication
does not constitute of an
endorsement of the contents
which reflects the view only of
the authors, and the European
Commission cannot be held
responsible for any use which
may be made of the
information contained herein.
The Underlying Causes of the War
Has been made by Bob Stradling. The development has been part of a
Europeana collaboration and is financially supported by the European
Union and the Evens Foundation.

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Underlying Causes of the War.pptx

  • 1. As we look back on the decades leading up to the start of World War 1 it is all too easy to believe that war in 1914 was inevitable. There were two new nation states – Germany and Italy – eager to establish their “place in the sun”. The growing nationalism in the Balkans had contributed to the steady decline of two multinational empires: the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary. Competition for world markets and new colonies in China and Africa was intense. The alliance system formed to maintain good relations between rival states, had mutated into two military coalitions committed to supporting each other if attacked by another power. This, in turn, had resulted in an arms race between them. There was also growing popular support within the major powers for more aggressive foreign policies. All these factors helped to ratchet up tensions between the Great Powers in the 20 years before the war. And yet, it is also important to recognise that no wars between the Great Powers had been fought on European soil since the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. In spite of the mounting international tensions over that period the diplomatic process had helped to draw Europe back from the brink of war. So when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 the foreign ministries in the capital cities of Europe did not expect that this new crisis would drag them into a major continental war.
  • 2. The Alliance System In 1879 Germany and Austria-Hungary formed the Dual Alliance against the threat of Russian or French aggression. This became the Triple Alliance when Italy joined in 1882 after its aim of gaining control of Tunis had been thwarted by France. Now all three countries were committed to defending each other if attacked by another power. Prince Bernhard von Bülow, German Chancellor from 1900-1909, who had been a junior diplomat in the German embassy in Paris at the time when the Dual Alliance was forged, explained the logic behind the agreement in his memoirs: “There was a danger that the Dual Monarchy [Austria-Hungary], if tried too far, would lose its nerve and fall into the clutches of Russia as the terrified dove falls to the snake. Our policy would have to put forth every effort to keep Austria faithful to ourselves and, in the case of war – which, if we were skilful, was avoidable, but which naturally remained a possibility – to be assured of the co-operation of the Imperial and Royal army, still formidable and efficient enough in spite of the inner weakness of the Monarchy. On the other hand, we must avoid letting Austria drag us, against our will, into a world war.” The Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. (Public domain)
  • 3. George Goschen, the British Minister responsible for the navy in the 1890s described British foreign policy in 1896 as follows: “[It] is not an isolation of weakness, or of contempt for ourselves; it is deliberately chosen, the freedom to act as we choose in any circumstance that may arise”. During this time Britain pursued an isolationist foreign policy, unwilling to join in any military alliance with another Great Power. At the time the ‘isolationists’ in the government argued that this policy reflected Britain’s geographical position and the need, as a major imperial power, to maintain the capacity for independent action around the world. Quoted in C. Howard, ‘The Policy of isolation’, Historical Journal, 10 (1) 1967. British Foreign Policy
  • 4. An Alliance between Russia and France Twelve years after the formation of the Triple Alliance, Russia and France formed their own alliance in 1894. If Germany, Austria-Hungary or Italy, or all three, attacked either of them the other would come to their aid. Both countries wanted something from the other. From, 1887-1890 there had been a secret agreement between Russia and Germany, negotiated by Bismarck, that each would remain neutral if the other was attacked by a third power. After Bismarck had been dismissed as Chancellor the German Foreign Ministry decided not to renew the agreement with Russia (known as the Reinsurance Treaty). France already felt diplomatically isolated and vulnerable to attack by Germany; now Russia also felt similarly isolated and vulnerable. Also, both feared the possibility that Britain might join the Triple Alliance. In addition, Russia offered France the potential support of a large standing army while France offered Russia much needed finance for investment in its industries. On the other hand, as this cartoon shows, some observers in France (and also in Russia) viewed this agreement with a certain cynicism. This cartoon appeared in the pro-Monarchist newspaper, Le Soleil, on 18 December 1893. Marianne, symbol of France, is in bed with the Russian Bear and says “If I return your love, will I get your coat for winter?” Public domain
