To what extent can it be said that the First World War was caused by the alliance system?

To what extent can it be said that the First World War was caused by the alliance system? 
From 1999 Paper II
Topic 1: Causes, practices and effects of war

Essay I:

An observer to international relations today, will absolutely see the alliance system in use, very similarly to what it was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  With Syria being in a state of chaos and Assad supposedly using chemical weapons, Russia has stood on the side of the ‘President’ of Syria.  America, on the other hand has shown that they are determined to give repercussions for the use of chemical weapons on the rebels and civilians alike.  At the beginning, the United States had support from the likes of Britain and France, which they have modern day ‘alliances,’ treaties, and agreements with.  As time went on, Britain dropped support of America and denied using their military against Syria, while France is dwindling on supporting America.  All of a sudden, these ‘alliances’ and agreements don’t seem to mean anything, but they did really ever mean anything, and more importantly, did they cause World War I?  This will start off by examining how the alliance system of the late 1800s and early 1900s caused World War I and later on discus other opinions and reasons why it did not cause the war.

On the surface, it certainly seems as though the alliances had everything to do with the outbreak of the Great War and as a result lead it to becoming a ‘World’ war.  The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand could of caused a war only between two nations which were opposed for many years, Austria-Hungary and Serbia, but as a result of the complicated alliance system, over 10 additional countries entered into it, creating ‘World War I’ as we know it.  By 1907 two opposing sides of Europe were created.  The ‘Triple Entente,’ between France, Britain, and Russia, and the ‘Triple Alliance,’ between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.  When the Archduke was assassinated, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.  This should have been a war only between two nations, but with the alliances in place, Germany had to support Austria-Hungary as it had formed an Alliance with them.  Soon after Austria-Hungary declared war, Germany declares war on Russia, as Russia supported Serbia.  Now the other two countries in the Triple Alliance will be dragged into the war as well as they were together with Russia and promised to protect one another.  Later on, even Japan got involved, even though it was half across the world, due to an Alliance with Britain. 

It can be said that the Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary caused the war as well.  At the time, the newly unified Germany was the super power of Europe.  It was smack dab in the middle of Europe, it had the strongest industrial base in Europe (second in the world), it had the largest population in Europe (excluding Russia), it had the world’s second biggest navy, and a huge well trained military.  Austria-Hungary on the other hand, was falling apart and suffering from an unhappy populace due to rivalry between different races, as formally it was a collection of many different Eastern European states.  One could say it was suffering from an identity crisis at the time of the war.  The alliance with the strong Germany, gave Austria-Hungary the confidence and power it needed to go to war with Serbia.  The ‘blanke cheque,’ was given to Austria-Hungary, which stated that they would support them in a war.  Many historians argue that this would of never of happened, if they didn’t already have an alliance together.   Without Germany on its side, Austria-Hungary knew that going to war would be a death sentence, especially with Russia on the Serbs side.  As a result, it could be argued that they wouldn’t of gone to war without a strong partner.  That’s where Germany came in.  If Germany did not have an alliance with Austria-Hungary, they most likely would not declared war on Serbia, which as a result, would of avoided the start of the Great War.

One of the most talked about, and main arguments from many historians of why alliances were to blame, was the encirclement of Germany and the Central Powers.  In the book, ‘An Improbable War: The Outbreak of World War 1 and European Political Culture,’ ‘Holger Afflerbach and David Stevenson,’ argues that ‘a perception of an intolerable, growing threat to Austria’s great power, security, and status (is) stemming not from the danger of immediate or direct attack by its enemies, but from the unrelenting pressure of encirclement, isolation, subversion, and exhaustion.’  This quote accurately displays the landscape and the extent of fear the Central Powers felt, due to the Triple Entente, specifically coming from the words, ‘encirclement,’ and ‘isolation.’  The Triple Entente had them essentially encased, with France on the left, Russia on the right, and Britain from the north, blocking access to the sea for the Germans.  Certain historians believe that the encirclement of Germany helped to create their Schlieffen plan, which, in turn, made it so Germany would have to go to war with both France and Russia, even if only one attacked.  This can be seen, when Germany declared war on Russia, and then only two days later declared war on France in August of 1914.  This again, escalated, what could have been an isolated conflict, into a much larger World War.  This encirclement promoted the arms race as well, leading again to the outbreak of WW1.  Germany started to feel threatened and as a result, started to build up their army.  When the other countries in Europe saw this happening, they started to build up their forces as to defend themselves in case of a German attack.  This started an exponential increase in the militaries of Europe, leading to immanent war, as the nations were ‘ready’ for it.  Also, as a result of the encirclement by the Triple Entente, Germany felt that War was going to happen at one time or another, and the assassination was an excuse for it to happen sooner rather than later.  This can be backed up by the German head of Army, von Moltke, who said, ‘I hold war to be inevitable and the sooner the better.’

On the opposite spectrum, the alliance system didn’t cause the war, and it was other factors that led to the outbreak of it.  One of the most glaring reasons why was that the alliances itself were very loose, in fact there were no military obligations in the Triple Entente.  This would of meant that Britain, France, and Russia, did not have to defend or help each other, and they were not by any stretch of the imagination fond of each other either.  This means, something else led to them being dragged into the war, not the alliance system itself.  Recently, historians have started to argue that Britain got involved because of oil.  Britain had a huge overseas empire and the world’s largest navy.  Which was being led by the new dreadnaughts, which relied on a huge amount of oil at the time, as opposed to the old ships, which relied on coal.  As a result, Britain ‘needed’ oil to keep its oversees empire.  This can be seen where Britain first sent their troops in 1914.  It’s a common mistake to think that Britain first sent its troops (the BEF) to Belgium.  When in reality, when Britain found out that Turkey supported Germany, they sent their troops to Iraq, where Turkey had a great presence.  Iraq was where Britain obtained their oil, as they had none on its own island. This rush to get to Iraq and secure their own oil supplies seems to be more important than the war that started a few days later in Europe, where the British Expeditionary Force landed.  The BEF was even ill prepared for fighting and badly prepared.   Also, Britain didn’t get involved when Germany declared war on Russia.  They only got involved when they invaded Belgium, which was a neutral country at the time.  They officially declared war because of Belgium neutrality, not because of its alliances with Britain or Russia.   This shows that they didn’t have any intention in the beginning to defend each other, at least right away. 

