To What Extent was Germany to Blame for the Outbreak of War in 1914 ?

From the November 2021 IBDP HL History Paper 3 exam:

Examine the influence of German foreign policy on the major European powers between 1890 and 1908.

The question requires that candidates consider the interrelationship between German foreign policy and other European states. Major powers include Britain, France, Russia and Austria- Hungary. Candidates may examine how the change from Bismarck’s foreign policy to one of Weltpolitik influenced other powers. Candidates may examine how the unpredictable nature of German policy in the 1890’s drew Britain out of isolation (Kruger telegram, Naval Laws, colonialism) and into closer relations with France and Russia. German actions in Morocco strengthened this relationship. In the case of France, increased suspicion of Germany led to an alliance with Russia in 1894. France was also keen to seek agreement with Britain in 1904. In the case of Russia, the end of the Reinsurance Treaty led to the Dual Alliance. German support of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans drew Russia towards an alliance with Britain, as well as France. For Austria-Hungary, it could be argued that German support emboldened their Balkan policy (Bosnia 1908). Candidates may argue that a consequence of German foreign policy was that Europe was divided into two increasingly militarised blocs. Candidates’ opinions or conclusions will be presented clearly and supported with appropriate evidence.

Written under exam conditions (Click to enlarge):

"The period from 1890-1908 was a time of escalating tensions in Europe, as new alliances were formed and old ones were left behind. Issues such as the Anglo-German naval race and disputes over Morocco deteriorated relationships between the Central Powers and the Allies. To what extent was this due to German foreign policy? This essay will argue that, while German policy was a significant factor in this process, the actions of other European nations were also to blame, as we will see by examining alliances and the naval race. 

In 1890, as portrayed in the famous Punch Magazine cartoon titled "Dropping the Pilot," Otto von Bismarck, the German Chancellor, was dismissed. This year was pivotal because this decision led to a shift in the European balance of power. Through the Drei Kaiserbund of 1881 and the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia in 1887, Bismarck had ensured that a Franco-Russian alliance was impossible. However, in 1890, Leo von Caprivi undid all this as the Reinsurance Treaty lapsed. This opened the door for a Franco-Russian alliance, clearly demonstrating how the changing German foreign policy had created the potential for conflict in Europe. Caprivi further escalated tensions between Germany, France, and Russia through the bill of that same year, increasing the German peacetime army by 18,579 men. Clearly, within this critical year, Germany had instilled fear in its neighbouring countries, as would be demonstrated by the 1894 Franco-Russian alliance, which surrounded Germany and her allies. Another way in which Kaiser Wilhelm II soured relations with France and Britain was through the Moroccan Crisis of 1905-06. This is because the Kaiser had the goal of 'testing' the Entente Cordiale, which only backfired as the French and British subsequently started military talks. Clearly, the Kaiser had simply increased the possibility of conflict with the Allies. 

The Anglo-German Naval race is another example of how German foreign policy increased tensions between Britain and Germany. In the context of the British Royal Navy being known as the most formidable navy in Europe, Admiral Tirpitz's naval policy of 1898, aiming to achieve a 2:3 ratio between German and British ships, posed a threat to the British. This is also because the British policy had been that their Navy should always be greater than that of the next two largest navies combined. However, the extent to which this soured relations with Britain is limited, especially as, by 1906, the UK had built its first "Dreadnought", making all other battleships obsolete. Germany did, however, continue to pose a threat to the UK by attempting to build the same ship, a goal they would only achieve in 1968. With regards to this period, it can then be argued that Germany's foreign policy had a minimal impact on Britain. 

In conclusion, German foreign policy between 1890 and 1908 primarily resulted in the creation of two armed camps in Europe, while posing a minimal threat to Britain with regards to the Naval Race. Crucially, the Franco-Russian alliance was the first military alliance in the lead-up to WWI, requiring the mobilisation of ground troops. This meant that, due to Germany's non-renewal of the Reinsurance Treaty, the creation of two armed camps in Europe had begun."

To What Extent do you Blame Germany for the Breakdown in International Relations before the Great War?

Marking criteria:
0: Answers not meeting the requirements of descriptors should be awarded no marks.
1–3: Answers do not meet the demands of the question and show little or no evidence of appropriate structure. There are no more than vague, unsupported assertions.
4–5: There is little understanding of the question. Historical details are present but are mainly inaccurate and/or of marginal relevance. Historical context or processes are barely understood and there is minimal focus on the task.
6–7: Answers indicate some understanding of the question but historical knowledge is limited in quality and quantity. Historical context may be present, as will understanding of historical processes, but underdeveloped. The question is only partially addressed.
8–9: The demands of the question are generally understood. Historical knowledge is present but is not fully or accurately detailed. Knowledge is narrative or descriptive in nature. There may be limited argument that requires further substantiation. Critical commentary may be present. An attempt to place events in historical context and show an understanding of historical processes. An attempt at a structured approach, either chronological or thematic has been made.
10–12: Answers indicate that the question is understood but not all implications considered. Knowledge is largely accurate. Critical commentary may be present. Events are generally placed in context and understanding of historical processes, such as comparison and contrast, are present. There may be awareness of different approaches and interpretations but they are not based on relevant historical knowledge. There is a clear attempt at a structured approach.
13–15: Answers are clearly focused on the demands of the question. Specific knowledge is applied as evidence, and analysis or critical commentary are used appropriately to produce a specific argument. Events are placed in context and there is sound understanding of historical processes and comparison and contrast. Evaluation of different approaches may be used to substantiate arguments presented.
16–20: Answers are clearly structured and focused, have full awareness of the demands of the question, and, if appropriate, may challenge it. Detailed specific knowledge is used as evidence to support assertions and arguments. Historical processes such as comparison and contrast, placing events in context and evaluating different interpretations are used appropriately and effectively.

In-class timed essay example from an outstanding student who ended up receiving a 7 in the course: (click to enlarge)

In-class timed essay example:


To What Extent was Germany to Blame for the Outbreak of War in 1914 ?

In 1961, German historian Fritz Fischer published a book, “Germany’s Aims in the First World War”, that sparked a furious debate amongst historians inside and out of Germany. In this book, Fischer argues that Germany was responsible for the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, thus justifying the claim of the War Guilt clause in the treaty of Versailles that Germany was solely responsible for the damages the war had caused. Fischer’s argument conflicted with the belief of both the German public and academia at the time, as most Historians prior to Fischer agreed with the arguments of the revisionist historians of the 1930s, such as Sidney Bradshaw Faye, who argued that although Germany may have been partly to blame for the start of World War 1, the other major superpowers in Europe were equally to blame. Fritz Fischer presented in his book, as well as in his sequel “World Power or Decline”, a number of theses which he uses to argue that Germany had actively and aggressively planned for a world war since 1912 and as a result should be blamed for starting one, yet simultaneously many other historians, notably Gerhard Ritter, refute Fischer’s claims by presenting equally compelling evidence to argue that Germany wasn’t trying to be aggressive in its policies, but instead was being defensive and only engaged in war mistakenly and spontaneously as opposed to Fischer’s view that the Germans’ declarations of war had been the result of deliberate planning. In order to fully evaluate to what extent either view can be justified and thus decide whether or not Germany should be considered solely to blame for the outbreak of War in 1914, both the strengths and weaknesses, the accuracies and the oversights of each of the arguments should be assessed. This essay shall analyse both the revisionist views of Ritter and the Anti-Revisionist views of Fischer in order to come to a balanced conclusion as to what extent Germany was to blame for the outbreak of one of the deadliest wars in human history.
            A point argued by Fischer extensively in conjunction with his thesis that Germany was guilty of the outbreak of war in 1914 was that Germany’s militarism during the build up to war signals Germany’s aggressive, war-mongering intent. Fischer points out that between 1910 and 1914, German military expenditure rose by 73%, significantly more than the 10% increase of spending over the same time period of Germany’s greatest enemy, France. Using this as evidence, Fischer argues that this shows that post 1910 – and especially post 1912 – Germany had clearly decided to go to war sooner rather than later and had as a result increased military spending by this huge amount. Fischer continues by stating that the – in comparison – negligible increase in French military spending shows that France was not expecting to go to war and as a result had chosen not to prepare by increasing its military expenditure by as much as Germany had. From these observations, Fischer argues that the huge increase in the military spending of Germany between 1910 and 1914 was a signal of their preparations and intent to embroil Europe in War sooner rather than later. Fischer, with this argument however, fails to take a number of key points into account. First, Fischer fails to mention that France may well have wanted to increase military spending but were not able to, as their democratic parliamentary system would never elect a leader whose intention were to raise taxes on the poor in order to fund, to a greater extent, the militarisation of France. This means that although the relatively low French increase in military expenditure may not have been due to a lack of aggression and intent for war, but instead due to the restrictions that its political system lays upon the government, unlike the system in Germany, which is Autocratic and thus the public opinion has far less sway. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Germany had had far less time to build up its army and thus the rapid increase of military expenditure may well be seen as a defensive policy aiming to merely allow Germany to build up its army to the level where it can effectively defend itself from its aggressive Neighbours, rather than as an aggressive policy looking for war. Thus, although the excessive increase in German military expenditure between 1910 and 1914 may be a signal of Germany’s aggressive intent over its neighbours, it could also, upon reflection, be regarded as a purely defensive manoeuvre.
            Another central argument that Fischer uses in order to convince historians that Germany was to blame for the outbreak of the First World War is that by 1912, many of Germany’s military officers and most powerful politicians had decided that war with Russia was inevitable. This was primarily due to the reforms that the Russian army was undergoing following their defeat in the Russo-Japanese war. These reforms would transform the Russian army into a far more modern and thus potent threat to Germany and, due to Russia’s alliance with Germany’s highly antagonistic neighbours France, the reformed army could well crush Germany. As a result, German politicians believed that war with Russia prior to the reforms being completed in 1917 would be beneficial for German growth and thus the German high command, according to Fischer, actively sought war with Russia before 1917. In the words of the head of Army van Moltke in 1912: “I hold war [with Russia] to be inevitable and the sooner the better.” Fischer argues that this attitude of the German generals and politicians shows that Germany was aiming to go to war as early as 1912. Indeed, the Bosnian crisis already showed Germany’s willingness to go to war and it was only Russia backing out when none of its allies backed it that caused war to have been averted. Fischer also uses this attitude of the German politicians to justify his claim that it was Germany who pushed Austro-Hungary to go to war with Serbia, thus starting the series of events that lead to the start of the First World War. Fischer claims that the murder of the Archduke gave Germany an opportunity to both support Austria and, potentially,  initiate the war with Russia, through a war with Serbia, that Germany had been seeking. Thus Germany encouraged Austria by handing them the infamous blank cheque. On the other hand, the series of desperate telegrams sent between Tsar Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II, on the advent of the start of the war, urging one another to not mobilise indicates that German leadership (ie the Kaiser), was reluctant to go to war with his cousin the Tsar and his people, contradicting Fischers’ argument. As a result, although Fischer argues that the Russian military reforms prompted German officials to actively seek war with Russia, by, for example, encouraging Austria with their blank cheque agreement, other evidence points towards Germany, and in particular the Kaiser, being reluctant to declare war on Russia.
            A final argument that Fischer used to blame Germany for the start of the war was that Germany actively sought the outbreak of war in order to cover up and suppress internal social and political tensions. Following the turn of the 20th century and the widespread reforms throughout Europe, many high ranking German officials, especially the conservative Junkers, became worried about the increasing power of socialist parties and workers’ unions within the Reich, considering them a rot to society. In order to stop this rot, the Junkers wanted to arrest the leaders and suppress these parties by force. However, in order to do this effectively, the Junkers needed an effective cover to distract attention away from these events. The primary opportunity for this was war. Hence, Fischer argues that many of the powerful Junkers within the German government were, if not actively seeking, then not careful to avoid the outbreak of war. Fischer reasons that  Germany’s drive for war was in part due to the powerful Junkers looking for the most suitable cover so that they could settle their own internal affairs (i.e. motivated by self-interest). However, to what extent these internal quibbles had upon foreign policy beyond perhaps a slight change in mentality is unclear, and consequently the argument that the socio-political unrest within Germany motivated the powerful and conservative Junkers to start a war in order to provide cover for the suppression of unrest, although credible, is not an obvious reason as to why the war started, nor a particularly convincing argument that Germany was to blame.