  • 5. An end to Britain’s Splendid Isolation Britain’s period of “splendid isolation” came to an end in 1902 when she agreed an alliance with Japan. After defeating China in 1895 Japan was a rising power in the East but it was looking for a European ally. Since France, Germany and Russia had united to force Japan into giving up some of the territory it had gained in the Sino-Japanese War, she turned to Britain. Since Britain was not in alliance with any of the other European powers there seemed little risk that Japan might be dragged into a European war. Britain also saw advantages in the alliance. Japan was buying warships from British naval yards. Also, as Lord Curzon, then a junior minister in the Foreign Office but later to be Governor-General of India, wrote to Lord Salisbury the Prime Minister in 1897: “If European Powers are grouping themselves against us in the Far East we shall probably be driven sooner or later to act with Japan. Ten years hence she will be the greatest naval Power in those seas”. [Quoted by I. Nish in P.P. O’Brien, (ed) The Anglo-Japanese Alliance , New York 2004.] As this cartoon in the British magazine Punch (1905) shows, the Anglo-Japanese alliance was popular in Britain. (Public Domain – US)
  • 6. The Entente Cordiale In 1904, Britain and France signed the Entente Cordiale. There were no provisions for military or naval support if either country was attacked by another Power. It was a means of settling their differences, particularly over colonial influence in North Africa. A French postcard published in 1904, depicting Marianne, symbol of France, and Britannia, symbol of Great Britain, dancing together. Public Domain
  • 7. The Triple Entente A year later, at the height of the Second Moroccan crisis, and with Russia defeated by Japan in the Far East, Britain and France began to hold secret talks about a military alliance to restore the balance of power in Europe. This was followed by the Anglo-Russian Convention in 1907. Like the Entente Cordiale, this was essentially a means of resolving imperial disputes, in this case over Central Asia. The Triple Entente was not, at first, a military alliance in the same sense as the Triple Alliance. But it did state that there was ‘a moral obligation’ to support each other. That ‘moral obligation’ was put to the test in 1914 after German forces invaded neutral Belgium heading for France. This Russian poster, published in 1914, is full of symbolism. Mother Russia is flanked by Britannia and Marianne. Behind them a battle is taking place. Mother Russia holds above her head a cross symbolising ‘faith’ while Britannia holds an anchor, symbolising both the strength of her navy but also a traditional image of ‘hope’. Marianne holds the sacred heart, traditionally a symbol of ‘charity’. (Public Domain).
  • 8. “The Chain of Friendship” In theory these alliances were meant to act as a deterrence to war. In practice they tied allies to each other. If one was faced by the prospect of war the others would be obliged to support them as this cartoon suggests. But there were still tensions within both alliances. There was a pro-German faction within the Russian government and court. Many in France still saw Britain as the main threat to French interests, especially outside Europe. In Germany there were critics of the Triple Alliance who could not see why Germany should put itself into a position where it could be dragged into a war in defence of the declining Habsburg Empire over a conflict with Russia about control of the Balkans. In Italy there were many nationalists who saw Austria-Hungary as the real enemy because it still controlled parts of the north where most of the population was Italian. Cartoon published in the US newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle, in July 1914 just days before war was declared. (No Known Copyright Restrictions)
  • 9. At the same time, European governments and various private vested interests were beginning to engage in a propaganda battle that reflected the divisions that had emerged in Europe by 1914. These two satirical maps are relatively sophisticated versions of what were often more crude forms of xenophobic and stereotypical insults. What is particularly interesting about both maps is that they were first produced in Britain in 1914 but then re-produced in Germany without permission and used as counter-propaganda. Can you see why? ‘European Revue – Kill that Eagle.’ This uses a number of typical national symbols of the time, such as Marianne for France, John Bull for Britain, the Russian Bear and the German Eagle. (Public Domain) Hark! Hark! The Dogs Do Bark! A line taken from a children’s nursery rhyme, used by the cartoonist to highlight that the “Dogs of War” had been let loose in Europe. (Public Domain) A propaganda battle
  • 10. A divided Europe By 1914 Europe was divided into two armed camps. While it could be said that the emergence of these two alliances was a major contributing factor to WW1 it could also be argued that not one of the Great Powers in 1913 was absolutely certain that its allies would come to its aid if they were attacked by another power. Diplomatic negotiations seemed to be the safest bet. Public Domain