In addition to the faults of the alliance system itself, as to why it didn’t cause WW1, there were also a considerable amount of other factors to take into account.  Imperialism and empires at the time played a huge role in the outbreak of the war.  At the time, Britain had controlled 1/5th of the world while France was a close second.  Kaiser Wilhelm II, made it clear that he wanted an empire for Germany as well.  This significantly raised tensions between the European nations, as did several other conflicts relating to imperialism.  The largest of which was the two Moroccan crises in the Balkans.  Otto von Bismarck, a former Prussia statesman, said ‘The next war will start from some damn fool thing in the Balkans.’  He was frighteningly close to being true in 1905 and 1911.  To undermine the French empire and expand Germany’s commercial interest in the Balkans, the Kaiser made it clear, with the representatives of Morocco in March of 1905, that he strongly supported the independence of the nation from France.  The French were extremely upset about this and called an international meeting, which only resulted in increased tensions between the two countries.  The second Moroccan crisis, in July of 1911, raised tensions even more.  A.J.P. Taylor, in ‘The Struggle for Mastery in Europe.’ says,  ‘[The German] bid for continental supremacy was certainly decisive in bringing on the European War…’ This is absolutely true to an extent, with what we see in the Moroccan crisis, where Germany was all the way on the other side of Europe trying to undermine the French and make an alliance with the nation of Morocco, spreading its influence across the continent of Europe.  But, there was also imperialism in Africa, which many historians argued escalated the Great War and brought Britain into it.  As earlier mentioned, Britain got involved in World War I officially because of Belgium.  This may not have been only because it was neutral, but because Belgium had control over Congo at the time.  When Belgium took over Congo, they produced a huge amount of rubber (in morally questionable ways), which they traded with Britain.  Rubber was an extremely important resource at the time in the making of boots and other items, not only necessary for civilians, but also essential for the military as well.  Britain may have protected Belgium because of Rubber, which further undermines the reasoning of that alliances caused the First World War.  A.J.P. Taylor, in ‘The Struggle for Mastery in Europe.’ says,  ‘[The German] bid for continental supremacy was certainly decisive in bringing on the European War…’ 

Also if you examine the political situation of the nations at the time, you will notice that it caused the war to an extent also.  Most countries were not democracies but autocracies.  This meant it was extremely easy to go to war since it only needed the decision of one person, as opposed to sometimes hundreds with democracies.  The military expenditure change between 1910 and 1914 clearly shows this.  France, which was a democracy at the time only rose its spending by 10%, while Britain rose by 13%, Russia by 39%, and Germany with 73%.  This slight increase in France was mainly because so many people had to agree with it.  Many people wanted it to be spent on schools, health, roads, etc. while the other countries could simply say ‘this is how it is, deal with it.’  In an ‘American Historical Journal’ book review, a historian argues that, ‘There was no "slide" to war, no war caused by "inadvertence", but instead a world war caused by a fearful set of elite statesmen and rulers making deliberate choices.’  Which clearly shows that only a select few could make the decisions on going to War, and war would happen.  Even if you examine today’s international relations, there are no large wars going on between nations and any decision to do so is met with huge amounts of opposition from the public, and inside the government as well.  For example, America is split between having military action in Syria, and not.  Even World War II’s main aggressor was a dictator, one man, versus many democracies.  Any decision on military action takes multitudes of time longer in a democracy.  If all the nations in Europe at the time weren’t autocracies, it is clear that there would be a much higher chance that war could have been avoided. 

In 1914 when the German Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg was asked about how the war started, he responded with, ‘Oh – If only I knew!’  The truth is, not even political leaders at the time knew how the Great War came about, be it alliances, imperialism, autocracies, or a huge number of other factors that wouldn’t even fit on this page.  Historians have been arguing for almost a hundred years, and will continue to do so as we will never come to an exact conclusion, there is just too much to take into account.  Even the question of ‘How far did the alliance system cause World War I,’ is too board to have a definite answer, so how will we decide what caused WW1?

According to popular historical opinion, one of the primary factors in the origin of World War One were alliance systems that divided Europe into two main powers. When analysing the origins of the Great War historians tend to focus on underlying and precipitant causes that are rooted both in the dysfunctions of the international system and in the mistakes and vagaries of the principle governmental leaders. Take for example American revisionist historian Sidney Bradshaw Fay, who summarises that the primary cause for World War One was the nationalist, imperialist, and militarist nature of the alliance systems in place. (1) However, the position that international alliances in political opposition were the root cause is unfounded. The key point that this argument overlooks is the vital role that domestic dispute and foreign policy played in the destabilisation of the European sphere. Thus, I would argue that alliance systems and international tension were not the primary factor in the origins of WWI but rather that domestic strife and expansionist policies were the root cause of the Great War.

Immediately after the end of the war and the resulting treaty of Versailles, the initial theory on what started the war stated that Germany was to blame, an opinion that A. J. P. Taylor argues in his book ‘The Struggle for Mastery in Europe.’ (2) However, the revisionist point of view that emerged in later interwar years, and after the end of the Second World War attempts to alleviate blame from the Germans, placing it rather into the hands of the European continent as a whole. In reading many of these theories, I have been able to determine a loose pattern. Unfortunately, what I found was that although the framework for the orthodox history of the causes of the First World War have no doubt been used to good advantage in uncovering information about the beginnings of the war, their approach is generally limited. No matter what cause they pin the blame on, these interpretations all detach foreign policy from the domestic context (from whence they stem from and in which they function). Most commonly, the theories label the key cause as the alliance systems, saying that, as they grew more contradictory and binding, the danger of small localized conflicts spreading into global general conflicts increased. (3)

It is evident that this cannot have been the case – in previous conflicts alliances have been called upon to aid a nation, but the country being looked to for help would not respond. During the 1905 Moroccan crisis where Germany’s back was against a wall, the German’s were failed in their alliance with Austro-Hungary and Italy, as they did not step forward to help them. (4) And three years later, 1908 finds Russia calling upon Her allies France and England to aid her during the Balkan crisis and being met with nothing. (5) These two examples show the very alliances that were said to have started the war due to the nation’s being tightly bound failing just a few years before. It cannot be said then that the alliance system drove Europe and then later much of the world into war - delightedly, history turns and slaps the historian claiming thus on the cheek with examples of just a few years previously.

The alliance system aside, I have found that the first of two primary factors in the destabilisation process was the struggle of European Nations and their expansionist policies, which resulted in three international crises. The alliances these crises formed and strengthened were then used as scapegoats for war when domestic unrest threatened governmental regimes. The first evidence of this was with the Moroccan Crises in which Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the Moroccan port of Tangier and denounced French influence in Morocco, aiming to test the new Anglo-Franco alliance. (6) Unfortunately for the Germans, the result not only brought France and Britain closer together but also caused an international crises ruled in France’s favour. As if this first attempt had not been enough, the Germans then sent the gunboat “Panther” to the Moroccan port of Agadir in 1911. Due to Britain’s expansion policies, they wanted to keep the port at Gibraltar which gave them access to the Mediterranean Sea. The war scare this generated in Britain however was doused as the German’s agreed to leave Morocco to the French in return for a piece of their Congo. (7)  This generated questions from the German populace who felt they had been humiliated and that their leader was incompetent. (8) Both of these crises emerged due to a desire for the control of more resources, more power and expansion.