            When, in the 1960s, Fischer published his books arguing Germany’s guilt for the outbreak of the First World War, he garnered a fair following amongst German historians, however he also had his fair share of critics. An argument that his critics point out is that prior to 1914, German foreign policy was oft contradictory and with no clear aim, especially not the aim of going to war with its neighbours. Kaiser Wilhelm the II was a very fickle man, so as an autocratic leader his policies were inconsistent. In 1895, Kaiser Wilhelm declared his support for Russia in the triple intervention that settled the first Sino-Japanese war. Germany thus seemed to support Russia, almost, but not quite, as an ally. However, five years previously, Kaiser Wilhelm had decided to let the Russo-German Re-insurance treaty lapse, causing Russia to feel frightened that Germany may be hostile towards it (due to expansionist policies) and thus sign an alliance with Germany’s greatest enemies France. Historians argue that this evidences Germany’s inconsistent policies: that they first let relations with Russia to break down to such an extent, that Russia sign a treaty with Germany’s greatest enemy, France. Yet, upon seeing this alliance, Germany then, and only then, try to win back Russia’s favour by supporting them in the Far East. Thus, historians conclude that Germany had no clear aim of whether it wanted to antagonise its Neighbours in the search of war, or whether they were trying to appease them in order to prevent war. Fischer may state, however, that as these events took place long before the start of the War and thus Germany’s attitude and direction may have changed later on, specifically in 1912. However, chaotic German policies followed on all the way to 1914. For example, in 1905 Germany provoked a crisis by protesting the French having colonised Morocco, something that had been agreed between France and Britain within their Entente Cordiale. Germany, by getting involved in an agreement between France and Britain immediately seemed overly aggressive, forcing the British and French to become even closer to one another, thus posing a greater threat to Germany, as opposed to a lesser one. This was a political miscalculation, as Germany had sought to drive France and Britain apart. However, this event again indicates that German policy making was not as carefully planned and meticulously thought out as Fischer described in his books, but instead the policy making by the Kaiser seemed naïve and rushed, something that seems unlikely to be the case for a nation that in a few years would be planning for war. Through this, historians argue that it seems unlikely that the German government and the Kaiser in particular, in a matter of five years, changed his policy making from a naïve and rushed, chaotic and contradictory style to a carefully planned war strategy. As a result, critics of Fischer argue that the German policy making was too inconsistent in the years prior to the outbreak of World War 1 to countenance the idea that Germany then made a careful plan to go to war. Thus they argue Germany’s innocence as they point out that Germany signalled no clear intention of war prior to 1914, indeed they, in many cases, seemed confused as to what policy to follow.
            One of the foremost critics of Fischer was the conservative German historian Gerhard Ritter. Ritter’s main counter against Fischer’s arguments focussed on why Germany were not intentionally causing war through their actions in 1914, thus being innocent of the charges put forward by Fischer. Ritter’s argument is that Germany’s starting of a world war was not the result of a predetermined intention, but rather due to a catastrophic evaluation of European politics at the time. The argument states that Germany regarded itself as coming to the defence of a brother empire that had been attacked by terrorists. Thus, Ritter justifies the blank cheque agreement by saying that its intentions were meant as a deterrent to Serbia and to intimidate them. Ritter particularly stresses that Germany agreed to invade Serbia because it did not think that Russia was willing to support a terrorist state who had just assassinated an “innocent”, nor did Germany believe that Russia could mobilize with any speed anyways. Naturally, Ritter concludes it was these miscalculations that caused Germany to become involved in a World War, as opposed to Fischer’s view that these actions were part of a deliberate Russian war strategy. Ritter further opposes Fischer’s argument that German politicians desired war in and around 1914 with their neighbours, in particular France. Ritter points out that the German chancellor ordered the governor of Alsace Lorraine in 1914 to prevent the German-speaking press from printing Francophobic remarks. This indicates that rather than being aggressive towards their neighbours in an expansionist way, as Fischer described, the German government instead sought to make peace with its neighbours, if at first merely on a social level as opposed to a political one. Finally, Ritter refutes Fischer’s claim than van Moltke refusing to comply with the Kaiser’s last minute suggestion to call off the invasion of France was an indication of Germany’s willingness and intent to cause a World War. Ritter states that in fact, Moltke merely had refused to comply due to the logistics nightmare that this would cause. Although neither party has many facts to back this up, Ritter argues throughout that Fischer’s view is wrong due to his extremely biased interpretation of events during 1914 and that, upon revision, Germany can be seen not as directly intent on causing a war, but rather as having gotten itself involved in a situation that spiralled out of control and towards World War due to a series of mistaken judgements rather than any direct desire for war.
            Fritz Fischer argued in 1961 that Germany had been to blame for the outbreak of World War 1 as it had directly planned to go to war with its neighbours, whom it felt threatened by, by 1917, due to a mixture of military pressure from its Generals who saw war as inevitable and thus readied themselves accordingly, not least by handing a blank cheque to an aggressive Austria, an increase in military spending that had signalled an intent for war and due to internal conflicts motivating high ranking politicians to, if not actively seek war, then not to try hard avoiding it. Other historians, notably Gerhard Ritter, criticise Fischer’s arguments, pointing out that Germany’s contradictory policy making prior to 1914 was at odds to Fischer’s vision of a deliberate plan for war being formulated as well as that Fischer’s interpretations of events in 1914 were one sided and unbalanced. Personally, although I agree to some extent with Fischer that Germany may well have been overly aggressive and thus has to bear some of the responsibility for the outbreak of war, at the same time I disagree that Germany were solely to blame, as stated by the Treaty of Versailles. Instead I believe that while the actions of Germany may have been questionable, I highly doubt that there was a specific intent to start a war that would, over four years, kill six million people across Europe.

To what extent do you agree Germany was primarily to blame for the break down in international relations?

Having had ancestors fighting on both “sides” of the First World War, my opinion concerning this question is mixed. It is difficult for me to judge the situation, let alone possible to blame any one of the powers. However, it is possible to take a step back and analyse Germany’s behaviour concerning other countries as well as the events it was involved in during the years leading up to the war.
This essay will begin with Bismarck and his opinion on the way Germany should conduct itself and follow on with Wilhelm II, covering the manner in which he brought change to Germany’s policies, up to and including the outbreak of the first world war.

Some blame Bismarck for pulling out of German politics, leaving chaos behind that was sure to cause problems for the governments to come. Nonetheless, Bismarck had strong ideas for structures that kept Germany’s position within the European balancing-act stable. He was a great ruler who understood much of European relations and especially about the role Germany should play in Europe. Evidence for the fact that Bismarck knew what was the right way for Germany to conduct itself is that he decided against acquiring colonies, like all the other powers of Europe. Bismarck believed that as long as the other countries were occupied with each other Germany would be left in peace and could even profit from them opposing each other because they would forget their grudges against it. Another confirmation for this claim is Germanys disinterest in the Balkans (1890-1905) and it taking up the role of a “peace-keeper” in Russian-Turkish conflicts.
All of this meant that Germany had a mediocre standing within Europe, for it was making sacrifices to maintain peace hold the balance of power. In addition to that, other countries did not fear Germany because it was not very active and the countries feared other powers more than they feared Germany.

Despite this Wilhelm II, on obtaining power, had Bismarck, who had lead Germany successfully through three decades with his policies, “dismissed” and replaced with Leo von Caprivi in 1890. In contrast to Bismarck, Wilhelm’s methods and ideas for Germany were clumsier and much less subtle, which could have contributed to the breakdown in international relations at the beginning of the 20th century. Confirmation for this is Wilhelm II “dismissing” Bismarck and appointing Leo v. Caprivi as new chancellor, which lead to the reinsurance treaty with Russia lapsing. The alliance to Russia had been one of the aspects to European relations that Bismarck knew was very important. The Alliance with Russia was namely the instrument that kept France, which was opposed to Germany from forming an Alliance with Russia, which later would put Germany in a critical situation.
Nonetheless under Wilhelm, Germany’s behaviour to other powers and reactions to events were problematic. Wilhelm acted in a very ambivalent and inconstant way toward other European countries, especially Britain. The relationship Germany had with Britain was a complicated and ”many-layered”, often not meeting Wilhelm’s aims. On the one hand he seemed to want an alliance with Britain but on the other hand he acted in a fashion that seem to be the opposite. Examples for this are the Daily Telegraph Affair in 1908 and the “Kruger Telegram” in 1896 concerning the Transvaal Republic in South Africa. Both these incidents lead to British government feeling even more nervous and unsure around Germany and the people of Britain starting to establish certain hostility against Germany.