  • 11. The colonial world in 1900 By 1900 the British Empire extended over five continents. France controlled large areas of Africa and Indo-China. Belgium held the Congo in Africa and had important economic contracts for developing railways and communication systems in China. The Dutch held colonies in the East Indies and the Caribbean. Spain and Portugal held colonies in Africa, while the newly-unified Germany and Italy were also looking for potential colonies in Africa. Public Domain – modified by R. Stradling
  • 12. Colonial ambitions Germany came late to colonialism but by 1895 she had acquired colonies in east, west and south west Africa as well as New Guinea and some smaller islands in the Pacific. Italy joined the scramble for colonies in Africa, particularly East Africa, and invaded provinces of the Ottoman Empire in 1911 to acquire what came to be known as Libya. Portugal, having lost its American and Asian colonies, acquired Angola, Mozambique and several smaller colonies in West Africa. Spain had lost its global Empire but acquired territories in North Africa in the 19th Century, including Morocco and the Canary Islands and in West Africa around the Gulf of Guinea. In the 1870s only 10 per cent of Africa was colonised, mostly on the coast. Improvements in transport, communications and medicine (to combat tropical diseases) led to the so-called “scramble for Africa” in the 1880s and early ‘90s. By the end of the century the scramble for new colonies was over. The Great Powers were now more concerned with gaining territories in the old, failing empires such as China, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. The opening of the southern Africa railroad which provided a link to the Mozambique port of Beira for landlocked states such as Rhodesia, Malawi, Zaire and the Congo. (Public Domain)
  • 13. “The Scramble for Africa” How Africa was colonised between 1880 and 1913. Public Domain
  • 14. From the reign of Catherine the Great onwards Russia had begun its expansion westwards into Poland, most of Belarus and Ukraine, further south into the Crimea, south east into the Caucasus and further east to the Pacific. Also the United States, whilst critical of the imperialism of the European powers was busy acquiring Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines and other Pacific islands as well as extending its economic and political influence further south. Meanwhile, a new imperial power, Japan, was emerging in the far east. Industrialisation necessitated raw materials and new markets. Militarism required conquests and colonies. Between 1894 and 1910 Japan acquired Taiwan, Korea and southern Manchuria by force. Expansion of the Russian Empire between 1800 and 1900 Map created by J.S. Pivey (CC BY-NC 3.0)
  • 15. International rivalry as a source of tension Undoubtedly this imperialist desire for colonial expansion added to the growing sense of international rivalry and tension. It created tensions between Britain and Germany, France and Germany, Britain, Japan and Russia, Britain and the United States, Spain and the USA. German foreign policy in this period (“Weltpolitik”) certainly heightened tension with France and with Britain, particularly the Kaiser’s tendency to interfere in French or British spheres of interest (e.g. Morocco or South Africa). But the rivalry was apparent within the Alliances as well as between them. Sometimes these tensions led to war or the threat of war. However, these conflicts were not fought on European soil and, for the most part, they were ‘managed’ through diplomatic negotiations. Imperialism was certainly one of the many factors contributing to international tension. But historians disagree about the extent to which it could be described as a cause of the Great War and some historians question why it should have led to war in June 1914 rather than earlier, when the scramble for colonies had been at its height. “In spite of the fact that we have no such fleet as we should have, we have conquered for ourselves a place in the sun. It will now be my task to see to it that this place in the sun shall remain our undisputed possession, in order that the sun's rays may fall fruitfully upon our activity and trade in foreign parts, that our industry and agriculture may develop within the state and our sailing sports upon the water, for our future lies upon the water.” Extract from a speech given by Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hamburg 18 June 1901. A British postcard purporting to show what would happen if the Kaiser fulfilled his dream of Germany’s “place in the sun”. Public Domain