From the same motives of imperialism, further international crises occurred in 1908 in the Balkan Crises in which both Bosnia and Serbia wanted to expand into the Balkans. As Turkey had just overthrown its government and was therefore unstable it left the Balkans and generated a massive power vacuum. Austria then annexed Bosnia after tricking Russia during negotiations. Serbia was angered as a large number of their population lived in Bosnia. Eventually Russia bowed to German pressure when they supported Austria and they agreed to the annexation. (9) Summatively, the crises served only to harden attitudes and amplify distrust between powers, as well as strengthening the alliances of Britain and France during the Moroccan Crises, and Austria and Germany during the Balkan crisis.

What is evident here is that expansionist foreign policy was a key player at the root of the war. As I previously observed, most historical views approach the issue saying that as the alliances grew more contradictory and binding the danger of small conflicts spreading into global conflicts increased. In fact, I argue that it is the reverse – a crossover of imperialistic desires and claims threatened to turn localized issues into global conflicts, and that the alliance systems rose and were solidified to prevent this.

I believe that the imperial nature of the European Nations (which led to solidified alliances) combined with, and created domestic strife to bring Europe to breaking point. During the decades (and immediate weeks before July and August 1914) European nations were struggling with extreme national turbulence. To prevent a total revolution in most nations, the idea of creating a common enemy to unify the nation against appeared to be a sound idea. During pre-war time, nationalism is shown to rise as the country feels the need to defend itself as a unified front.

Take Britain for example – the exemplar Herself of ordered change and constitutionalism was facing the impending possibility of civil war. On the 20th of March 1914, just a few months before the outbreak of World War One, the Curragh incident took place and the country was divided – Carson and the Ulster volunteers with the support of influential British leaders against Parliament. (10) Together in a Triple Alliance the railwaymen, miners and transport workers all threatened a crippling strike. This force roused the Labour movement, and in the ensuing polarization and action in the streets of Westminster the politics of compromise and accommodation were deeply threatened. Perhaps for England then, the international war came at just the right time to prevent an internal one. All across Europe other nations were fighting with internal struggles. Meanwhile, France was being eroded due to a vicious struggle between two extremes (the right portrayed the left’s antimilitarism as an urgent threat, turning a broad spectrum of republicans to the right, while the right and center joined to form a three-year draft by drawing on patriotism), which generated severe cabinet instability. (11) In Italy in June the Red Week strike wave left the Italian middle-class nationalists adopted a position of hostility towards the left, resulting in Italy going to war against the desire of the bulk of the Italian population in 1915. (12) Simultaneously in Germany, Arthur Rosenburg informs us that tensions in Germany were “typical of a pre-revolutionary period” and that if Germany had failed to go to war in 1914 “the conflict between the Imperial Government and the majority of the German nation would have continued to intensify to a point at which a revolutionary situation would have been created.” Russia too was facing problems in rising labour unrest in major industrial centres.

Evidently most European nations were struggling immensely with internal conflict and as Rosenburg said, war had come at the right time to prevent revolution. I do not think this was a co-incidence. A quotation from the French President Poincaré, backs up this claim. Poincaré is reported to have stated that "it would be a great pity," if war was avoided. (13) Perhaps he also saw the war as a chance for social reform as at the start of the war income tax was introduced in France.  Further evidence for this is how few nations seemed to think it would be a lengthy war. Many British thought it would be over by Christmas. (14) Russia merely partially mobilized her troops along the border of Austria. Austria itself waited a month before issuing its ultimatum so that the soldiers could return home to gather crops. A short burst of nationalism and a victory against an enemy would serve nicely to get the country to fall back in line. The alliance systems previously casually ignored now rose to bear the full blame for the war. Interestingly, it appears that out of the nations that joined, Britain did not use the war as a means of rallying nationalism until the war posed an actual threat – with German declaration of war on France, if the German’s won they would have control of almost all of Europe, only 28 miles from English shores. (15)

Thus we can see that the alliance system was symptomatic, and not a catalyst. Policies of expansion were the reason that countries needed to find allies and strengthen the bonds between them. But this did not always succeed, and often alliances were broken - the alliances were just a symptom of the initial foreign policies of expansion. When European nations found themselves suffering severe internal strife they then used their alliances as a reason to be prepared to go to war in the hope that it would create a sense of nationalism and prevent revolution. But the result escalated as mobilized troops could not be called back and as a real threat grew out of a political play. The result was a devastating war that lasted years. The alliances formed were therefore not to blame – foreign policies of expansion and threats of revolution, strikes and governmental conflict brought about the Great War.

References Cited

(1) "Sidney Bradsdhaw Fay, The Origins of World War I." Sidney Bradsdhaw Fay, The Origins of World War I. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(2) Taylor, A. J. P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe. London: Folio Society, 1998. Print.

(3) "European History." Causes of the First World War. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(4) Morel, E. D. Morocco in Diplomacy. London: Smith, Elder, 1912. Print.

(5) "Bosnian Crisis of 1908 (Balkan History)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(6) Soroka, Marina E. Britain, Russia, and the Road to the First World War: The Fateful Embassy of of Count Aleksandr Benckendorff (1903-16). Farnham [u.a.: Ashgate, 2010. Print.

(7) "The Morocco Crisis of 1911." The Morocco Crisis of 1911. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(8) "Two War Clouds Menace Europe." New York Times (1911): 1+. Query at New York Times. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(9) Schurman, Jacob G. "Project Gutenberg's The Balkan Wars." Gutenburg. N.p., 22 Mar. 2004. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(10) Beckett, Ian F. W. The Army and the Curragh Incident. London: Bodley Head for the Army Records Society, 1986. Print.

(11) Mayer, Arno J. "Domestic Causes of the First World War ARNO J." Domestic Causes of the First World War ARNO J. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(12) "Red Week (Italian History)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(13) "International Relations and Time." International Relations and Time. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(14) "Podcast 8: 'Over by Christmas'" First World War Centenary. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

(15) "Why Did Britain Join the War against Germany?" Why Did Britain Join the War against Germany? N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2012. .

