Reasons For The Outbreak Of World War I in 1914

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The First World War was the result of many age-old conflicts within Europe. Rising nationalism, imperialism, and a lack of knowledge and fear of war influenced this antagonistic conflict. There were many other more direct causes however, such as the blows to national pride, the alliance systems, the arms race, conflict in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Schlieffen Plan.

Before world war broke out, many European nations had suffered sever blows to their national pride through serious defeats by ‘lesser’ nations. France had lost the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 to Prussian states, creating Germany, and they were thirsty for ‘Revanche’. Russia had suffered crushing naval defeats by Japan, an adversary seen as substantially weaker. Britain had also been humiliated by the troubles of the Boer War, with Germany supporting the Boers. These disgraceful defeats made nations ready to prove their power, increased desire for revenge, and acted as influences in the shaping of the alliance systems.

By 1882, the Triple Alliance had formed between Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Italy. France became worried, as they were enemies of both Germany, due to conflict over Alsace-Lorraine, and Italy, due to French prevention of Italian expansion in Africa. This influenced the creation of the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. Although France had found an ally, Russia was too slow and weak, despite sheer military numbers. France allied with their traditional enemy, Britain, through the Entente Cordial in 1904. France encouraged British-Russia relations, and the three made an agreement in 1907, forming the Triple Entente. In the event of conflict, all parties would be obligated to become involved. The imperialistic nature of the Great Powers, a war in Europe automatically became an international conflict through the Empires’ various colonies. These alliances had effectively split Europe into two massive entities, causing increased fear of foreign invasion, hate of foreigners and a nervous apprehension of coming war.

This fear and resentment helped fuel the arms race, which was also influenced by growing militarism in Europe. Nations considered the creation of arms to be a God-given-right and a fundamental in imperialistic expansion, which was directly based on nationalistic ideals. As nations built upon their military might, other nations became worried, and continued added to already powerful arms stockpiles. This can be seen in the naval race, where Germany’s creation of warships caused Britain to create an even larger navy. French military parades would have fuelled nationalistic feelings and the readiness for war. The amassing of arms would have made nations feel prepared for war, and if war came to fruition (which it did), allowed hostilities to progress for extensive periods of time.

During the pre-war period, Austro Hungary had increased attempts to squash the Balkan States’ rising nationalism. Austro-Hungarian expansion in the Mediterranean had also caught Britain’s interest due to their strong influence in the Suez Canal, further inciting anxiety. Serbia’s Slavic ties had brought Russian support to the Serbian plight against Austro-Hungary. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, Russia began partial and precautionary mobilisation of forces against possible conflict with Austro-Hungary. This sparked the Schlieffen Plan, signalling the beginning of war.

Germany had devised the Schlieffen plan to counter possible hostilities with both Russia and France. Seeing as though Germany would be potentially fighting a war on two fronts, it was fundamental that France was defeated in six weeks before Russia could mobilise their entire military strength: if Russia mobilised their forces, the Schlieffen Plan came into action. Germany planned to swing their forces behind Paris, enveloping and crushing French force, and then move to meet Russia on the eastern front. However, to reach Paris quickly and safely, Germany had to pass through neutral Belgium. This would have caused British involvement, as takeover of Belgium would suggest a possible invasion of the British mainland. So, when the Schlieffen Plan came into action after Russia’s mobilisation, war broke out, involving all parties in a serious conflict.

Hence we can see that the First World War did not just appear out of some deep hate felt between nations, nor simply by the spark produced by Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, but from a number of factors that contributed to an overall sense of fear, tension and resentment that would eventually see the major nations ‘locked-into’ a war spreading throughout almost the entire world.

Bibliography'Key Features of Modern History', Bruce Dennett & Stephen Dixon