  • 16. Economic Rivalry In late 19th century Europe imperialism and economic rivalry went hand-in-hand. Colonies were a means of expanding territory, acquiring scarce raw materials and minerals such as oil, tin, copper, lead, zinc and phosphates, and obtaining desirable goods such as diamonds, gold, silver, coffee, cocoa, rubber, palm oil and cotton. They also offered new markets for European exports and new opportunities for financial investment. Britain had begun industrialising in the second half of the 18th century and Belgium followed suit from the 1820s onwards. The second industrial revolution began after 1870 in the United States and in the newly-unified Germany and by the end of the century Japan and most countries in north and west Europe were rapidly industrialising. Before 1880 Britain was the dominant force in the global economy, mainly because of her exports of manufactured metal goods (engineering, precision tools, steam engines, etc), cotton and woollen textiles and coal. But over the next two decades Britain was overtaken by Germany and the United States in terms of the production of iron and steel and chemical and electrical products. US advertising poster, 1886 The adoption of mass production techniques created a new mass consumer market. Steamships and railways opened up new markets in other countries for the newly industrialised nations. (Public Domain United States)
  • 17. The emergence of a global economy By the 1880s and ‘90s a global economy was emerging. The increasing mechanization of farming, the use of mass production techniques and assembly lines and the conversion of merchant shipping to steamships capable of transporting goods around the world at lower costs than ever before meant that industrialised nations were opening up markets for their goods all round the world. Since most of them were not self-sufficient in essential raw materials they were also increasingly dependent on other less-developed nations for their supplies. Established producers in the USA and West Europe soon found they had new competitors, some of whom were offering products at cheaper prices than could be produced by domestic industries and farms. For example, German farmers were now having to compete in their own markets with imported grain shipped from Odessa in Russia. By the end of the 19th century Britain was still the largest exporting country in the world, but her rivals, especially the United States, Germany and France, were catching up. Colonialism was driven as much by the need for new markets and sources of raw materials as it was by the desire for the prestige of being an Imperial Power. In some instances the Great Powers colonised parts of Africa and Asia just in order to deny their rivals access to those markets. The Suez Canal was opened on 17 November 1869. It allowed ships travelling between Asia and Europe to avoid sailing around Africa, saving a distance of 7000km. (Public Domain)
  • 18. Economic dependencies As with imperialism, there is a sense that growing economic rivalry between five major global powers produced a sense of heightened international rivalry. As the chart here shows, the ‘league table’ position of each of the Great Powers based on wealth was gradually changing over the four decades before the war. But, at the same time, the Great Powers were becoming increasingly dependent on trade with each other. By 1914 Britain was Germany’s best customer. German capital helped to finance iron ore mining in France. Levels of trade between France and Germany (enemies as recently as 1871) was growing significantly. By the start of the war 45% of Russia’s trade was with Germany and 20% with Britain. France’s main trading partners were Britain, the USA, Germany and Russia. Around 20% of US trade was with Britain and 14% with Germany. Ultimately this economic interdependence did not stop these nations from going to war in 1914 but four of these Great Powers did fight on the same side. It would be misleading to argue that their economic rivalry proved stronger than their economic interdependence. Even today, economists argue that banks, commerce and industry need political stability and certainty about the future. It is by no means clear that economic rivalry between Germany and the other Great Powers directly led to war in 1914. Chart created from data in J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, NY 2001 p.220
  • 19. The Arms Race The late 19th Century saw a rapid growth in the standing armies of all of the Great Powers. Between 1900 and 1914 the combined military expenditure of the five main European Powers increased by 50%. In Germany defence expenditure increased during that time by 73% with a large part of that going to the construction of warships. At the same time other European countries, particularly in the Balkans, were also increasing their military expenditure. As this table shows, the main expansion in the Powers’ standing armies and reserves took place between 1910 and 1914. As one country increased its armed forces so all the others responded by increasing theirs. But the rapid increase in expenditure also reflected the desire of the armed forces for new and improved weapons and equipment, including battleships, submarines, machine guns and longer-range artillery. Each Great Power feared that they would be left behind in the race to modernise their armies and navies. This table draws on a number of different sources. The figures for August 1914 come from John Simkin: http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWarmies1914.htm. The figures for 1905 and 1910 are best estimates based on statistics provided in A.J.P. Taylor, Struggle for Mastery in Europe from 1848 to 1918 (Oxford 1971) ; David G. Herrmann, The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War (Princeton 1996); and J.S. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (New York 2001).