To an extent, however far it may be, the alliance system may have caused the First World War to break out in 1914, just as the many other factors contributing to the beginning of the First World War. In fact there is so much to say about alliances an their impact on the war, that George Kennan himself has written a whole book entitled “ The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia and the coming of the First World War”. Hence this essay will not cover every single fact in the books, nor will it display absolutely all the reasons why the First World War broke out in the first place, however it should give you a sufficient over view of the situation.
When analysing the events that happened in the year 1914 which finally lit the match, starting the war, I would probably consider the most significant to be the so called “Blank Cheque” given from Germany to Austro-Hungary on July 5th 1914 just a week after the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, giving them the power to make any decision they want over this matter with Germany’s full support. Now clearly there are many arguments against this event, many historians even claim that the Blank Cheque is a complete nuisance, judging that Germany’s foreign minister was not even involved in this declaration. Nevertheless, it is a widely known fact that the Austro-Hungarian empire was very weak indeed, almost falling a part, therefore they must not have been very enthusiastic to go to war when their empire is already in such a vulnerable position. Furthermore it is obvious that they were not too keen on going to war, judging that it took them almost a month from the assassination until they finally declared war on Serbia. This shows us they were hesitant about the matter, therefore the blank cheque from Germany must have been one of the major sources which influenced their decision, after all they knew that if Russia attacked them they would have no chance standing against them alone, however Germany did have a very strong military, as did most countries at the time as they had all been building them up rapidly especially during the 1910-1914s, therefore with Germany’s support they had a lot less to worry about. Interestingly enough, between the years 1910 and 1914 Germany had increased their defensive expenditures to 73%.
However, as stated beforehand, Germany was not the only power increasing their military expenses during the 1910s-1914s, Russia had also increased theirs to 39%, which is a very significant amount, Britain around 13% and France 10%, though one must not forget that France had the most modern army at the time. The build up of militaries in each country is also considered a major reason of the cause of world war one. After all it is a grand source of tension for any country to have the countries around them building up their defence forces, as it indicates that each country must have some sort of reason, which lets them feel threatened and build up their army in response. Of course once countries have invested so much in their militaries it is also somehow expected that they make use of them, or else the people will question the reasons for which so much money has been invested in them in the first place. Nevertheless, the issue of militarization had been going on for the past four or five years, therefore it is difficult to argue that this was the reason war broke out in exactly 1914 and not a couple years before or later. There was however a very significant military move made in 1914 which in my opinion was the reason war broke out in this year and not another. This was when Russia mobilized at Germany’s borders on the 31st of July 1914. It is true that Austro-Hungary had declared war on Serbia three days before Russia mobilized; therefore many historians claim that the world war had already started at this point. However, I do not agree with this, simply because when Austro-Hungary annexed Bosnia in 1908, the matter did not escalate to involve the whole world, Britain, Russia, Germany and France pretty much stayed out of it. Had Russia not mobilized at Germany’s borders, there is no proof that any other of the powers would have even gotten involved in the Austro-Hungarian vs. Serbian war, it would just have been another Balkan Crisis, and perhaps war would not have started for another year or two. This move by Russia is what provoked the Germans to officially declare war on them on August 1st 1914, followed by them declaring war on France on August 3rd. This is one of the reasons why many blame Germany for starting the world war. Although one must ask ones self, what other choice did they have? With one of the world’s largest armies lined up at their border, how could they have not declared war? Obviously a mobilized army at your border is one of the most threatening actions another country could pose towards you, they could fire at any chosen moment, there is no way you could just sit their defenceless. Now AGB Taylor argues that “General mobilization- not for war but to keep their standing in the diplomatic conflict- was (Russia’s) only course”. However how was Germany to know or believe this? If someone points a loaded gun to your head and claims that they are just trying to make a statement are you meant to stop shivering and carry on what you are doing? This is impossible, reacting to protect yourself is inevitable, just as declaring war on Russia was for the German’s after Russia mobilized at their borders.
When considering alliances however, one realizes that though declaring war on Russia was nothing but a defensive move on behalf of Germany, declaring war on France was rather tied not only to geographical location and the Schlieffen plan, but surely also because Germany knew that if she attacked Russia, France would attack her. This is of course the result of alliances when looked at it from a basic stance. After the alliance between France and Russia in 1894, Germany had always sensed that enemies encircled her. Furthermore through all the crisis that had happened since then, such as the Moroccan crisis of 1905 and 1911, as well as the Bosnian crisis of 1908, Germany knew that she did not have Russia and France on her side, and that, to everyone’s surprise, they were even quite supportive on the matter of Germany’s increasing power. For the French at this time it would not have been imaginable for their government to have an alliance with the Russians, as they were the only monarchial state left in existence, and the French were much beyond such primitive circumstances. Nevertheless both these powers were very afraid of Germany’s rising power, and not to mention France had had a grudge against Germany ever since the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. After all, they were thirsting to grab Alsace and Lorraine back the first chance they get, and Germany was aware of this.
Now this point draws us back out of alliances and into imperialism and nationalism. Not only did France go to war in the hope of gaining back their territory and expanding, Britain very much entered the war backed up by very nationalistic and imperialistic reasons. This is extremely relevant to the First World War having broken out in 1914, because after Germany declared war on France and Russia, Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th 1914, making it officially into a world war as opposed to a European war. In the books it is written that Britain declared war on Germany due to the fact that Germany had invaded Belgium and Britain felt obliged to defend Belgium as according to the Treaty of London this was there duty. However if there had not been any other reasons for Britain to join the war, except to defend Belgium, surely they would not have joined. This is not because Britain is ignorant or does not care about other countries, but because clearly going to war is a massive decision for countries with devastating consequences. No country in history has ever genuinely gone to war for only selfless reasons. Britain was the largest empire at the time, having one fifth of the world under their control. They were not about to risk this vast power by letting Germany take over Europe and then slowly all their colonies too. In order for Britain to exist as it did, they needed a balance of powers in Europe, and as soon as this balance was at risk, so was the British Empire, therefore they stepped in. It could be argued of course, that this case very much had to do with alliances. Not the alliance between Belgium and Britain however, but the cordiale entente, the friendly agreement signed between Britain and France in 1904. After all, protecting the Belgians from the German troops was nothing more than a plot to hinder them from accessing the French. Now it could be argued that this shows the strength of the Cordiale Entente and therefore alliances did very much cause the war to break out in 1914. However, when one looks deeper one quickly realizes that the reason England was defending France was not because England was worried that their poor friend and ally would lose their power, but simply because Germany would gain power that would in turn threaten Britain. This shows that Britain may have declared war in the name of an alliance, however just as an excuse to fend for them selves.
This brings us to the conclusion that alliances may have impacted the start of world war one in 1914 to a slight extent, however truthfully they were simply excuses which could be twisted and turned in anyway in order to cover a countries true motives for declaring war and put it under another countries name, and as Italy clearly showed us, it meant nothing to sign an alliance, countries still did what they decided was best for their own country, and if this happened to benefit their “allied” country as well, then splendid! There were so many alliances between so many different countries that they were not to be taken seriously any more, as Churchill says: “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

