The fundamental causes of conflict were rooted deeply in the European history of the previous century, particularly in the political and economic policies that prevailed on the Continent after 1871, the year that marked the emergence of Germany as a great world power. Nationalism was strong in both Germany and France. Germans were proud of their new empire's military power and industrial leadership. France longed to regain its position as Europe's leading power. The underlying causes of World War I were the spirit of intense nationalism that permeated Europe throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, the political and economic rivalry among the nations, and the establishment and maintenance in Europe after 1871 of large armaments and of two hostile military alliances.
Two old multinational empires particularly feared rising nationalism in Eastern Europe. Austria-Hungary was worried that nationalism might foster rebellion among many minority populations within its empire. The Balkan wars raised tensions.
By 1914, the Balkans were the "Powder Keg of Europe."
Economic rivalries further poisoned the international atmosphere. The British felt threatened by Germany's rapid economic growth. By 1900, Germany's new, modern factories increasingly outproduced Britain's older ones. Britain had strong economic reasons to oppose Germany in any conflict. Germany thought that other great powers did not give them enough respect.
Imperialism also divided European nations. In 1905 and again in 1911, competition for colonies brought France and Germany to the brink of war. Germany wanted to keep France from imposing a protectorate on the Muslim kingdom of Morocco. Although diplomats kept the peace, Germany gained some territory in central Africa. As a result of the Moroccan crises, Britain and France began to form closer ties against Germany.
As international tensions grew, the great powers expanded their armies and navies. The result was an arms race...