During the years before the war, helped by Wilhelm coming to power, Militarism experienced a high rise of popularity among the people as well as with the Kaiser, who actually developed an obsession with ships, in Germany, that threatened to destabilize the already insecure European affiliations. The German Naval Law in 1900 is a good illustration for this supposition. Under this law, Germany started to build many new ships and most importantly the far more powerful “Dreadnoughts”.  In addition, from 1910 to 1914, the German army grew by 73%. Although this might been seen as normal at first, because Germany was a young country that needed to invest a lot into its army before it was on a par with the other powers, it can not be excused in the same way after Germany started increasing the pace in after 1990. Germany’s building up their armed forces in this way lead to countries feeling threatened and is evidence for Germany reckoning with a war.

Germanys reaction to the first Moroccan crisis in 1905-1906 took the powers another step closer to the destruction of European harmony. When France wanted to take over Morocco, an operation Britain, Italy, Spain and Russia all agreed to, Germany intervened, by bringing up the Madrid Convention of 1880 and challenged France’s right to control Morocco. Wilhelm’s aim in this was to test European relations, especially Britain’s feeling of alliance towards France, and if he could bring about a change in Germany’s favor. Obviously this episode brought up even more doubts and grudges concerning Germany with the other powers and did not place Germany in a favorable position.

There are several events that Germany engaged in, pending the countdown to World War I, that were essential for the war to break-out.
First of all, the “blank cheque” that Germany agreed on with Austria on the 6th of July 1914 after the assassination of the Archduke changed their defensive Alliance to an offensive Alliance, meaning Germany and Austria would support each other and go to war together if any of the two found themselves in conflict with another country. According to Cooper, Laver and Williamson, one of the reasons for Germany to settle the new alliance was that it thought it could profit economically from Austria, assuming that if it were economically stronger the other powers would be prepared to undergo alliances with it.
However the consequences of the “blank cheque” actually put Germany in exactly the opposite situation from that which it had sought; it finished by going to war against Russia and France as well as Britain.

After having considered Bismarck as a great ruler, who knew which way Germany, should conduct itself, Wilhelm, the inconsistent Kaiser, with a “faible” for the German navy, an undiplomatic approach to European affairs and communication and the fact that Germany was so eager to support Austria in July 1914, my conclusion is that Germany was to a certain extent to blame for the break-down in international relations that led to the first World War. However, it is not possible to say that other countries bore no responsibility for these events. Austria, Russia, the Balkan States, France and Britain all played their part.
To what extent do you blame Germany for the breakdown in International Relations before the Great War?

Upon signing the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Germany agreed to a section that has caused much speculation since then. Article 231, also known as the War Guilt Clause, states that Germany was to blame for the full extent of the Great War. However, with hindsight, historians such as Ritter and Schroeder disagree with this conclusion, they believe that Germany was not to blame for the outbreak of war. The following essay will discuss how Germany, though not innocent, was not the sole cause for the breakdown in International Relations before the Great War.

The first argument to support this deduction is the idea that tensions in the 1900s were already very high. After Germany defeated France in 1870 and took Alsace-Lorraine, France’s pride was wounded. Alsace-Lorraine was one of her more industrial regions, thus, when Germany took it, France suffered a substantial blow to their economy. Not only that, but they were humiliated to the point where they wanted revenge and they would stop at nothing to get it. This seems like the attitude of a nation willing to risk war just to salvage their pride, which is shown a few years later, when, in 1894, France and Russia create the Franco-Russian Dual Alliance. The sudden alliance, at the time, looked like an attack on Germany. It was only natural for Germany to feel encircled by the two countries, which led to the Germans beginning to build up their army. Germany did what any other one of the nations, who, put in the situation, would have done. The tensions between the European countries were escalating rapidly to the point where any sudden attack on one of the allies would cause an immediate response in the shape of a war.

Another event that created plenty of tension in Europe, and led to the brink of war, was the Bosnian Crisis in 1908. The Bosnian Crisis is where the initial conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia began, and led to Austria declaring war on Serbia after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was murdered on 28th June 1914. The rising tension between the two countries led to the other nations coming to support their allies. The rush to aid their allies was not caused by Germany, as they weren’t even expecting Russia to go to aid Serbia against Austria-Hungary. When they did, Germany had to rush to Austria-Hungary’s aid. Germany was even less to blame for this event, as it wasn’t even involved until Austria-Hungary asked for its aid against Russia and Serbia. The conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary continues to strengthen the fact that Germany wasn’t the sole reason behind the outbreak of the Great War.

One of the main reasons behind why Germany was seen as such a ‘bad guy’ in the outbreak of the First World War, was due to the amount of propaganda made at the time. The Daily Mail newspaper in 1911, after the second Moroccan Crisis printed a feature saying, “Germany is deliberately preparing to destroy the British Empire. Britain alone stands in the way of Germany’s path to world power and domination.” In this quote, the British propaganda spins the Agadir Crisis completely out of proportion to make Germany seem like the antagonist in the situation. The statement is only partly true, as Germany had become the second largest industry in the world by then, second to America. Britain had a larger empire than Germany and a larger navy, but Germany had the upper hand in a war situation, as it had a larger army. Germany quickly became the antagonist during the early 1900s and therefore was an easy target to put all the blame on when the war ended, however they didn’t deserve all of it.

A further example of propaganda displaying Germany as the ‘enemy’ is when the Kaiser’s words were twisted and put together to portray him as such. The Kaiser wasn’t even in an interview when a journalist used some of the Kaiser’s quotes and portrayed him as if he was in an interview. In 1908, the Daily Telegraph ‘quoted’ the Kaiser saying, “You English, are mad, mad, mad as March hares.” These words made the Kaiser seem as if he were being hostile towards the British and were successful in portraying the Kaiser as the antagonist in the war. This would have helped in the argument of Germany being the sole blame for the outbreak of the Great War, however this so-called ‘interview’ was falsely portrayed and so is another point that supports the argument that Germany was not to blame for the collapse in International Relations before the Great War.

When the supposed long-term enemies, France and Britain, signed an Entente Cordiale or a ‘friendly understanding’ in 1907, Germany saw this as threatening. As the two nations continued to team up against Germany, tensions continued to rise. Tensions reached a peak in 1905 for the 1st Moroccan Crisis and then again in 1911 for the 2nd. Germany was humiliated and began to see that the two recently become allies were teaming up to prevent Germany from expanding and becoming more powerful. This was crucial in directing the blame to Germany, as the two allies were able to portray Germany as the aggressor. However, Germany by itself was not to blame, other nations were as much a factor in the outbreak of the Great War as Germany.

Among the many historians who are opposed to the theory that Germany was not to blame for the outbreak of the Great War, Fritz Fischer caused the most controversy. In 1961, Fischer wrote Griff nach der Weltmacht. In his book, he argued his opinion on how Germany was to blame for the war due to its aggressive pursuit of its Weltpolitik. He also discussed how aggression from Germany might have sparked due to fear of encirclement by France and Russia and this could have led to Germany wanting the war. However, shortly after the book was published, many historians argued against Fischer. Of the more respected, Professor Gerhard Ritter “has not only suggested that Fischer misinterprets documents but has also implied that he has a political purpose in doing this”, this was taken from an excerpt in H W Koch’s book The Origins of the First World War. One of Ritter’s main arguments is that he was present during the war and experienced it first-hand, whilst Fischer was only a child at the time, therefore Ritter “has a view of the origins of the First World War which is entirely different from Fischer’s”. Professor Gerhard Ritter has the upper hand in this debate, as he was present for both the war and the ‘hindsight’. This is supported by the fact that German policy before 1914 was vague and doesn’t support the idea of Weltpolitik. Although Fritz Fischer provides substantial arguments, it is Ritter’s that gain the upper hand, as it was proven when in 1965, Fischer published another book, Weltmacht oder Niedergang, to counteract the criticism. Ritter succeeded in arguing against Fischer to support the idea that Germany was not the sole nation to blame for the outbreak of the First World War.

An example of an event that could be used to blame Germany for the breakdown in International Relations before the Great War is the formation of the Drei Kaiser Bund in 1881. The Drei Kaiser Bund itself wasn’t to blame, but when, in 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm let the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia lapse, Russia was annoyed and therefore went and joined France in the Franco-Russian Dual Alliance in 1892. This led to Germany feeling encircled by the two nations and it also felt threatened by a possible attack. Although this contributed to the outbreak of war, it wasn’t the only cause, otherwise war would have broken out in the 1890s instead of 1914, however, it is important to remember that it may have been a significant factor in increasing tensions in Europe.

Another event that might aid in blaming Germany for the First World War is the German naval law in 1900. This is important as it showed Britain, for the first time, that Germany might be a threat to their empire. The naval law led to a naval race between Germany and Britain, which caused a lot of tension between the two countries. Although it caused a lot of tension, the naval race was caused by both Britain and Germany, meaning the blame would have been distributed to both of the countries, not just to Germany.

In conclusion, Germany may have been a significant factor in the outbreak of the First World War, but was not the only factor. The other European nations played as much a part in causing the War as Germany, meaning that it was unfair for Germany to have had to take all of the blame for it. The events leading up to 1914 were crucial in causing the war and were not due to Germany. As this essay has shown, historians such as Professor Gerhard Ritter and Professor Fritz Fischer have disagreed about which nations were the cause of the War. However, out of the two, Ritter has the benefit of first-hand knowledge and hindsight, which gives him the advantage. Propaganda also played a large role in giving Germany the blame as it spun events out of proportion to make Germany seem like the antagonist. Therefore, Germany was not to blame for the breakdown in International Relations before the Great War.