When analyzing to what extent the alliance system caused the Great War in 1914 it is important to discard any historical bias and play the events in a historical timeline. In doing this you can then truly evaluate why the war broke out in 1914 and not another year in this period. My moral imperative is to determine what part the entanglement of alliances played in the most devastating war in world history up until that point. Put best by Kahlil Gibran “History does not repeat itself except in the minds of those who do not know history.”
Looking into the log of European alliances since 1879 it is evident that there is a common pattern of alliances between two great power blocks in Europe, the powers central in Europe and the outlying powers of Europe (entente powers).  The series of alliances formed between 1879 and 1914 was a continuous re-maneuvering and reaffirmation of commonly accepted allegiances (with the exception of absolute power of tsarist Russia and democratic France, initially) that countries held to one another. By 1907 with the triple entente the great revel of alliance finally settled in place. War did not however, break out until 7 years later, hardly compelling evidence that alliance system caused war. It could be argued that even with alliances in place war still needed a catalyst. My retort to this is the Bosnian crisis of 1908 where nations teetered on the edge of war with Russia and Germany mobilizing their respective forces, only defusing when Russia backed down. Alliances by themselves still did not have the power to pull Europe into total war, even as the Balkans experienced fighting. It is therefore clear that alliance system by them selves did not have the power to drag Europe into a total war.
The alliance treaties formed in the great peace between the congress of Vienna and the outbreak of war in 1914 did not cause war in their own right but turned small localized conflicts between feuding European nations into global issues potentially causing war on a much larger scale bringing in not only European powers but their colonial subjects as well. Without an alliance system binding Serbia and Russia together, the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand would have resulted in a small conflict in the Balkans between two relatively meagre military powers. (This seems a slightly unrealistic statement accounting for Russia’s commitment to the downtrodden Slavs of Europe, but still valid in theory.)  Moreover, if alliance blocks had not been formed, it would not have mattered how Russia acted, for their actions would not have obligated any other nation to join them in war. Alliances created an environment where war seemed inevitable and any jolt to stability put the entire world off balance bringing war crashing down. In Winston Churchill’s words “all that subterranean, subconscious movement whereby the vast antagonisms of the great war where slowly remorselessly, inexorably assembled.” It is my strong conviction that without the treaties of alliance between countries and the honour obligations they carried, no ‘political’ leader would have carried their nations into such all consuming war, as the frantic attempts of leaders in July of 1914 to stop the war demonstrated.
On balance the great entanglement of alliance in their own right did not cause the war in 1914, but it acted as a catalyst and enabled war to break out.  Alliances gave the world a contemptible situation where one gunshot could hail a billion more. The alliance system did not entirely dictate world war, as was seen in the Bosnian crisis of 1908 or the Moroccan crisis of 1911 or even the Balkan war 1912-13. It did, however, create a situation where had a military dispute between to opposing alliance members broken out; the default conclusion was a domino effect of war crashing across Europe. All the Great War needed was a distraction preventing leaders from stopping the gears of war moving. This came in the golden summer of July 1914 where masses of important figures from ambassadors in Paris to the Kaiser in Germany, where on holiday blissfully distracted away from the coming war. In the words of an American writer at the time “behind the summer pleasure, the nations of Europe where like a file of marching prisoners chained together by their ankles, prisoners of national pride shackled together by treaty obligations.”  1914 was the year when alliances where given their chance to show their devastating consequences, simply by the culmination of events, the Great War could have broken out any year after the alliance blocks had been set.

I believe this is not an easy question to answer. The alliance system certainly did play a significant part in causing the war but although I can only base my arguments on books, facts, figures and the evidence that is left of this time, I can say for sure that alliances were only the cause to a certain extent and I agree with historian Jay Winter who said: "The First World war is a detective story with no resolution..." [1].
            Looking at the impact of alliances I can conclude that they caused quite a bit of tension between the European powers. In 1879 Germany and Austria-Hungary had their Dual Alliance, which in 1882 became the Triple Alliance along with Italy. Taking a quick look at a map from these times this could have looked alarming to Britain and France because the Kaiser was starting to spread his foreign policy and getting stronger. Was he planning on something? Why did Germany need allies? These thoughts might have been increased in 1887, when Bismarck made a secret Reinsurance Treaty with Russia after the Dreikaiserbund from 1881 had failed. It seems, the Germans were very keen on staying on friendly terms with Russia. Also, the emphasis lies on "secret". It seems Europe's choices were no longer made in the open. Was there a reason for this secrecy? I am convinced these events caused tension among the powers but this tension can also be looked at differently in the early 20th century. In 1902 Britain decided to form an alliance with Japan. Some argue that this was because they grew worried by isolation and again, looking at a map, this could be true. In 1904 Britain and France formed the Entente Cordiale, in 1907 the Triple Entente. So if Germany hadn't had any military intentions by forming its alliances would it be the Kaisers turn to be worried now? After all, Russia had bonded with Britain and France.  I believe so, as he very clearly tried to test the strength of the allied powers by provoking them through the Moroccan Crisis in 1905 and again in 1911. As well as this the formation of alliances caused the well-known domino effect to take place in August 1914. Due to countries, having promised each other help, should they be attacked, Britain, for example, had no other option than to declare war on Germany on the 4th of August as Germany's aggression was clearly directed towards France.
            However, what about everything else, imperialism, nationalism, militarism? These three factors were at least as important as the alliance system if not more important, not even mentioning the short term causes of the war that made it brake out in 1914, such as Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination. Vladimir Ilich Lenin, a man who played a significant role in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the founding of the Soviet Union and whom I believe has quite healthy reasons for his perspective, thought that World War I was an imperialist war. His view was that it was caused by the expansion of European empires and thus the arising competition. The different interests of the European powers clashed, producing the Great War[2].
            Looking at militarism, my opinion is that the race of arms should also at least be mentioned when trying to answer this question. Putting aside all arguments over whether Germany was trying to provoke war by arming up or not, it caused quite a big amount of tension and mistrust among the European countries. No country liked to be smaller in military size than the other, which proves how suspicious they were of each other. Of course, this was also a question of pride. No country wanted to back down in this. Could this arms race be considered a policy of building up strong forces to prepare for war? I think it could. Take the tension and suspicion caused by the alliance system and the different imperialistic interests among the countries. Of course Britain, France, Russia and Germany wanted to be able to defend themselves in the worst case and of course, they did not want to look weak.
            Nationalism also played along with imperialism, militarism and the alliance system. I think it is closely linked to the first two. The French were proud to be French, the Germans proud to be Germans and I would be surprised if the British weren't proud of their Empire. It was in every countries best interest to look as glamorous and strong as possible and maybe even better than the others.
            So far, I can come to the conclusion that alliances were still definitely a cause of war. However, their weighting is still in question. Looking at August 2nd 1914, when Germany delivered an ultimatum to Belgium to allow German troops to pass through its territory, a question arises when Britain clearly stated that if Belgium's neutrality should be violated they would declare war. Would Britain really care so much about Belgium and the Treaty of London from 1839, that Bethmann-Hollweg liked to call "a mere scrap of paper"[3]? I believe it wasn't because of the alliance or treaty itself but either because if the pact would be broken by Britain it would cast a negative light on them or because Britain simply needed a reason to go to war to enforce its foreign policy, which takes me to my next point.
            This foreign policy meant to Britain that no one power dominates, which was why they created small states such as Belgium. If Germany would take over Belgium without any issues it would be able to take over France and if that would be the case, Europe would slowly but surely become German. Therefore, Britain could not let Germany take over Belgium or France but neither could they let France get too powerful. There is no point arguing that The Triple Entente was the main reason Britain finally declared war on Germany, it had to help France. But this was probably the only strong alliance. The Triple Alliance consisted of two weak countries. Austria-Hungary, economically weak and torn between many different races of people within it and Italy, who hadn't had any significant imperial or military successes and wasn't exactly seen as a great threat to Britain and France. Thus, the Triple Alliance must have been more of a burden than support for Germany and if Britain and France knew the state Austria-Hungary and Italy were in, and I am sure they did, they must have thought that the Alliance could be torn easily, and they were not mistaken as Italy later on in the war joined their forces. As well as this, the so-called domino effect the alliances were supposedly responsible for was, I believe, also affected by the July Crisis 1914. Could the assassination and the ultimatum to Serbia as well as Russia's mobilization not be considered important domino stones too? And they certainly did not have anything to do with alliances.
            Therefore, I come to the conclusion that the formation of alliances did play a role in causing the World War. It created tension and suspicion among the European powers and was partly responsible for the "falling of dominoes", that eventually provoked the war in 1914. However, even I know for sure that a war to this extent can't simply be caused by some alliances. I like to think that the Titanic is a perfect representation of the pre-war situation. The powers, just like the Titanic were going fast, wanting to do and be everything that would make them better than the others. When the iceberg was spotted the ship was so fast there was not enough time to decelerate or swerve around it. The Great War was inevitable. Factors such as the clashing of different imperialistic views, nationalistic insinuations and the constant build up of arms added to this tension immensely, meaning the alliance was only equal to a small proportion of the causes.