  • 20. The Naval Race One aspect of the arms race that has received considerable attention from historians is the naval arms race between Britain, the pre- eminent naval power at this time, and Germany. In Berlin it was believed that Germany could only sustain its newly-found ‘place in the sun’ if it had a sizeable navy that could protect its colonies and its overseas trade. At the beginning of the new century Germany embarked on an ambitious naval programme that dominated German defence expenditure for a decade. In 1902 the British embarked on their own naval construction programme, focused particularly on the development of a new kind of battleship, the Dreadnought. By 1914 the British had built 38 new Dreadnoughts and Battlecruisers (comparable in size and firepower but faster) and 11 other warships while Germany had built 24 battleships equivalent to those of the British and 5 other warships. By 1913 the naval arms race had ended in Britain’s favour. HMS Dreadnought, the first of a new class of British battleships built in 1906. (Public Domain United States, US Naval Center) SMS Nassau, the first new German battleship, launched in 1908 to match the naval capacity of the British Dreadnoughts. (National Archives and Records Administration, ARC Identifier 533188)
  • 21. A vicious circle. Each Great Power feared that it would quickly become a second-rate power if it did not take part in the arms race. Although the word deterrence was not generally used in a military context at that time, there was a widely-held belief that a large, well-equipped army or navy would deter other powers from threatening war. To some extent the policy seemed to work. The threat of war with France and Britain pushed Germany into backing down over Morocco. Russian mobilisation in 1912-13 was sufficient to persuade Austria-Hungary not to intervene militarily against Serbia during the Balkan Wars. But, at the same time, this created an atmosphere of brinkmanship amongst the Great Powers, with an emphasis on bluff and counter-bluff, thereby creating a heightened sense of international tension and uncertainty between the powers. 1909 cartoon in the American satirical magazine Puck. It shows the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Japan engaged in a naval arms race in what the cartoonist calls a "no limit" game. (Public Domain United States)
  • 22. Historically the term ‘militarism’ has been applied to those countries where the interests of the military were considered to be identical to those of the nation as a whole and the dividing line between the military and civil authorities was blurred. A militaristic culture gradually emerged in Prussia after defeat by Napoleon in 1806 and became dominant after the army was modernised. After Germany was unified in 1870 the Prussian army formed the core of the new German army. The Kaiser was the supreme commander, supported by a military council, and the elected Parliament had little say in military matters. In the decade before 1914 the German army was often described as a “state within the state’. In Tsarist Russia military officers worked alongside civilian bureaucrats in some of the ministries; the governors of most of the provinces and major cities were also the commanders of the local military districts and large parts of eastern Russia were under direct military control. The High Command was also very influential within the Tsar’s Council. However, civilian ministers were often able to overrule the Ministry of War on major decisions affecting the army and navy and Russia’s international relations. Militarism. “It shoots further than he dreams”. Drawn by American cartoonist John F. Knott, a 19th century immigrant who was originally from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The cartoon, depicting the Kaiser firing a cannon around the world, was labelled “Militarism”. It was first published and syndicated across the United States in March 1918.
