Causes of World War 1
How it works
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the world was seething with an explosive, hair-trigger force waiting to explode. Capitalism was undergoing a transition to imperialism. The world’s territory was divided among the world’s most powerful nations. Colonies were scattered throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The struggle between the new empires and the old ones was getting larger and larger.
As new forces began to snatch resources, uneven economic development and inadequate allocation of resources among countries created international pressure and conflict. It was an era rife with nations enthusiastic about their military status’ and national pride. This perfect combination of pressure led to the beginning of the First World War in July 1914. There were four main causes of WWI — militarism, alliance, imperialism, and nationalism — that escalated into a global conflict. This free essay about the causes of WWI will explore the interconnectedness of these four concepts.
How it works
Militarism is when a country develops strong military and advanced technological weapons to pursue its own interests aggressively. This tactic highlights the national status and is a means to protect, expand, and intervene in territorial disputes as needed. During this time, nations raced to create advanced-power weapons and get them into the hands of their soldiers, a competition referred to as an arms race. Nations were investing in the idea that a strong military indicated a strong country, and those with the most progressive technology and efficient troops were perceived as the most powerful adversaries.) Before World War I, the most drastic forced competition was between Great Britain and Germany, respectively, showing their supremacy in military powers. This embrace of militarism, while not unique to these countries, also meant other nations were prepared for warfare.
In the early 20th Century, Great Britain possessed the strongest naval forces of developed nations. The battle-hardened British Navy helped Great Britain conquer a quarter of the world’s landmass. In 1889, the British Parliament passed the “Naval Defense Act,” which effectively doubled the size of the established British navy and established its size as even larger than the next two competing nation’s navy’s combined, with 62 warships of over 5,000 tons possessed by the British Navy, while the Germans had only 12.
Britain saw Germany as a potential military threat and continued to intensify its efforts to develop its military, especially the Navy. This was largely due to Germany’s leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who believed that formidable military strength would bring Germany untold prestige and power, firmly planting it as a center of European power. Germany passed the First Fleet Act in 1898, authorizing it to divert time and energy toward the development of a strong, competitive Navy.
Technological advancements followed suit, and Britain acquired new steel battleships, significant upgrades from previous wooden ones. The most imposing style was the steel ship the Dreadnought, equipped with 12-inch guns. Countries immediately aspired to create this new type of fearsome sea weapon. In 1914, Britain was the global leader in naval personnel, with 209,000 soldiers and 29 Dreadnought battleships. Meanwhile, Germany took second place with 79,000 soldiers and 17 Dreadnought ships but ultimately grew to have 38 of the fearsome ships.
Germany set Britain as a military target and then attempted to catch up with it. Germany Kaiser Wilhelm II believed that formidable military strength will bring Germany prestige and power. Meanwhile, Germany will be received respect from other European nations. If Germany could not possess powerful troops and advanced weapons, there would be no place and no discourse power for Germany in many European countries. Wilhelm II’s call boosted the passing of The German First Naval Law in 1898. The law claimed to begin the process of building a powerful navy.
After that, the second law required double the size of the German Navy from 19 battleships to 38. Wilhelm II’s encouragement supported the improvement of naval forces: “Germany is a young and growing empire. She has worldwide commerce, which is rapidly expanding and to which the legitimate ambition of Patriotic Germans refuses to assign any bounds. Germany must have a powerful fleet to protect that commerce and her manifold interests in even the most distant seas. She expects those interests to go on growing, and she must be able to champion them manfully in any quarter of the globe”. Moreover, Germany had the most powerful army, the Prussian army, which defended itself against the French in 1871, and the victory made them the most dangerous and effective military force in Europe. (Cleary)
The national governments of many European nations constantly instilled militarism into people’s minds, regarding leaders as heroes, advocating officers, and glorifying and romanticizing militarism. The nations permeated this idea into every corner. A strong military force could bring them prestige, protection, expansion, and improvement of the economy. Fighting, then, rather than negotiations, seemed to be the most reasonable method for resolving international conflict.
Militarism cannot begin a war alone. In order to succeed, nations need to form alliances. An alliance is an agreement of two or more countries in regard to political, military, or economic cooperation. European countries had many alliances before World War I, though they were often short-lived. Some were due to the emergence of new leaders or the replacement of old alliances with new ones. Some were due to the collapse of the countries or the betrayals between nations. Europe, the melting pot of ethnic and territorial disputes, is a place where change was possible and was happening fast.
One example of these fluid alliances was in 1873 with the Three Emperors’ League. Germany, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Within five years, Russia pulled out of the league to attend to its own national conflicts, and the league officially collapsed in 1878. Germany and Austria-Hungary formed The Dual Alliance in 1879, eventually adding Italy and becoming the Triple Alliance in 1882, allowing all three nations to support one another. In response, the Franco-Russian Alliance emerged, partnering with France and Russia in 1894.
Military alliances usually require signatory nations to support each other when they have wars with other countries, showing up in battle or with financial support, aligning against shared common enemies. Britain, Russia, and France overcame cultural differences and historical tensions to form a new alliance, the Triple Entente, in 1907. Britain was hoping to achieve victory in their arms race against Germany, while France was attempting to recapture provinces that had been previously ceded to Germany, uniting the two nations.
Additionally, Russia was still fighting with Austria-Hungary for control of the Balkan territory. These intertwined conflicts and disputes divided Europe into two major alliances, which lit the fuse of the bomb of World War I that followed. “The alliances created an excessively rigid diplomatic framework, within which relatively small detonators could produce huge explosions,” said A. J. P. Taylor, an English historian who specialized in 19th- and 20th-century European diplomacy. (European History)
The third contributing factor to World War I is Imperialism, loosely defined as using military might and force to overtake or influence other nations.s. Usually, colonies were controlled by the imperial nation or governed by a local puppet government. Military troops stationed locally in aid of maintaining order and suppressing rebellions. Colonization allowed imperial nations to acquire abundant resources, cheap laborers, and advantages of trade or commerce.