Works Cited:
[1] Badsey, Stephen. The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871. Oxford: Osprey, 2003. Print.  [2] "Fischer." Fischer. N.p., n.d. Web. .  [3] Fischer, Fritz. Germany's Aims in the First World War. New York: W.W. Norton, 1967. Print.  [4] Fischer, Fritz. Griff Nach Der Weltmacht; Die Kriegszielpolitik Des Kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914/18. Düsseldorf: Droste, 1964. Print.  [5] Fischer, Fritz. Weltmacht Oder Niedergang. Deutschland Im Ersten Weltkrieg. [Frankfurt A.M.]: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1968. Print.  [6] Hamilton, Richard F., and Holger H. Herwig. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.  [7] Herrmann, David G. The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1996. Print.  [8] Koch, H. W. The Origins of the First World War: Great Power Rivalry and German War Aims. London: Macmillan, 1984. Print.  [9] Macdonald, David M. United Government and Foreign Policy in Russia: 1900-1914. Cambridge, Mass. U.a.: Harvard Univ., 1992. Print.  [10] Padfield, Peter. The Great Naval Race: The Anglo-German Naval Rivalry, 1900-1914. New York: D. McKay, 1974. Print.

To what extent do you blame Germany for the breakdown in International relations?

During the late 1800ss and the early 1900ss Germany was quickly becoming a major super power in Europe. This was causing a stir in Europe politically because the other super powers (France, Britain and Russia) were scared about what was going to happen to them and their empires. This caused a lot of unrest between the leaders of Europe because of Germany's rapid expansion and of how much money they were investing into their army and navy. This essay will look at how Germany caused the breakdown for international relations in Europe or if their were other countries that were possibly more at fault for the breakdown in international relations.

Fritz Fischer once said “Germany is responsible for WWI because of its aggressive pursuit of its Weltpolitik”. In this quote Fritz Fischer explains that because of Germanys ambitions to become a world power they caused the First World War. These ambitions also were a factor in the breakdown in International Relations. Kaiser Wilhelm II adopted Weltpolitik, this was a lot different from Bismarck’s “Realpolitik” as Weltpolitik was a way of making Germany a world superpower through aggressive diplomacy. On the other hand Realpolitik was based mostly on power and on practical and material factors and considerations. Weltpolitk was one of the major factors that led to the breakdown of international relations because of what it led to. For example, the naval race, Germany's colonisation of Africa and the interview that the Kaiser gave on the Daily Telegraph. The naval race led to a breakdown of relations with Britain because when Germany started to build up their navy Britain felt threatened so they started to build up their navy; this was one of the main reasons why international relations failed during the build up for world war one. The Daily Telegraph interview with the Kaiser caused the people and prime minister to have distrust in the Germans. In this interview Wilhelm II said “You English, are mad, mad, mad as march hares”. This interview was in 1908 marked the end of any hope for good relations with Britain for Germany. Germany already had bad relations France because of the Franco Prussian war and how they defeated the French in six weeks. The treaty that France had to sign at the end of the war was a major embarrassment to them because they had to give up two of their territories (Alsace and Lorraine) and they had to pay a huge sum of money (more than Germany had to pay after the First world war). Russia and Germany had good relations but they could not be allies because of the Franco Russian alliance, however if the Kaiser would not have walked out on a meeting of the “Drei Keiser Bund” they would have had a non aggression pact, and they could have possibly been allies. Germany did however have good relations with Austria Hungary, as they were both in the Central powers alliance, Germany also backed Austria Hungary (A.K.A A-H) in everything that they did. This also made relations worse with Russia because A-H was enemies with Serbia, and Serbia was allies with Russia. So when A-H marched into Serbia Germany had to go to war with Serbia and with Russia. Germanys Weltpolitik and their alliance with  A-H were some of the main reasons why international relations broke down in Europe.

However by the late 1800’s A-H had been causing there own diplomatic disruption. AJP Taylor once said, “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.”  What AJP Taylor is saying with this is that A-H did not really care that their Archduke was dead but they were more frustrated that Serbia existed as a free country. This caused a major dispute for many years between these two states. The Austrians hated the Serbs and the Serbs hated the Austrians. A main reason for this hate was the fact that in 1860 Franz Joseph abolished the Serbian monarchy, and he crushed the ensuing revolt. This caused a major hate politically between these two countries, because when the monarchy was killed the people of Serbia answered and decided that no matter how hopeless the situation they would fight for there abolished monarchs. This dispute would also involve Russia when Serbia allied with them as Russia promised to defend Serbia if they were ever attacked by A-H. This was a major factor in the disruption of international relations because if Serbia went to war with A-H then Europe because of the alliance system. There was also political tension between A-H and Russia because of the Crimean war. The Crimean war caused tension between these two states because Russia thought that A-H would join them in their war against the Ottomans in the Crimean area but instead A-H joined the Ottomans and fought against Russia. The alliance system was also a major cause of the collapsing of international relations in Europe. Because A-H was allied with Germany and Serbia was allies with Russia who was allied with France and Britain; if the political tension rose to the brink of war between A-H and Serbia Europe would descend into anarchy and war. The international dispute between A-H and Serbia was a major factor in the breakdown of international relations in Europe as they both had powerful allies that would help them no matter what.

In conclusion I think that The alliance system and the tension between A-H and Serbia contributed more to the breakdown of international relations in Europe than Germany. I think this because Germany was such a young unified country and there original intentions were not to become a world power through aggressive diplomacy when Bismarck was chancellor that they are not truly at fault for the breakdown of international relations in Europe.

How Far Should Germany Be Blamed For The First World War?      

Giving Germany a considerable blame for WWI is certainly a valid argument. As AJP Taylor points out “The German bid for continental supremacy was certainly decisive in bringing on the European War”. However to blame Germany alone is not only unfair but is not supported by historical evidence. The escalation of the July Crisis from a regional conflict into a World War was the fault of multiple nations.      

German diplomacy at the turn of the century was often rash and hot headed. RJ Unstead wrote, “The arrogant Emperor, followed a policy based on strength instead of caution.” This can be seen in the Moroccan Crisis’ of 1905 and 1911 as well as Kaiser Wilhelm II decision to end the alliance Germany had with Russia. Fritz Fischer describes a Germany whose expansionist policies and ruthless pursuit of German ambitions pushed Europe over the edge. The expansion of Germany’s navy starting in 1906 certainly points to the fact that Germany was rivaling Britain for control of the seas. This is definitely questionable when one considers which countries were threats to Germany at the time. Traditionally before 1906 tensions between Germany and Britain were relatively low. Neither country was preparing to fight the other. Why would Germany expand its navy? Fischer argues that it was because Germany wanted war. Germany recognized that it was being isolated through the “Triple Entente” and decided to act. As stated by RJ Unstead the Kaiser “built a powerful battle-fleet which could only be intended to challenge British sea-power.”  Furthermore Fischer has a valid point if one examines the events of June and July 1914 closely. Germany gave Austria what is commonly known as a “Blank Cheque” which stated that Austria had Germany’s support in whatever action it decided to take against Serbia. Fischer argues that this “Blank Cheque” tipped the conflict over the edge. The assurance merely helped to escalate the localized conflict further, because it gave Austria-Hungary a powerful ally. Furthermore Austria-Hungary had no need to fear Russian intervention with a powerful Germany behind it. Thus on July 28th 1914 Austria-Hungary started to shell Belgrade.       

However the view that Germany alone caused the war is to ignore significant details. Chiefly among these is the fact that Germany tried to convince Austria-Hungary to avoid war. On July 30th 1914 the German Government wired their ambassador in Vienna, saying that a settlement with Serbia would be preferable to war. Fischer’s arguments that Germany wanted war are negated by the fact that Wilhelm II stated that “all reason for war is gone” after Serbia accepted Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum. Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia left Germany in an extremely tough position. If Germany did nothing Russia would mobilize and defeat Austria-Hungary. However if Germany declared war on Serbia it would have to declare war on Russia. This then brings the focus to Austria-Hungary. Serbia accepted Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum in all but two points. However Austria-Hungary chose to declare war anyway. As AJP Taylor says “The Austrian Government was not much concerned to punishing the crime of Sarajevo. They wanted to punish a different crime-the crime that Serbia committed by existing as a free national state.” Taylor’s argument carries a lot of weight when considering the Serbian response to Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum. Austria-Hungary was looking for any excuse to go to war and crush Serbia. Sarajevo gave them the perfect excuse. This certainly counters Fischer’s argument that Germany caused the war. Had Austria-Hungary accepted Serbia’s reply to their ultimatum the war may not have happened in the first place. Similarly Russia’s mobilization put pressure on Germany to come to Austria-Hungary’s defence. The “partial mobilization” of Russian forces gave Germany no choice but to declare war on Russia and come to Austria-Hungary’s defence.       

The blame for WWI should not be given only to Germany. However one cannot deny that Germany played a role in starting the conflict. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand gave Austria-Hungary the right to eradicate the terrorists that were being harboured by Serbia. As argued by Christopher Clark, Russia and France chose to oppose Austria-Hungary in this, therefore dragging Germany into the war. The blame that Germany must accept is the blame of backing Austria-Hungary. Without German support Austria-Hungary would not have been able to invade Serbia and fend off Russia.       

In conclusion the blame for WWI cannot fall only to Germany. Yet Germans must recognize the importance of the “Blank Cheque” in starting the conflict. Without it Austria-Hungary would have been less likely to take action and declare war. Fischer’s argument that Germany started the war carries some truth. However it should not be considered the definite answer to the cause of the war.  

How Far Should Germany be blamed for the First World War?   

There are numerous views as to who was to blame for the First World War. To answer the question this essay will firstly put forward the points of Fritz Fischer who believed Germany was to blame. Following this will be a rebuttal from Fischer’s adversary Gerhard Ritter who attempts to plead Germany’s innocence. Ultimately, the claims of Niall Ferguson who says the blame lies with Britain not Germany, will be presented. After presenting and analysing all of these arguments this essay will finally argue why Germany is only partially to blame.  