  • 23. Pressing for preventive wars In all the Great Powers before the war there were disputes between the military and the civilian ministries. The Finance ministries came into conflict with the military command about the size of defence budgets. The Foreign Ministries argued for diplomatic negotiations rather than military action. Diplomats attached to embassies spent a lot of time trying to identify who were the “hawks and doves’ in the various ministries of each Great Power. From 1911 onwards the hawks appeared to be getting stronger but the divisions between the two factions, even within ministries, often made it difficult to predict how each Great Power government would respond to any international issue or crisis. In Austria-Hungary Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Chief of General Staff had created a ‘war party’ within the General Staff and War Ministry after 1906 which regularly pressed for preventive wars against Serbia, Russia, Italy, Montenegro and Romania. But his efforts were repeatedly blocked by the Emperor and, ironically, by Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914. Public Domain
  • 24. Nationalism. The American and French Revolutions spread the ideas of popular sovereignty and national self determination. These events encouraged nationalist aspirations in the German and Italian states which, for a time, were encouraged by Napoleon who created a Kingdom of Italy and reduced the number of small independent German states. Although the Congress of Vienna in 1815 restored most of Europe to its pre-revolutionary status quo it did not dampen down nationalist hopes for independence. These aspirations re-emerged during the 1848 revolutions which occurred in most of Europe but these failed to secure either constitutional democracy or the unification of Italy and Germany. However, the drive for independence was becoming irreversible under the leadership of Cavour in the Italian peninsula and Bismarck, the Chancellor of Prussia. Strong nationalist movements also emerged amongst the peoples in the Balkans who were either subject to Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman rule; amongst Poles under Russian control and amongst the Irish under British rule. Nationalist ideologies were also gaining support within the Great Powers as military and economic competition grew between them. The overall effect was a more de-stabilised Europe. The Boiling Point. A cartoon that was published in the British magazine Punch, 2 October 1912. The Great Powers are trying to keep the lid on a bubbling cauldron of nationalist tensions in the Balkans. (Public Domain UK)
  • 25. Why and how did the war break out? Questions of why and how are logically inseparable, but they lead us in different directions. The question of how invites us to look closely at the sequences of interactions that produced certain outcomes. By contrast the question of why invites us to go in search of remote and categorical causes: imperialism, nationalism, armaments, alliances, high finance, ideas of national honour, the mechanics of mobilization. The why approach brings us a certain analytical clarity, but it also has a distorting effect, because it creates the illusion of a steadily building causal pressure; the factors pile up on top of each other pushing down on the events; political actors become mere executors of forces long established and beyond their control…. Nationalism, armaments, alliances, and finance were all part of the story, but they can be made to carry real explanatory weight only if they can be seen to have shaped the decisions that – in combination - made war break out…… : a journey through the events that is not driven by the need to draw up a charge sheet against this or that state or individual, but aims to identify the decisions that brought war about and to understand the reasoning or emotions behind them. This does not mean excluding questions of responsibility entirely from the discussion – the aim is rather to let the why answers grow, as it were, out of the how answers, rather than the other way around. Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p.562
  • 26. COPYRIGHT AND LICENSE EUROCLIO has tried to contact all copyright holders of materials published on Historiana. Please contact copyright@historiana.eu in case you find that materials have been unrightfully used. License: CC-BY-SA 4.0, Historiana DISCLAIMER The European Commission support for this publication does not constitute of an endorsement of the contents which reflects the view only of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein. The Underlying Causes of the War Has been made by Bob Stradling. The development has been part of a Europeana collaboration and is financially supported by the European Union and the Evens Foundation.