I agree to a medium extent that the alliance system caused war in 1914. The reasoning for this is that there were other, more significant factors that led to the war. The alliance system was a long-term cause of the World War, but had not much to do with the fact it started in 1914.
The alliance system was one of the main factors causing the war, however due to the fact that it began in 1879 it is not the reason for war starting in 1914. The alliance system commenced with the “Dual Alliance”, which was between Germany and Austria. Italy joined this alliance in 1882- The alliance simply meant, that in case one country was attacked the others would support it. The reason for Germany allying with these countries was, that it was threatened by the fact, that there were opposing powers on its east and its west. It needed to prevent any other dangerous borders. In 1892 the Franco-Russian alliance was formed and 1907 the triple entente was agreed, where Britain joined the former two allies. These countries felt threatened by the fact, that Germany was building up an enormous navy (by 1914 Germany had built already 17 dreadnoughts) and army (1.5 million soldiers by 1914). The alliance system was sometimes used to test and manipulate countries (the Moroccan Crises of 1905, or 1911, where Germany tested the French and British alliance). In summary, one can say that the alliance system was already created between 1879 and 1892, and therefore it was not the reason for why war started in 1914.
The alliance system was not a very equal system, due to the fact that the two main alliances (triple alliance, and triple entente) were very different in power and stability.                The Triple Alliance was very unstable. Austria-Hungary, was a young country with over five different religions. Over ten languages were spoken, including German, Hungarian, Czech and Polish. It consisted of many different countries and therefore had too many identities of nationalism. It was not a good country to be allied with, but the only interest Germany had allying with it was the cultural proximity with the Austrians, and its direct border to Russia. Furthermore, nowadays a German would not understand why Germany would ally with Italy, because the culture, politics, language, religion, and even food, are so different, that it would make no sense for the population, except for geographical matters. A very curious observation one could make, is that the instability of the triple alliance can even be identified by the flags of the countries: completely different colours, patterns, and symbols.           On the other hand the triple entente was very strong. Three strong and stable powers collaborated and for one simple reason: the rivalry against Germany. There was no other explainable reason for why a liberal country such as France (“liberté, égalité, fraternité”) would have allied with a conservative and fascist country as Russia.                                       

 In conclusion, the fact that Germany was in a weak and unstable alliance increased the conflict between itself and its opponents who were stabilized by the triple entente. It is sure, that the alliance system made countries enter the war that maybe never would have: Germany entered because of the Blank Cheque sent to Austria (AJP Taylor once stated “The Austrian government was not much concerned to punish the crime of Sarajevo. They wanted to punish a different crime - the crime that Serbia committed by existing as a free national state”); Britain entered because of Germany’s invasion of neutral Belgium.

To what extent can it be said that the First World War was caused by the alliance system? 

             There were several other important factors that caused World War I, such as crises, arms race and militarism (David Stevenson, a British historian, said: “A self-reinforcing cycle of heightened military preparedness was an essential element in the conjuncture that led to disaster. The armaments race was a necessary precondition for the outbreak of hostilities."), nationalism, and colonies. Kenneth Waltz, and American historian stated that “WWI was caused by human nature”. One should widen his horizon and think further back: how and why these aspects were generated. My reasoning for this is, that the War was caused by a generation factor. The generation of the countries’ leaders was born into great empires. All of them were born into their individual powerful nations and had then experienced the Prussian wars, which started the conflicts. As Otto von Bismarck stated in 1870: “A generation that has taken a beating is always followed by a generation that deals one.” which is exactly what took place. The Prussians (later Germans) were very proud of what they had taken over and as Helmuth von Moltke stated after the Franco-Prussian war: “What our sword has taken over in half a year our sword must guard for half a century.” These men educated the leaders of World War one, and therefore when Kaiser Wilhelm was encircled by three strong powers it was his right and duty to defend himself and protect his country. The half of a century which Moltke had talked about was not over yet, and therefore once Russia had mobilized (on the 31st of July 1914), he had to declare war. This is also supported by the German historian Wolfgang Mommsen, who has stated that “Wars only begin with the right leaders. The main actors of World War One had been educated accordingly, and merely fought for their blood.” As one can see in the above, the main reason that caused WW1 (around the time of 1914) was a generation factor.

In conclusion, as one can see in the above, World War One was started in 1914 due to the Alliance system to a medium extent. Of course it was one strong of many other causes of the First World War, but it has not much to do with the fact that it broke out in 1914. The main reason for why war broke out was the generation of leaders, but why war broke out in 1914 is very difficult to determine. The countries were ready, and that is why war broke out on August 4th 1914.

To what extent can it be said that the First World War was caused by the alliance system?

By many historians the alliance system is considered overly simplistic, “war came to Europe not by accident but by design”. This is argued by Gary Sheffield who believes war began for two fundamental reasons, “First, decision-makers in Berlin and Vienna chose to pursue a course that they hoped would bring about significant political advantages”. Secondly “The governments in the entente states rose to the challenge”. Whilst some historians supply other explanations for the outbreak of war some historians some history imply that the alliance systems had an impact on the outbreak of war such as Margaret MacMillian who stated “The creation of the alliance system did not itself mean that war was inevitable”.