In his book, Grab for World Power published in 1964, Fritz Fischer challenged the common consensus on who was responsible for the First World War. It was previously accepted that the outbreak of the war was a shared responsibility. Fischer opposed this idea, instead accusing Germany of being the sole instigator of the war.  His accusation was based on three main claims. One of his claims was that a war was certain to happen. Accordingly, under the guidance of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German government had been seriously preparing for a war since 1911.  This is attested to by the 37% increase of German military spending between 1911 and 1912.  Fischer’s second claim was that the Chancellor of Germany, Bethmann Hollweg, encouraged the Austrians in their crisis with the Kingdom of Serbia.  War between Serbia and the Hapsburgs would justify a German attack on France and Russia, which in turn would weaken the Entente and prevent German encirclement. This argument gains supported from the “blank cheque” offered by Bethmann Hollweg, which gave Austria-Hungary assurance that Germany would support them if war were to break out with Serbia.  The last of Fischer’s claims was that Germany was aiming for an eastern empire. Fischer believed that the Germans always had expansion in the back of their minds.  This argument is not as strong because here Fischer is too simplistic in saying that the expansionism, which was certainly a cause of the Second World War, was also in play at the outbreak of the First World War.  These claims met with strong opposition; nevertheless the majority of them can be well supported.  

The German nationalist, Gerhard Ritter, was one of the many to oppose Fischer’s thesis. Ritter believed that Germany could not alone be blamed for the war because the rest of Europe had competing aims and aspirations.  He argued that the idea of war had caught Germany off guard. They did not seek out a war; they merely accepted it as a possibility. This is contradicted by looking at the level of Germany’s military spending.   Ritter also contended Bethmann Hollweg did not urge Austria-Hungary to attack Serbia. Rather that he attempted to reduce the ambition for war of the highly militaristic German General Erich Ludendorff.  However it is very difficult to argue that the “blank cheque” did not encourage Austria-Hungary to enter into war.  Furthermore Ritter argued that Germany’s primary objective was to preserve Austria-Hungary’s status as a main power. In order for this to be achieved Germany’s foreign policy would have to be very defensive which contrasts with Fischer’s claim that it was offensive.  Germany’s immense military spending seems to suggest Fischer’s proposition is more reasonable. Ritter’s argument offers very little value. His statements are unoriginal and quite easily disproved.  

Similar to Fritz Fischer, Niall Ferguson also brought innovative ideas to the table in his book The Pity of War. In this book Ferguson argues that it was Britain, not Germany, who was responsible for the First World War. Ferguson states that by entering the war, Britain turned a continental war into a world war. This is quite a reasonable argument, because it was Britain that brought America and her colonies into the war. He believes that Germany never aimed at world domination. Instead, German motives were directed mainly against Russia’s goals in the Balkans.  However Ferguson makes no mention of France’s resentment to Germany resulting from the heavy punishment that she received in the settlement after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  He insists that Britain’s decision to enter the war was not planned and that it could of gone either way, using this as an argument for why Britain did not have to enter the war. Ferguson believes that, had Britain not entered the war, Germany would have won, making Germany the main economic power in Europe and Britain the main military power. However he also states that Britain did not want French or German hegemony in Europe, which is contradictory to his argument that it was unnecessary for Britain to enter the war.  Ferguson’s arguments are quite appealing; nevertheless they lack verification discrediting their validity.  

In conclusion, it is a combination of views that will answer this question. The arguments of Fritz Fischer and Niall Ferguson both include valuable claims. Gerhard Ritter made an attempt to discredit Fischer’s works, however failed to do so in turn strengthening the Fischer thesis. Niall Ferguson makes some bold assertions, which lack substantial proof. Nevertheless his strongest claim is that the British were the ones to cause World War I because it was Great Britain that eventually induced American involvement on the side of the allies. It was a combination of Germany’s military spending and their “blank cheque” as well as Britain’s sudden involvement that caused the First World War. Thus it can be seen that Germany was only partially to blame.        

WWI: Who’s To Blame? To what extent is Germany to blame for the First World War?     

The First World War was one of the single most tragic and devastating events the world had ever seen. Years of tension built up to the great conflict that cost the world millions of lives, but the question remains, who is truly to blame? It is an incredibly complex question in nature and in order to address a topic of this depth many different aspects must be taken into account. Fritz Fischer, German historian and scholar, argues that imperial Germany is solely to blame for the war for its ‘aggressive pursuit of its Weltpolitik’ . In Fischer’s view the Germans had been planning and preparing a war since even 1912, making the First World War a calculated measure to increase the power of the German empire. His view, later to be known as the Fischer Thesis, was met with much controversy and uproar, however it is apparent that many of his points presented are reasonable and valid, to a degree. Fischer argues that German militarization, the inevitability of a future war with Russia and the alleged aim of the German government to eliminate the competition of the rivaling political parties through a war are all evidence pointing towards the conclusion that German was undeniably responsible for The Great War.       

One of Fischer’s main points is that the growing fear that a war with Russia was inevitable was a great factor and incentive for a war for Germany. As Russia had been brutally defeated in the Russo-Japanese war, the Russian army was going to sustain reforms to their army; a move that Germany feared would only cause them to come back stronger. As both France and Russia were encircling Germany, Fischer argues that they saw their opportunity to strike. If they struck before Russia could fully complete their reforms it would be incredibly beneficial for German growth. Not only this but if they waited then they risked the chance that Russia and France join to crush Germany in one grand push. Fischer supports this argument with the opinions of German officials at the time, for example at the German Imperial War Council in 1912, General von Moltke stated he ‘wanted to launch an immediate attack’  This alone shows the attitude that a war was soon coming and that the German government had the mentality of the possibility of soon entering a war in the near future. The Germans were equipped with a mentality ready for a war with Russia, and Fischer uses this to support his argument that Germany planned the war on purpose in order to strike while the moment was most opportune.   

Fischer’s theory that the Germans used the war as an excuse to put down the other political parties that posed a threat to the current German officials in power at the time is perhaps the most accusatory. He poses the idea that the German would use the war as an opportunity to persecute their own men just to eliminate any possible competition in order to maintain their power. Within Germany, socialist parties as well as the worker unions were gaining power and support, something that many of the German officials felt could lead to the endangerment of their hold on the Reich. Thus Fischer concludes that they would seek out or allow the beginning of a war in order to stomp out the others in the chaos of the conflict. This theory, although it raises a good point, raises the question of how far one is willing to go for power. If we accept that all officials involved were willing to go to war and persecute innocent men to maintain their power then we must consider the fact that the officials would have had to feel threatened enough to take such dramatic and risky action. These many details left unanswered leave a slightly unconvincing argument as, however much it fits in with the rest of his theory, it isn’t strong enough to support itself on its own.      

Fischer presents as one of his main pieces of evidence the fact that Germany was in a state of heavy militarism, building up its army dramatically in the years preceding the war. Unlike other nations who had a drastically smaller amount of increase in their armies, Germany had spent 73% more on their military between 1910 and 1913. Fischer argues that this is an outright and blatant preparation for a war, and an aggressive move at that. In a time where most nations were slowing the amount of spending on military, Germany was speeding up, suggesting that they knew they would need the increases soon. This relates to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, when he accuses Germany of jumping at the chance for a war and using this death as an opportunity to start the war they had been planning. However, something that Fischer overlooked was the fact that Germany was primarily threatened at that point, surrounded by enemies and attempting to compete with powers such as the British navy. This move could be taken in the exact opposite light, and one could argue that the intentions of Germany were purely defensive due to the growing tensions in Europe at the time. It must be taken into account when assessing the causes of the war, but labeling the militarization of Germany as an aggressive and pre-emptive preparation for a planned war would be too great a claim without further evidence to support it.      

History ripples, in a grand butterfly effect of chaos and unseen consequences. It is undeniable that the Second World War was caused by the events during and after the First making it seem fair to go on to say then that in effect the powers responsible for World War I could be held partly responsible for the Second as well, thus making the topic of who is to be held to blame a highly important one to evaluate. Fischer presented one of the most controversial and unheard of theories of the First World War ever seen. It was met with some support and much uproar, however it effectively placed the blame solely on Germany. His theory has many true and intriguing points, shining the causes of the war in a different light than usual. This being said, there are many glaring holes in his theory, making it hard to accept in the full. There are multiple points we can accept however; that Germany militarization led to tension in Europe, whether intended aggressively or defensively; the notion that the persecution of other German parties under the excuse of a war is an idea we must consider carefully as it is very convenient for the German officials; and lastly that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was an opportunity that Germany used to their advantage to enter a war, whether this war had been planned years in advance or not. Taking Fischer’s theory into account as well as all the issues in his allegations, it is apparent that although we cannot know for sure that the First World War was a planned move by Germany, they are primarily responsible and one of the main instigators of the Great War.

How Far Should Germany be blamed for the First World War?   

When one asks a young student for the first time who is to blame for the first world war the answer will almost certainly shoot out as Germany. However ever since the end of the war in 1918 the question of whether Germany is to be blamed or not, and if yes how much, has inspired a vast number of theories. In 1961 Fritz Fischer shook the world when he claimed that the German Empire had planned the war with the intention of becoming a superpower. This essay will evaluate to what extent Germany should be blamed for the First World War on hand of Fischer’s thesis and that of his opposition.   

