First World War - Reasons


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The First World War (on July, 28th 1914 – on November, 11th 1918) is the first military conflict of a world scale in which 38 of 59 independent states have been involved. Nearby 73.5 millions person have been mobilized; 19.5 millions were killed and, more 20 million have died wounding. The First World War had many causes with a number of them having had the potential to plunge Europe into war. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era had spread throughout most of Europe the idea of political democracy, with the resulting idea that people of the same ethnic origin, language, and political ideals had the right to independent states.

This idea was manifested in the unification of Germany in 1848 and Italian Unification. By the end of the 19th Century though the problem of nationalism was still unresolved in may areas of Europe; one particularly prominent nationalistic movement, Pan Slavism could perhaps be described as the spark that started the war; the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 at the hands of the Black Hand, a Serbian nationalist secret society, set in motion a series of events leading to war. Come 1914 the Austro-Hungarian empire under the ageing Emperor Franz Josef, was patently struggling to maintain coherence of the various diametrically opposed ethnic groups which fell under the Austro-Hungarian umbrella (taken from

Austria-Hungary argued that the Serbian government was responsible for the actions of the Black Hand and that the assassins must be brought to justice, to the tune of which an ultimatum was sent thus effectively demanding sovereignty over Serbian domestic affairs. British Foreign secretary Earl Gray called the ultimatum “the most formidable document ever presented by one independent state to another (taken from Merriman, 1996, p1031). Austria-Hungary expected Serbia to reject the ultimatum giving Austria-Hungary reason to declare war on Serbia. Although the puny Serbia blatantly posed no threat to Austria-Hungary the Russian (Slav) empire most definitely did. Whilst not really expecting that Russia would be drawn into the dispute except so far as via diplomatic protest, the Austro-Hungarian government sought assurances from her ally, Germany, that she would come to her aid should Russia declare war on Austria-Hungary. Germany was more then willing to aid Austria-Hungary; even some might say encouraging a warlike offensive stance.

It was this system of alliances dating from the latter part of the 19th century that led the road to war. During the 1860’s the Prussian statesmen Bismarck tried to unify German states. Bismarck saw his opportunity for a united Germany with war against a common foe.

This war came with the Franco-Prussian war of ending in 1871, The most significant consequence of the war was France ceding both Alsace and Lorraine to Prussia and the creation of a unified Germany. Bismarck then set about establishing the alliance system to protect Germany which ultimately led to war. Germany’s most important ally was gained with the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879, which promised aid to each other in the event of an attack by Russia, or if Russia aided another power at war with either Germany or Austria-Hungary.

Russia was similarly allied with France under the 1892 Franco-Russian Military convention to counteract the threat of the German-Austro-Hungarian pact. On the 25th of July 1914 Serbia, confident of Russian support mobilised her armband returned the ultimatum to the Austro-Hungarians, accepting five points of the ultimatum but rejecting the other four. Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia's response to her ultimatum declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914.

Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilisation of its vast army in her defence Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary viewed the Russian mobilisation as an act of war against Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on 1 August.

France, bound by treaty to Russia, responded by announcing war against Germany and, by extension, on Austria-Hungary on 3 August. Germany promptly responded by invading neutral Belgium (under the Schiefflen plan) so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route, thus taking out France before full Russian mobilisation preventing a war on two fronts. Japan, honouring a military agreement with Britain, declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914. Two days later Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan. Britain; in a state of “splendid isolation” until the 1904 treaty with Japan began to take increased notice of European affairs by her realisation of the emergence of Germany as a great European power - and a colonial power at that. The Germans desired a colonial empire, to enable this Germany attempted to build a navy to surpass that pf Britain’s, at the time the most powerful navy in the world by a long way. Germany's ambitions succeeded in pulling Britain out of isolation and into European affairs. In 1907 Britain joined the triple entente which allied Britain with France and Russia. Although this agreement was more concerned with improved diplomatic relations it included a moral obligation for the three nations to assist each other in time of war. Although officially Britain entered the war to protect Belgian neutrality in reality it was this moral obligation that resulted in Britain entering the war to aid France. Russian support for Serbia can be attributed not just to Pan-Slavism but also to domestic unrest; since Japan had inflicted humiliating military defeat on Russia in 1905 Russia had been on the brink of civil war, going to war would cause a surge in patriotism; which initially happened in Russia following the declaration of war, but soon subsided following further Russian military defeats. As for Germany, she was unsettled socially and militarily. The 1912 Reichstag elections had resulted in the election of no fewer than 110 socialist deputies, making Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg's task in liaising between the Reichstag and the autocratic Wilhelm, not to mention the rigidly right-wing military high command, next to impossible. Bethmann-Hollweg began to believe the only way to avoid civil war lay in war (taken from This outlook lead Germany to offer Austria-Hungary a “blank cheque”; a promise of unconditional support. In conclusion the start of the Great War can be attributed to the number of factors; if one had to be emphasised it would be nationalism; nationalism causing Bismarck to form the alliance system after the formation of a unified Germany in 1871, that led to war following the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne; Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo an assassination carried out by the Black Hand a Slav nationalist group.

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