The following excerpt, has been taken from the introduction to Beth Aitchison’s (Upper Sixth) Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) on the question: “To what extent were alliances, militarism, nationalism and imperialism, between 1892-1914, contributors to the outbreak of World War One?”
World War One was the deadliest war in history and was fought between 1914 and 1918, which involved the most nations and cost more money than any other in history, which is why it impacted both positively and negatively on the majority of countries involved. This is because it did allow for the mass development of industries and societies. Although, over the four years, the total number of military and civilian casualties was over 38 million, with over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded.
In this report, I will be discussing the possible long term causes of the outbreak of World War I, including alliances, militarism, nationalism and imperialism. I will evaluate both historians’ arguments and offer my own opinion on what contributed to the outbreak of World War One. This will include a summary of events that occurred as a result of these causes with an explanation of the impact concerning all countries involved, as well as attempting to come to a somewhat objectified conclusion about to the extent of which factor contributed the most to the outbreak of war.
This factor has been researched by the historian Gary Sheffield, who’s a professor of war studies at the University of Birmingham. He has stated that the “plunge into war was all too deliberate” which suggests he believed the war was a result of deep roots with evidence that the alliance systems nearly twenty years before caused the outbreak of the war. In Sheffield’s article, he claimed that “the emergence of a united Germany under Prussian leadership had destroyed the old balance of power”, because of the Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck, who initiated the negotiations of the alliances that were formed. This was then continued by the Kaiser Wilhelm who continued the German belief that alliances meant power.
Using Sheffield’s research, and my own knowledge, it is believed that the alliance system began with the formation of the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1882. These countries agreed that this would be a military alliance, which means they would support each other in the event of an attack on one of the nations within this alliance. The aim of this agreement was to increase their power, because they were a relatively new nation, forming in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian war between France and Germany, which led to Germany becoming desperate to make their mark on the world. Therefore, due to the fact they didn’t yet have an Empire, unlike Britain who at the time was the most powerful country in the world, the Bismarck felt underestimated.
The reason for Austria-Hungary joining this alliance was to ensure that peace was preserved and stability was maintained within their own country. There were a number of different ethnic groups that made up the population, including Serbs, Germans, Czechs and Slovaks who all wanted to be independent from Austria-Hungary and wanted to join the neighbouring state of Serbia. Italy had their own motives of joining this military alliance which was to establish a government, because they were only a recently formed nation.
However, after these negotiations were made between the countries, Kaiser Wilhelm took over as leader from Bismarck in 1888, resulting in him “taking control of Germany’s destiny”, as Sheffield described it. He also claimed that after the Kaiser came to power, “Bismarck’s carefully constructed system of alliances was promptly dismantled” because he introduced a new political system that allowed him and his advisors huge power.
France and Russia’s suspicions of Germany and their true intentions grew which led to the formation of the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 which was formed to support and aid each other if Germany attacked them, because they saw Germany as an increasing threat to their Empires. However, France had ulterior motives, because they were desperate for revenge after the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. In addition, Russia was more concerned with remaining a powerful country against an attack from Austria-Hungary, who had lost their trust for encouraging and supporting Serbs living in Austria-Hungary to join onto Serbia which increased tensions in the East.
While these alliances were being formed, Britain was living in a period of historians have called, ‘Splendid Isolation’. This meant that Britain was so powerful, they didn’t need to become entangled with European affairs. Britain recognised the fact that Germany was the main cause for the increasing tension, but because they were natural allies due to their Royal families being related, which meant, Britain didn’t want to jeopardise that relationship. However, this began to change towards the end of the 19th century, and was triggered by the three year Boer War of 1899 in South Africa, which Britain became involved in. This led to a change in attitude, because Germany began to directly challenge Britain due to their expression of sadness over the defeat of the Boers after they lost the battle for independence from the British Empire.