Echoes of the alliance system can still be found in our society today, with the growing uncertainty in the Middle East we see a clear divide in approaches between the West and Russia. To fully understand how alliances caused the break down in relations one must first look t 1987, where Bismarck signed the re-insurance treaty. This was signed by Germany and Russia explaining that they wouldn’t attack one another. However when Bismarck resigned the treaty lapsed which instantly made Russia weary of Germany’s future actions. An example of how weak alliances were was the in the Russo- Japanese war of 1904 where Britain and France were supporting opposite sides even though in 1907 they would sign the Triple Entente, which was signed between Britain, France and Russia. One of the first conflicts between the European powers was the first Moroccan crisis, where the Kaiser visited and expressed his support for the Sultan, which conflicted with the French influence over the area. This in turned meant that Britain was forced to support France even though they agreed with Germany’s claims for a sovereign Morocco. This confirms Lloyd George’s statement “that we muddled into war”. Another example of how weak the alliance systems was, was when Italy invaded the Ottoman Empire. This was strictly against Germany and Austria’s will because the relied on the Ottoman Empire because without it great instability would be brought to the Balkans. Even thought Italy was allied to Germany and Austria under the Triple alliance of 1882, they still found an aggressive Italy attacking one of their allies. Christopher Clark made this point clear in his lecture at Gresham College. However on the other hand an example of how the alliances were stronger is when Gavril Princip assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand on July 28th 1914. This prompted Germany to send a “blank cheque” to Austria in support of their ultimatum to Serbia, which was made on the 23rd of June. This causes even more hostilities between Russia and Germany, as the re-insurance treaty of 1887 is no longer in contention, meaning that the support given by Russia directly conflicts the support given by Germany to Austria. It is this period of 3 months that provides substance to the argument that the alliance system was in fact to blame for the outbreak of war.

An additional argument made by Historians is the “encirclement of Germany” the Triple Entente signed in 1907 fulfilled this. The Entente meant that Russia was to the right, France to the left and Britain to the north. Although these nations were not hostile there was certainly the feeling that they were competing. In the book “Improbable War” the threat of encirclement is described as being one of the main reasons that war broke out because of the growing insecurity, which was breeding among Germany and Austria. It is also argued that the encirclement that Germany experienced led to the creation of the Schlieffen plan, which previously had been attributed to Germany’s aggression. However this new tack shows how Germany’s aggression may have been caused by premeditated conditions. The entente can also be blamed for the escalation of threats because if only one country had a minor dispute with another the other countries would be forced to commit troops. So rather than smaller isolated conflicts the alliances managed to conjure up a war of massive proportions. This therefore means that the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand was seen purely as an excuse to attack.

Other historians such as A.J.P Taylor claim that German aggression was the sole cause in the coming of the first Great War. This is made clear in his statement where he claimed,  “The German bid for supremacy was certainly decisive in bringing on the First World War”. This directly relates to the arms race, which occurred prior to the first world war from 1900 to 1914. Where every country in Europe excluding Great Britain had a conscript army this meant that in the event of a war they could call up hundreds of thousands of troops very quickly. In 1914 the German army was considered the strongest however the rapid growth of the Russian army caused the generals of the German army distress. In 1914 Germany not only had an army of 8.5 million in comparison to Russia’s 4.4 million, this shows the difference in military however they believed that if war broke out in a few years time they would not be able to overpower the Russian army. This lead German general Moltke to say “War the sooner the better” which epitomizes German aggression during this time period.  Germany was not only competing with Russia on land but was also competing with Britain for the right to boast the biggest navy. Germany has planned on challenging Britain’s navy capability and added 17 new dreadnoughts to their fleet, this lead to military spending snowballing and almost doubling between the years of 1900-1914. Another example of where German aggression was the creation of the Schlieffen plan, which was Germany’s plan of attack, should a war break out. The Schlieffen plan involved attacking France through Belgium (a neutral country) to evade the French defences and then march on Paris without allowing them time to counter-attack. Then march across Germany to push back Russia. This shows that Germany was willing to a attack a neutral peaceful country in a quest to overpower France. It is this aggression that directly conflicts the idea that it is the alliance system, which “forced” the German military to act. Confirming Emil Ludwig’s statement “A peaceable, industrious, sensible mass of 500 million was hounded by a few dozen leaders”.

It is claimed throughout history that the First World War was inevitable, R. Henig argues this in his book “Origins of the First World War” he writes “ European war was inevitable and that the problems which plagued them at home and aboard could no longer be settled by negotiation and diplomacy”. Margaret MacMillan supports this where she suggests, “The creation of the alliance system did no itself mean that war was inevitable”. She implies how the war was inevitable however she toys with the idea that the alliances systems played a support role rather than Centre stage. War had become inevitable as early as 1890 when the noted diplomat Bismarck resigned under the insistence from Wilhelm the II. Countries had become committed to the war as soon as the arms race began, the Germans gave Austria a Blank cheque or even as soon as the Triple Alliance was formed in 1882. Additionally R. Henig writes “In these circumstances, war seemed to offer an attractive way out…. The balance sheet in 1918 proved how wrong they had been”. Continuing along the theme that war was inevitable and any conditions such as the alliance system simply increased the intensity of the war rather than caused the war.  

To what extent can it be said that the First World War was caused by the alliance system?

 From 1914 to 1918 the world was entrenched in a great war, a total war like none that had come before. When it ended, a peace settlement was signed on June 28th, 1919 called the Treaty of Versailles. In order to satisfy the masses, the winners of this war, Britain, the USA, Italy, France, and Russia, decided to pinpoint exactly who was to blame for the start of the conflict. This scapegoat was determined to be Germany, as a key member of the losing side. Ever since, it has been disputed to what extent this judgement was justified. In this essay, it will be argued that Germany should not carry the majority of the responsibility for the war. The true role of Germany’s expansionism, alliance to Austria-Hungary, and aggressive military in starting the conflict will be debated. Views of German revisionist historians Fritz Fischer and Gerhard Ritter will be also be utilized to aid in the argument. 

Fritz Fischer, author of the 1961Germany’s War Aims in the First World War, was strongly in support of blaming Germany for the First World War. Gerhard Ritter combated this idea. His view in Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk: das Problem des ‘Militarismus’ in Deutschland (Statemanship and War, 4 volumes, 1954-68) is that Germany is not guilty for starting WWI. This essay shall consider both points of view and conclude that Germany was unjustly held completely responsible for the war.  Germany’s expansionist and nationalist foreign policy was a main factor in Germany’s decision to go to war according to Fritz Fischer. Kaiser Wilhelm II often spoke about Germany’s need for ‘a place in the sun’ with the other colonial powers, and this aggressive colonialism made the other powers distrustful. This was particularly true concerning Germany’s over-zealous colonialism in the Moroccan Crises of 1905 and 1911. Britain believed that the Kaiser was attempting to undermine their friendship with France in the 1905 crisis. Furthermore, in the crisis of 1911, the apparent danger of a German naval presence on Morocco’s Atlantic coast (among other events) left France and Britain wary of Germany. But Germany, a recently founded state, was still finding its place in Europe. It had only been existence since 1871, a result of wars against Austria and France. It had quickly become a large industrial power with a good-sized army, which completely upset the existing balance of power in Europe. The other powers were bound to be wary of the newcomer and consider the Kaiser to be a disturber of European peace. Germany was also surrounded by colonial alliances. There were existing colonial agreements between Britain and France, as well as between Russia and Britain. Though these were not necessarily firm alliances, it gave Germany a sense of being ‘encircled.’ It had to fend for itself. 

