To what extent did the alliance system cause the First World War?

Essay by rachel-england January 2006

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The alliance system alone did not cause the First World War. It was the

result of a combination of factors which together shaped a European climate

which made the outbreak of a war inevitable. Assuming that the alliance

system was one of the factors involved, we must also assess events within

Europe which actually allowed the creation of the alliance system. The

primary origins of the First World War lie in the emergence of nationalism

and the new prominent power Germany, the Great Powers' desire for

colonisation and, ironically, a desperate longing for security which

triggered the arms race and the alliance system. Germany's foreign and naval

policies, combined with other European developments, elicited an Entente of

"defensive coalition" which, also because the terms of it were secret, heightened tensions within Europe. Therefore the alliance system was only an

unsuccessful response to European developments which were foreshadowing an eventual war.

Whilst trying to inhibit war, the alliance system actually

increased the likeliness of it and during later stages, when mobilisation

had begun, destroyed the chance of peace within Europe. But it cannot be

described as the cause of the First World War as such because other factors

which were operating, and without

which an alliance system would not have developed in the first place, were so severe that a war would have been probable with or without the alliance system.

An important factor which we must assess as a factor of World War One is the

legacy of the creation of the new German Empire which was established in

1871. The distribution of European Power was altered significantly and

Bismarck sought to stabilize Europe around the new German Empire. He was

aware of France's inevitable desire for revenge and for the return of

Alsace-Lorraine. Through skilful diplomacy he aimed...