In 1961 Fischer’s book Germany’s Aims in the First World War marked a new era of discussion in the historiography of the First World War because if offered a new perspective to the question of who or what had caused the war. The controversy arose because it was the first time a modern German historian argued that Germany was to blame. His perspective directly contradicted the attitude represented by most Germans and the government on the Germany’s role as most felt that clause 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, the ‘War Guilt Clause’ and the action that followed it were unjust. The Foreign Ministry tried to silence Fischer and the government in Bonn went as far as to withdraw financial support for a lecture tour in North America from him.  Fischer claimed that the German leadership, especially Kaiser Wilhelm II, wanted a war and that they wanted the July crisis to slip into one. He also argued that the German government had expansionist plans, comparable to those of the Nazi regime in the 1930s and that this was a result of the socio-economic situation in Germany at the time and that this will for war was shared by the general public.  What made Fischer’s ideas even more controversial is that he had uncovered new pieces of evidence in support of them. For example the ‘Septemberprogramm’, which he discovered in the Central State Archives of the GDR (Zentralem Staatarchiv der DDR) in Potsdam. This document, drafted on the 9th of September 1914 expresses the strategy for Germany to be the permanent European ruling power. It reads: “The Assurance of the German Reich to West and East for all imaginable time. To achieve this, France must be so weakened that it cannot re-emerge as a great power, Russia forced from the German border as far as possible and its rule over the non-Russian vassal peoples will be broken.”   Other pieces of evidence that support his claim show a war council in 1912 between the Kaiser and the naval leaders of the Reich in which they planned for a war 1914 and to use the months in-between to prepare the country   and that the Kaiser wrote to Belgian King Leopold for permission for German forces to march across Belgium and into France, as early as 1904 and King Albert in 1913.   Fischer argues that Germany was not only to blame for the Second World War but also the First and that Germany has an aggressive, expansionist history. According to him Germany is entirely to blame and for a long time, didn’t doubt they would win.   However there were and still are many who oppose Fischer’s thesis. His most prominent opponent was arguably his fellow German historian Gerhard Ritter. Where Fischer claimed that Germany’s foreign policy called for expansion. Ritter argues it was defence of its ally Austria-Hungary and aiding them in keeping power and that the conflict of war sprung from the internal differences in the Hapsburg-Empire, such as the different nationalistic views, and that this had nothing to do with Germany. He argues that Germany had underestimated the political and military power of other European countries and that Germany only implemented the Schlieffen Plan in response to Russian mobilisation.   Karl Erdmann was a supporter of Ritter’s and supports the idea that the Austro-Hungarian reaction was a slow one and therefore Bethmann-Hollweg, the German Reichs-chancellor, wanted to localize the conflict. He also used the diaries of Dr Kurt Riezler, a German ambassador and great friend of Bethmann-Hollweg in which there are conversations between the Channcellor and Riezler to prove Germany’s perspective on the war wasn’t expansionist at all but to defend the Hapsburg Empire.  “If we advise them to act, they say we pushed them into it; if we advise them not to, they say we abandoned them.  Then they approach the Western allies, whose arms are wide open to embrace them, and we lose the last reliable ally”  he wrote on the 7th of July 1914 and is hereby quoting Bethmann-Hollweg. The use of these diaries brought more respect for the traditional German opinion on the cause of the war that Ritter defended. He was at the time, very defensive against Fischer and went as far as to call him ‘anti-German’. His heavy emotional involvement in the issue and how personally he seemed to take Fischer’s opinion made him appear less credible, especially in comparison to all of the new evidence Fischer had uncovered. During World War 1 he had served under the Kaiser and while this made him a valuable witness not only a historian it certainly clouded his bias and left him without a neutral hindsight. It is only natural that Ritter firmly believed that Germany was only partially if at all to blame and that they, to quote David Lloyd George, ‘slid’ into the war along with the rest of the European powers.   Nowadays, 100 years after the war most historians agree that Germany is partially to blame but that such a large international conflict cannot be traced to just one evil root. One of such modern historians is Dr Annika Mombauer.  She claims that in 1914 all European countries were convinced they were fighting a defensive war and that Germans at the time were sure the ‘sword had been pushed into their hands’ while Britain and France clearly saw them as the aggressors. In the late 1960s Joachim Remak claimed something similar. He claimed that all countries actions led up to the war and that no one could foresee that it would turn into such a tragedy or that the war would last so long. Thereby he blames everyone and no one. All countries were pursuing their own interests, trying to save themselves and do what was best for them and therefore everyone was to blame.   Sean McMeekin, professor of history in Turkey claims something similar, stating that the harsh ‘blank cheque’ presented to Serbia by Berlin and Vienna was partially to blame but that the similar ‘blank cheque’ sent to Russia from Paris to intervene and creating a European conflict before, with the introduction of Britain to the war, it became an international affair. He therefore argues that multiple powers and the alliance systems in place at the time were to blame for the First World War.    

As the British PM David Lloyd George famously said in his War Memoirs ‘The nations slithered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war without any trace of apprehension or dismay’ and while Ritter argues that it was so and Fischer that it can’t have been, we will never know for sure. We will only know what we believe and what pieces of evidence we trust for history is simply interpretation and who knows what will have been uncovered in another 100 years time. After all, when do we truly know what has caused a war?    
Works Cited:   BBC Magazine, . "World War One: 10 interpretations of who started WW1." BBC, 12 Feb. 2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2015. .  Berghahn, Volker R. "Fritz Fischer (1908-99)." American Historical Association, Mar. 2000. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. .  Craig, Peter. "Gerhard Ritter views on the outbreak of WW1." Online posting. Year 11 Workbook. N.p., 2 Sept. 2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. .   Fischer, Fritz. Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegzielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918. Düsseldorf: Droste, 1961. Print.  Hobson, Tom. "Gerhard Ritter views on the outbreak of WW1." Online posting. Year 11 Workbook. N.p., 2 Sept. 2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. .   Mombauer, Dr. Annika "The debate on the origins of the First World War." The Open University , 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. .  Notorious B.i.G , . "Who started WWI." Online posting. N.p., 25 Oct. 2011. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. .  Riezler, Dr. Kurt R. "The Diary of Kurt Riezler." N.p. , 7 July 1914. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. .   Zilkenat, Dr. Reiner. "Die „Fischer-Kontroverse“ – Geschichtsschreibung wider den „Zeitgeist“ in der BRD in den sechziger Jahren." 14. Förderkreis Archive und Bibliotheken. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. .   

To what extent did Germany start World War 1?Noted Historian AJP Tayler takes a different approach when analysing the causes of WW1. Unlike other historians, AJP Tayler doesn’t blame the cause of WW1 onto the actions of one Nation. He condenses the cause of WW1 simply into the argument that  “The people of Europe leapt willingly into war.” This quote suggests that Germany was no more responsible for ww1 than any other European nation. The main factor AJP Taylor believes caused the war was the increase in Nationalism, which caused conflict between different nationalities and made people keen for war. The war could also be blamed on many different events that lead to conflict, the most prominent example being the assassination of France duke Ferdinand. 

There are many arguments why Germany did not cause WW1, as well as many alternative causes to what caused world war1. Many Historians blame Serbia and the Black Hand for their involvement in the Assassination of the Archduke of Austro-Hungary – Franz Ferdinand. This event is ultimately what caused the outbreak of fighting. If Serbia had not supported a terrorist group, or if Austria had just accepted Serbia’s response to their ultimatum, or if Russia had not responded with the drastic measure of mobilizing, the First World War could have been averted. Chris Clark supports this theory, as he believes that the respective European nations were not aware of the consequences their actions would have and reduces the causes of one of the biggest war in history into that “the politicians slept walked into war”[2]. Clark suggests that no state purposefully started the war, and [3]that it was a series of overreaction and violations of foreign policy that lead to the outbreak of WW1.[4]

 One could also argue that WW1 was actually caused by ideology. Nationalism and self-determination played a huge role; this is evident from the assassination of archduke Ferdinand, with Serbia striving for Bosnian independence. At the time many other European nations had huge empires at the time, and often these empires would suppress different ethic groups. Different conflicts were emerging from the colonies, such as the Boer war. One of these conflicts however had a larger impact on causing the war, the two Moroccan Crisis’s. With Germany proclaiming they would protect the Moroccans, and the French attempting to colonies the region, there was almost an escalation into conflict. These events however show that nationalism, imperialism and self-determination all played a role in causing WW1.  Also one must acknowledge that at the time Germany was surrounded by France, Britain and Russia, all of which were part of the triple entente[5]. This meant Germany was surrounded by potentially hostile forces (recognizing rising tension between France and Germany since Franco-Prussian war) and what made them act so aggressively and rashly. Furthermore it was the alliance system that made Germany have to support Austria in her conflict with Serbia. All this suggests it was the alliance system, not Germany that caused the war.  However many historians solely blame the Germans for WW1. Many say that Germany had an excessive Military build up, with military spending increasing by 74% from 1909 to 1914 alone, the highest out of any European nation. The naval race between Germany and Britain was “unnecessary and provocative” as stated by C N Trueman.  Trueman argues that the naval race was redundant for Germany, as it still did not have a force that could compete with the British navy, yet still prompted a growth in tension between the nations. Germany’s military build prompted other nations to increase military size and spending. This could be argued is what made war inevitable, and why Germany caused WW1.[6]

Furthermore Germany acted extremely provocatively in many instances. The ‘Blank Check’ is probably the most prominent of these examples. By issues Austria with an assurance that Germany would support them regardless of their actions was ultimately what lead Austria to invade Serbia. Furthermore when one looks at the Moroccan crises, one sees the hypocrisy in the Germany position. Germany herself had colonize, and had an expansionist ideology, yet somehow felt inclined to protest against French colonization in Northern Africa, a region where Germany had no interest of control over. These actions strengthened the separation of European powers and the friction between the two alliance systems. This is another reason Germany caused the First World War. [7]

Also the Preemptive invasion of France and Russia from Germany was unnecessary and to a large extent unprovoked. One could argue that Russian partial mobilization warrants German mobilization, yet how does Germany justify invading the two sovereign nations of France and Belgium, who are situated on the other side of Germany. Belgium posed no threat to Germany, and is what made Great Britain enter the War, which is what made it a World War. This is another reason Germany caused the War.[8] 

An argument contrasting Germany’s cause of the war would be that Italy caused it. Italy invaded Libya in 1911; at the time Libya was part of the Ottoman Empire this invasion and started the Italo-Turkish. This war weakened Ottoman Empire drastically, which weakened its control over the Balkan region. The weakening of the Ottoman Empire lead to the outbreak of the Balkan Wars, and the loss of Ottoman presence in the Balkan region left a Power vacuum, with a lot of European countries with interests in the region. If Italy had not invaded Libya, the Ottoman Empire could have held control over the Balkan region and prevented the conflict that escalated into the assassination of Franz duke Ferdinand. Therefore Germany can not be blamed for causing the war.[9] 

To conclude, Germany can be blamed for causing the war to a certain extent. Many of her actions were unnecessary, such as her response to the Moroccan crises, or the preemptive invasion of France, Belgium and Russia, however when blaming Germany for military build up, one must acknowledge that all European nations had military build up and therefore must all partially accept the blame. Furthermore Germany still didn’t have the largest army or navy, and were surrounded from three sides by superpowers in the triple entente, so can Germany really be blamed for building up its military. Cris Clark argues that it was the Assassination that caused the war, and that politicians failed to react and ‘slept walked’ into conflict. John D Clare also supports this theory as he stated the war was caused in 4 steps, the first being the assassination. Therefore I do not think that Germany is any more responsible for causing the war than any other European superpower.