However, Fischer argues that Germany’s decision to go to war was not defensive in the least; after all, it was a general aim of the German government to make Germany a world power. More specifically, Fischer writes that Chancellor Theobald Bethmann-Holweg had hopes of annexing European Russia, Belgium, and part of France after Germany had won the war. Gerhard Ritter disagrees with this claim, writing that the Chancellor’s support of annexations is under debate as he was, in fact, against annexation proposals made by the military. Nevertheless, Fischer goes further to say that there were also firm connections between Germany’s choice to go to war and domestic groups in Germany urging expansion. A counterpoint to this idea is that the elite members of the government were not in the habit of being responsive to the general populace. Although Fischer writes that, no matter the reason, Germany did purposefully encourage Austria-Hungary’s war plans in order to create a conflict in which Germany could expand the country’s borders, as well as solve its issue of ‘encirclement’ by France and Russia and dominate Europe. This evidence supports a conclusion that Germany’s insistent expansionism was a major cause of the war. But these claims cannot be taken as complete fact. Therefore, it can be concluded that Germany’s expansionism was significant, but only one of many contributing factors to the start of WWI. 

Still, part of Germany’ goal to become a world power included forming alliances that would add to its strength and prestige. This resulted in further conflict.  Ritter believes the importance of Germany’s alliance to Austria-Hungary is often underestimated. He argues that Germany’s support of Austria-Hungary notably worsened its relationships with the other powers. Nevertheless, in light of their extenuating circumstances, their loyalty is understandable. The new country was exposed, without any natural defences against action from its adjacent nations, particularly France and Russia; it lay vulnerable between them to a two-front attack. Compounding the problem, in 1892-95 Russia and France signed a full military defensive alliance. Fear of a two-front war on Germany continued with renewed force. Yet Russia and France were not the only allied nations-- other opposing European powers had agreements as well. 

This system of entangling alliances, which has been blamed by some as the cause of a global war, meant that Germany could be outnumbered if the agreements were honoured. For protection, Germany was compelled to maintain its only meaningful alliance, which was with Austria-Hungary.  This alliance worsened Germany’s relationships with other countries. Germany’s support of Austria-Hungary during the Bosnian Crisis of 1908-09, for example, aggravated the other European powers, particularly Russia. Russia was humiliated by Austria-Hungary’s deceit concerning their annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and angered that Russia’s navy did not get any closer to being able to utilize the Turkish Straits. Germany’s involvement put salt on the wound. Germany’s alliance with Austria Hungary caused further conflict for the country during the crisis of 1914.  In fact, Ritter believes that a main reason that Germany joined the conflict was to keep Austria-Hungary a great power. In his opinion, Austria-Hungary was set on going to war and they forced Germany to join them. Ritter even argues that Germany did not realize that supporting Austria-Hungary necessarily required war. Germany believed, perhaps naively, that the other European countries would be just as outraged at the killing of the Austrian heir to the throne as it was. Arguing against this view, Fischer says that Germany had plans for war previous to the crisis of 1914. He believes they simply used the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as an excuse to put their plan into motion. Nonetheless, whatever one’s views are, when all of the evidence is taken into account, it becomes questionable as to why Austria-Hungary did not receive any blame for the war in the Treaty of Versailles. 

It is greatly reductionist, one might argue, to place all of the blame on Germany without considering Austria-Hungary’s role in matters. It is admitted, however, that Germany’s decisions concerning its military also proved keeping the peace difficult.  Fischer believed that Germany’s aggressive military presence and growth was a significant cause of WWI because it drove wedges between Germany and its European neighbours. Britain, for example, felt threatened by German naval expansion, which they believed was directed mainly against them. Before 1898, Germany had large armies but small naval forces. In 1898, however, Admiral Tirpitz announced that Germany was going to begin the process of enlarging its navy. An anxious Britain engaged in an expensive naval race with the new power to construct the première battleship. Germany also made relations worse with Britain in the Boer War (1899-1902) by supporting and sending weapons to the Boers in South Africa. Prior to the 1890s Britain had not seen Germany as an enemy, but these events, among others, changed that view. Furthermore, the influence of German military plans in starting the war is strongly debated.  Ritter writes that Germany did not have a long-term military plan concerning the conflict, only an immediate reaction to the threatening Russian mobilization of its armed forces. Also, he emphasizes that Germany did not believe that Britain would become involved in a potential conflict. 

Britain, arguably, is the country that made the war a World War. The involvement of their colonies across the globe (from Australia and India, to Canada and South Africa) greatly expanded the scope of the conflict. The masterminds of the German military, on the other hand, were convinced the conflict would be resolved locally and swiftly. They miscalculated. Yet Ritter does concede that military necessity was the most important factor in Germany’s choice to go to war. Ready for use since 1898, the Schlieffen Plan was particularly influential. The Shleiffen Plan concerned how to deal with a threat from Russia. According to the plan, German forces would invade Belgium in order to quickly attack northern France. After France had been defeated, Russia would be tackled. This was all to avoid the division of German troops between east and west, weakening them. Sixteen years later, once Russia appeared set on war these plans had to be followed. War on France and invasion of Belgium were a necessary preemptive tactic. This action against Belgium became the reason for British involvement in the war. Nevertheless, there is certain evidence that suggests German statesmen attempted to solve the July 1914 crisis peacefully. The generals were a forceful influence, but Germany was not a completely military state. In fact, it spent less per person on its military than the other powers prior to 1914. But their strongest ally, Austria, had a multinational army that had been defeated in previous wars and was not necessarily reliable. All things considered, a competitive German military, with their plans and miscalculations, did have their place in causing the Great War. Nonetheless, to exclusively place blame on Germany while Russia and Britain go scot free is grossly unfair. Russia mobilized first, and while Germany did play a significant part in inciting a European war, Britain truly made it a world war.  

In conclusion, Germany cannot shoulder unilateral blame for World War I. Germany should not even truly carry the blame for the majority of the war. Germany may have become the mythic enemy to many European imaginations before the war, but there was not much evidence to support this hysteric view. This was particularly true in Britain, where, in the years leading up to war, spy stories featuring German foes became wildly popular. More truthfully, WWI was a result of the self-centred and preservative nature of the European powers in general. This point of view goes hand in hand with the theory of Realism. In 1948, Hans Joachim Morgenthau developed his theory of Realism, which says that states are defensive and selfish. Morgenthau further argued that the world is full of opposing interests, and therefore country clashes are ‘inevitable’. Many international relations scholars claim that these characteristics of states are responsible for all international conflict. The idea that World War I was caused by competing national interests, rather than by any single country (Germany or otherwise), is generally a more objective and post-revisionist idea. Germany is to blame, but so are all of the other parties involved. One could say that all shared roles in instigating the world’s first devastating total war.