Before World War I, Great Britain was the largest and wealthiest dominant imperial power in the world. It possessed a quarter of the global landmass and was called “the empire on which the sun never sets” due to its immense size. Britain had colonies on every continent except Antarctica. The British Empire’s imperialism focused on expanding and maintaining trade. It used the colonies as factories to provide its home country with raw materials and manufactured goods as well as cheap labor. France maintained colonies in what are modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, some islands in the Pacific and Caribbean, small territories in South America, and areas of West Africa and India. German colonies included one province in China, Shandong)New Guinea, Samoa, numerous Pacific islands, and several areas in central and southwest Africa.
Before World War I, as empires grew stronger and larger, the competition between them also became fierce as they clamored for land, power, and money Germany and Italy were two relative newcomers to empire-building. When they first joined this imperial group, they found out much of the world’s land was controlled by their European neighbors. As such, Germany plotted to invade and take control of large swaths of East Africa. Within six years of their imperial outset, Germany controlled much of the region and established the German East Africa Company. However, the British and French Empires reckoned that Germany had threatened their holdings in Eastern Africa, increasing European tensions and conflicts.
The scramble for empire in Africa caused diplomatic incidents. One such conflict happened in Morocco in North-West Africa. Although Morocco was not a colony of France, its location of Morocco led it to be influenced by France’s control. France was trying to expand its rule in Morocco, but the German Kaiser stirred up tensions between France and Morocco by giving a speech that encouraged Moroccan independence. This had angered the French government and sparked wrathful diplomatic actions. When France attempted to suppress a revolt in Morocco, the German troops attacked an armed vessel at the Moroccan port of Agadir. Germany’s provocation almost touched off the war. Another event that made the European situation become unstable and intense. The decline of the Ottoman Empire attracted tensions of other European nations. After several failed wars, the Ottoman Empire almost collapsed. Other empires were eager to gain territory and influence in this dying empire. Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain all had colonial and trade interests in this region, leading to increased nationalism as they clamored to gain power.
Nationalism is when a country puts its own interests above all. It inspires citizens’ patriotism and a sense of national honor. Nationalism is the most significant contributor to World War I as it permeates militarism, alliances, and even imperialism. Nationalism is the base that triggers these three reasons. Countries pursued military strength and competed due to this nationalistic belief that they were superior to other neighboring nations. However, Nationalism is not relegated only to the matters of weapons.
Nationalism persuades people that their country is supreme in military, economic, and cultural aspects and is often displayed through music, visual arts, literature, and even theater. In a bid to convince people that their own countries are supreme, literature usually included libel or grand falsified statements to shed their opponents in a negative light.
Nationalism made countries excessively confident and gave them the illusion of military strength. Countries all believed their own military capacity was the best. The British were proud of the country’s naval power and developed economy. The French reckoned that they had solid defenses to block the attack of other nations. In Russia, the emperor believed he and his empire were under divine protection. They had the largest land force, which contained 1.5 million men, and their massive population made the country believe it would defeat other smaller countries easily. Germany’s advantages were shown in its developed advanced military weapons and increasing battleships and U-boats. The Germans believed their Schlieffen Plan would be effective and successful. (Nationalism)
Throughout Europe, great powers were considering an invasion of neighboring nations while also accounting for their own defense and national supremacy. The less powerful nations, who opposed these powers, were hoping to gain independence and freedom. The conflict came to a head in the Balkans of Eastern Europe. The Slavic people, who lived in the Balkan region and some of what is presently Serbia, felt they should have their own country. Serbia held a large Slavic population, but it was controlled and influenced by the Austria-Hungary Empire. Slavic nationalists were outraged by the invasion of Austria-Hungary, especially the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Young Slavic nationalists joined the “Black Hand ” group to oppose the Austria-Hungary Empire and its presumed heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
The combination of the fuel of independence and nationalism was powerful, and the “Black Hand” group made a drastic decision that would change the direction of international relations forever – they assassinated the heir to the Austria-Hungary throne, Franz Ferdinand. The assassination of Archduke Frank Ferdinand by the Black Hand in Sarajevo directly led to the outbreak of World War I as nations scrambled to support their ally countries and vested interests abroad.
The essay on the causes of World War 1 highlighted that the four causes are closely related. A single reason is not enough to cause a Great War between several nations or between two alliances, though nationalism seems to be the most powerful. However, when these factors come together, they increase the possibility of war. Nationalism played the most important role in this because it led to military competition, land expansion, and cliques.
There were various factors that contributed to Germany’s decision to start WWI, including territorial ambitions, frustration with the Treaty of Versailles, and a belief in their own superiority. Germany sought to expand its empire and viewed itself as deserving of more power and land. Additionally, they presumed they could win the war quickly and simply, further fueling their desire to take action.
The primary causes of World War I were militarism, alliances, and imperialism. Militarism refers to the belief that a powerful military is crucial for a nation’s security. Alliances are pacts between nations to support each other in case of war. Imperialism denotes the desire to extend a nation’s authority and influence by acquiring additional territories.
To write about World War 1 in an essay, one must understand that it was a catastrophic global conflict that caused immense loss of life and lasted over four years. It commenced in 1914 following a chain of events that prompted various nations worldwide to mobilize their forces. Ultimately, the Allied Powers emerged triumphant over the Central Powers in 1918 to end the war.