  Footnotes:   [1] Tongue, Stephan. "European History." Causes of the First World War. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.  [2] Clark, Christopher M. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. London: Allen Lane, 2012. Print.  [3] Clare, John D. "Causes of WWI - Four Steps to War." Causes of WWI - Four Steps to War. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.  [4] Trueman, C. N. "World War One: 10 Interpretations of Who Started WW1 - BBC News." BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.  [5] Malone, Ryan. "Who Started World War I?" - N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.  [6] Tongue, Stephan. "European History." Causes of the First World War. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.  [7] Lind, Micheal. "Germany's Superpower Quest Caused World War I." The National Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.  [8] Grey, Edward. "How Did the First World War Start?" The Week UK. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.  [9] Lutsky, Vladimir Borisovich. "Modern History of the Arab Countries by Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969." Modern History of the Arab Countries by Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969. N.p., 1969. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

 How far should Germany be blamed for the First World War?

            Today over one hundred years after the build up to world war one, it is still a topic of debate to ask who was to blame for the start of the war. Some historians such as Sydney Bradshaw argue that it was the actions of a few dozen incapable leaders, whereas Christopher Clark claims that Russia and France were to blame. However on the other end of the spectrum Fritz Fischer presented a popular yet controversial thesis. He argued that Germany was solely to blame for the cause of the First World War because of its aggressive pursuit of Weltpolitik. Although his claim brought a lot of controversy it also brought a lot of value and sparked new ideas in the debate of who started the war, however loses value as it focuses on why Germany was the sole perpetrator of the war and not to what extent. In reference to how far Germany should be blamed for the First World War this essay will argue that although Germany bares most of the blame because of the actions it took leading up to the outbreak of war, it is not solely to blame as the actions taken by the other Great Powers at the time also escalated tensions to the point of war.
            Germany bears a large portion of the blame for the war in 1914. When Wilhelm the 2nd dismissed Bismarck in 1890 he also dismissed his policies that indented to show the other great powers of Germany’s peaceful intentions. Wilhelm sought to increase Germany’s status as well as its respect through aggressive foreign policy of Weltpolitik. As Fischer argues the aggressive pursuit of Weltpolitik was one of the main causes of the war. One example can be seen with the Naval race that ensued between Germany and Britain. It was indisputable that it was vital for Britain to have a large navy, such as to protect its oversea assets such as India. However it is hard to justify looking back with from today and especially from the British point of view at the time for the Germany to need a large navy or any navy at all. As a result of the Naval arms race between the two powers it ultimately only succeeded in increasing tensions between the two great powers. An additional example of German aggression can be seen with the Schlieffen Plan that Germany had created in order to have a quick and swift victory over France in the case of war. The reasoning behind it was that a quick and decisive victory over France would persuade Britain not to get involved in a war on continental Europe. As soon as war broke out in Europe Germany executed this plan and invaded neutral Belgium, ignoring the Treaty of London in 1839 and a British ultimatum issued shortly after. The German chancellor at the time Bethmann Hollweg stated: “For a scrap of paper, Great Britain is going to make a war?” This suggests that Germany to achieve respect and status would be willing to disregard existing treaties as well as well as go to any lengths to do so. Not only this but the plan had been created in 1905, meaning Germany could have been anticipating a war. A third example can be seen with the Blank Cheque. Following the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand Germany issued a ‘Blank Cheque’ to Austria-Hungary stating that they would give their unconditional support for whatever action they chose to take regarding Serbia, putting additional pressure on them to retaliate on Serbia.
            Although Germany bears the majority of the blame for the outbreak of World War One, it doesn’t solely bear the blame in contrast to Fischer’s thesis. In reference to the Austria-Hungary response to Serbia, Christopher Clark states: “It was Russia and France that bore the main responsibility for the general war that followed because they chose to resist Vienna’s move.” If one argues that Austria-Hungary had no right to express anger and take action over the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, then they would have to argue against the US led war on terror following 9/11, or the French retaliation to the Paris attacks in 2015. These incidents are considered to be indisputably terrorist in nature, however there is little opposition today over a country’s right to defend itself if attacked, as seen following these two incidents. One must also ask if the Russian response to Austrian-Hungarian action on Serbia was justified. The Russian government doesn’t appear to be on the same page regarding the issue. Tsar Nicholas the 2nd thought that the partial mobilization of his troops against Austria-Hungary would give the impression that Russia didn’t want a war with Germany. However the Russian foreign minister Sergey Sazonov stated that Russia “Could not remain a passive spectator whilst a Slavonic people was being trampled down... If Russia failed to fulfil her historic mission, she would be considered a decadent state and would henceforth have to take second place among the powers….If, at this critical juncture, the Serbians were abandoned to their fate, Russian prestige in the Balkans would collapse utterly.” Following their embarrassing defeat to Japan at the start of the century some officials such as Sazonov thought that if the Russians didn’t assert themselves now, then their prestige/honour would be lost. A further incentive for Russia to take action was that if it lost influence in the Balkans then it would also lose its connection to the Mediterranean as it needed to utilize the Dardanelles.
            As Christopher Clark states in his lecture Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, he points out “The problem with a blame centred approach is that it tempts us into identifying a suspect.” Further on in the lecture he points that Fischer in his books “takes no interest in any other state.” I am in full agreement that a question centred on to what extent or how far should someone be blamed is far more effective than a question of who was to blame for the outbreak of war in 1914. If one asks the question of who was to blame for war in 1914, then they will pick a single person or state and then gather evidence to support their claim while overlooking or ignoring evidence that points to another party. However if the question of to what extent a party such as Germany should be blamed is asked, then it doesn’t exclude other parties such as the other great powers from being exempt from blame.
            In conclusion Fischer is correct in his claim that Germany was to blame for the outbreak of war. However no single country should be nor is solely responsible for the war in 1914. The actions taken by all of the great powers and smaller nations at the time as well as confusion and disagreements within governments led to a domino effect within Europe, with each event contributing and escalating existing conflicts and tensions between nations to the point of war.

How far should Germany be blamed for the First World War?

The German nation which was built up under the Iron Chancellor Bismarck was a large militaristic power that wanted to progress with its realpolitik (power politics) after its large unification. The German power was seen as core militaristic and had been a major power in the Europe area. But how far is this strong nation responsible for the First World War. This essay will be based upon the Fischer Thesis that states that Germany’s expansionist foreign policies and their plan of a “war of aggression” were the cause of the First World War. This thesis is very relevant and important seeing that Fritz Fischer was a German historian and is placing the causes of the war into German hands. Other German historians such as Gerhard Ritter have a similar perspective to Fischer but think his thesis is dishonest and inaccurate. Ritter argues that Germany got dragged into the war through other causes of events but he is also the same person that produced Nazi propaganda after the First World War and was an opponent of Democracy.

Germany should be fully blamed for the war according to the German historian Fritz Fischer. On the 8th of December in 1912 there was a war council held by the German military leaders of the time. In this council they discussed the militaristic and political situation of Europe at the time. The main topic of the meeting though was the possibility of war. Wilhelm II stated in this council that Austria- Hungary should attack Serbia in the December of 1912 and that if Russia supports the Serbs “This war will be inevitable for us”. This shows that Germany was already at the time looking in the direction of war with Russia. The reason that Germany did not start the war in the December of 1912 was though that admiral Tirpitz wanted a postponing of the war for another One and a Half Years to start a naval build up. When looking through the agreements of the council it was clear that Germany truly wanted a “World War” seeing how they scrapped the plans of Naval war with Russia only to focus on fighting against Britain on the sea. The Kaiser ordered a new Naval and army expansion bill, and there was a series of tests that were conducted to show how quickly Germany could increase their canned food production in times of war. To Fischer this is all evidence that Germany wanted this war to come quicker rather than later and therefore wanted to push a large-scale war on all fronts. Fischer produced a “Sonderweg” Thesis claiming that the aggression of 1914 and 1939 had some sort of connection. This “Sonderweg” stated that German politics had their own special path, which was supposed to be a different way other than the tsarist regime in the east and the democratic path that was followed in the east. This Sonderweg policy was followed by the Chancellor Bethman Hollweg who Fischer stated was the “Hitler of 1914”.

The German Nationalist- Conservative Historian Gerhard Ritter claims that Fischer's arguments are “inaccurate”, therefore he claims that Germany is not to be blamed for the First World War. Ritter’s thesis is still based on facts and events and his arguments can still be seen as rational and do not have to be necessarily seen as a form of propaganda. Ritter promotes the idea that Germany in 1914 had the principal goal of maintaining Austria- Hungary as one of the main powers in Europe and therefore according to him the German foreign policy was mostly defensive in contrary to Fischer who states that the policy was “aggressive and war seeking”. Ritter claims that Germany got pulled in the war by “overestimating Austria’s political common sense and militaristic power” whilst “underrating the state of military readiness of Russia and France and falsely assumed that British foreign policy was more pacific than it actually was.” Ritter states that even though Germany did support the views of the Austria- Hungarian empire to invade Serbia their reaction was a lot more “Ad Hoc” (Gripped by the moment) in contrary than Germany being the main aggressor and wanting war like Fischer states. Ritter states as one of his main arguments that Germany overestimated the amount of moral outrage that got caused by the Assassination of Archduke France Ferdinand on to the General European opinion. With this Ritter backs up the claim that the Leading Generals of the German nation were the reason that Germany even go pulled into the war. The Assassination was according to Ritter the reasoning that made it morally possible for the German heads of Nation to go into the war without largely displeasing the general population.

Germany is clearly the main aggressor of the First World War as seen through the Blank Check. The blank Check is the assurance that Germany gave Austria after the Assassination of Archduke France Ferdinand. This has the basic meaning that Germany will back any steps that Austria will take against the Serbian Nation. This is evidence for Germany to be the causing nation of the First World War because without Germany’s backing in the Situation it probably would have remained localized. The reaction that Wilhelm II had the immediate response of full backing without seeking his Chancellors advice first was purely emotional seeing how France Ferdinand and Wilhelm knew each other on a personal basis. This emotional reaction led to the German mobilization then forced Russia to mobilize their troops in response seeing how they were scared of the German influence and power if they got involved into a Balkan conflict. This Kaisers assurance that is referred to as the carte blanche or “blank check” is the start of a chain of events that would cause the war and a large variety of Historians with different backgrounds such as Fischer, Röhl (Germans) or Arno J. Mayer (American) use this to support their idea that Germany was the Nation that caused the First World War.

Overall the arguments brought forth by the Fischer thesis of the “sonderweg” and the Blank Check are seen to be the most reasonable interpretations and the fact that they are argued by a German himself who gives his own nation the blame for such a large scale war as the First World War was gives the arguments even more weight. The arguments brought forth by Ritter are rationally reasonable and even though as a German myself I despise the way that a Historian who used to create Nazi Propaganda should have a rational argument his arguments are fairly understandable but they do not fully convey the idea that Germany could have purely been dragged into the war by a chain of events. Fischer's argument of the War Council in 1912 clearly shows that Germany was prepared for a war and wanted a war therefore they could have not been just “dragged in” through a web of Alliances.

Was Germany to Blame for WWI?
It seems that when it comes to the first world war many people instantaneously jump to the conclusion that Germany was to blame, as they proposed the blank cheque to Austria and encouraged them to fight Serbia. Although if anybody is to blame it would surely be the Russians, as if they had not intervened the war would surely have been contained to Germany, Austro-Hungary and Serbia. If Russia had not mobilized its armies Germany would not have declared war and Germany would not have been forced to act out the Schlieffen plan against France. The analysis of Russia provocation and escalation of WW1 will be analyzed upon Russia’s critical mobilization of its armies and its poor communicative strategies. Germany’s actions will also be analyzed in relation to this.
         In conclusion even though Germany had encouraged Austria-Hungary to declare war they were forced into a much larger one once Russia had mobilised its armies. The German contingency plan could not avoid a war and the ineffective communication of the Russian Government resulted in Germany and the distrust Germany had towards Russia forced Germany to be proactive and strike first. Germany was not responsible, Russia subsequently dragged both the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente into a massive war. Had Russia stuck to a logical approach and not nationalistic fervor and moral obligation to help the Serbians, the war would’ve been isolated. This was not the Russians war to fight, and that is why Germany is not at fault.

Michael Lind, a writer for the “National Interest” argues that “the major cause of World War I was Imperial Germany’s determination to become a ‘world power’ or superpower by crippling Russia and France in what it hoped would be a brief and decisive war”. While the German Empire did seek to have its “Platz an der Sonne”, or “place in the sun”, Germany cannot bear the brunt of the blame for starting the first world war. It was mostly through its obligation to honour its alliance with Austria-Hungary and Russia’s aggressive mobilization that Germany was dragged into the war. In addition, Serbian nationalism and its hostile stance towards Austria-Hungary made it the far more war-mongering state than Germany, which stood loyal to its dual-alliance with the Habsburgs since 1879. However, it can be argued that Kaiser Wilhelm’s militaristic, nationalistic and inconsequential mindset inevitably brought Germany into war, for which it could bear part of the blame. Therefore, it is believed that Germany was mostly not to blame for starting the First World War, due to its obligation to upholding the dual alliance with Austria-Hungary and Russia’s aggressive stance in Europe instead of making efforts to prevent war. However, Germany bears part of the blame through Kaiser Wilhelm’s incompetent policies, which dragged Germany into the war.
Firstly, Germany was simply upholding its alliance with Austria-Hungary in the face of Serbian aggression backed by Russia, as well as Russia’s mobilization against Austria.   Russia was the first major power to mobilize and named it the “period preparatory to war”. The French ambassador in St. Petersburg, Maurice Paléologue, urged the Russians to commit to a general mobilization and implored them to intransigence. The Russians did so accordingly, and Sidney B. Fay states that “it was the hasty Russian general mobilization, assented to on July 29 and ordered on July 30, while Germany was still trying to bring Austria to accept mediation proposals, which finally rendered the European War inevitable”. This shows that the Germany wanted to take measures to prevent further escalation of the conflict in the Balkans, by trying to intervene in Austria’s conflict with Serbia. In addition, upon hearing of the Tsar’s assent to general mobilization, Berlin warned St. Petersburg that it would follow with mobilization and war, if it did not suspend within 12 hours. Due to the answers from Russia being unsatisfactory and irresolute, Germany, in its obligation to the 1879 dual alliance and to Russian hostility, had to declare war on August 1st, 1914. On this issue, Fay wrote “Germany did not plot a European war, did not want one, and made genuine, though too belated efforts to avert one”. Therefore, one can make the point that Germany was forced to make some sort of response after Russia was unwilling to suspend its aggression towards Germany’s ally, Austria-Hungary. Germany could not simply let the situation escalate on its own, completely disregarding its “mutual bond” with Austria and taking the risk of being edged in between a fully mobilized Russia and France, on two fronts. For the sake of its own safety and right to self-defence, Germany had to take action in the aforementioned ways. Another argument as to why Germany is not to blame for the first world war, is Russia’s ambitions in Europe and why they required war in order to be put into practice. Firstly, Russia assured the Serbian nation that its national independence would be achieved at Austrian expense. As a result of this, the Belgrade Cabinet relied on Russian support, which included the supply of armaments in the form of 120,000 rifles and munitions, cannons and howitzers. In conjunction with Serbia’s support of the Black Hand terrorist group (which killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and was led by officers in the Serbian army), the new confidence that came from Russian backing and Russian promises of military support in case of war, made conflict with Austria-Hungary all the more plausible. Therefore, it was primarily Russia’s doing that Serbia found the courage to provoke Austria-Hungary into war with the assassination of its royal family members. Furthermore, “the resulting war, with France and Britain backing Serbia against two Central Powers, was Russia’s desired outcome, not Germany’s”, according to Sean McMeekin, author of The Russian Origins of the First World War. Russia had received a “blank cheque” of its own from French president Poincaré, assuring them that whatever action Russia takes, “France would march”. Seeing as how Russia was relatively unprepared for war against both Germany and Austria-Hungary (both significantly more industrialized), Russia now had the perfect conditions to pursue its ambitions and increase its influence in the Balkans, which it had already begun in the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars, by inciting the formation of the Balkan League. It is clear, therefore, that Russia’s influential role in providing Serbia with the armaments and confidence needed to provoke Austria-Hungary and thus, Germany into war, as well as its improved conditions to make war on a continental scale, ultimately made Russia more optimistic to Europeanize the local Balkan conflict. 
However, an argument that would speak for the notion that Germany receives most of the blame for WW1, would be Wilhelm II and his “autocratic and militaristic personality, his belief in the clairvoyance of all crowned heads, his disdain for diplomats”, according to John Rohl, professor at Sussex University. Wilhelm’s ambitious and aggressive leadership was a critical factor in the start of WW1 in the sense that his nationalistic agenda in the late 1800s and early 1900s fueled pre-war tensions leading up to the war itself. For instance, Wilhelm II pursued a policy of “Weltpolitik” (world politics), in which he sought to extend Germany’s influence into North Africa and the Middle East: regions, which were already under the control under the rival powers of France and Great Britain. For example, Wilhelm’s unsound decision to directly interfere with French affairs, threatening them with a military alliance with the Sultan of Morocco brought Europe to the brink of war in 1906. In addition, even after the Algeciras conference in 1906, which was supposed to resolve the issue of French political influence over Morocco, Wilhelm once again insisted that he was the defender of Morocco, sending the gunship SMS Panther in the port of Agadir in 1911 to deter the French from marching into the country. This massively intensified the enmity between the members of the entente cordiale, France and Britain, and the German Empire, which eventually led to a deep British mistrust of German intentions and a closer relationship to France and Russia, which both saw Germany as a threat. The two Moroccan crises had shifted the traditional power balance into two blocs, with Germany being isolated and wedged in between Great Powers. Because of Wilhelm’s hot-headedness and lack of consequential thinking in the two Moroccan crises, the resultant change in balance of power was a major factor for the start of WWI, due to a common mistrust by the Entente powers of Europe in Germany. However, there is the argument that Wilhelm II only sent the SMS Panther in 1911 in response to a French violation of the Algeciras treaty of 1906, which explicitly stated that Morocco was to retain its national sovereignty with a controlling French interest in its affairs. In addition, it can also be said that Germany defended Morocco in the first crisis, in reference to an international treaty in 1880 that guaranteed its independence. Furthermore, however, another action of Wilhelm’s, which made war more likely was his dissolution of the reinsurance treaty in 1891, in which he saw his relationship with the Tsar as unnecessary. As a result of this alienation, Russia grew uneasy with Germany’s intentions and decided to warm relations with France, which also had a strong dislike for the German Empire. As a result, France funded project such as the Trans-Siberian highway, which strengthened Russia and more importantly, the Franco-Russian alliance and made the possibility of a two-front war for Germany all the more likely. In addition, Wilhelm’s discard of Russo-German relations brought France out of its political isolation and therefore made it more confident in its possible war with Germany. From the aforementioned diplomatic and political blunders instigated by Wilhelm II’s instinctive and hot-headed actions, he brought Germany into a very difficult position in Europe in terms of political isolation and damaged trust in Germany. It was these blunders that facilitated the events that led up to WWI.
In conclusion, it is believed that Germany was mostly not to blame for WWI, shown by the fact that it simply upheld its obligation to honouring the dual alliance with Austria-Hungary, as well as defensive and pre-emptive measures against Russian ambitions, which were far more war-like. However, it must also be acknowledged that Wilhelm II played a major role in the events that led up to WWI, since he instigated events that isolated Germany in the political sphere and blatantly presented it as a threat to Britain, France and Russia, who had all grown to mistrust the German Empire. Nonetheless, it is believed that Germany had taken many measures to prevent an escalation in Europe, particularly in the Balkan conflict, but all these measures were, as Sidney Fay stated, “too belated”.