Long Term Causes of World War I



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Long Term Causes of World War I
Before WW I the Great Powers of Europe negotiated a system of alliances, just as you have done. This system of alliances helped provoke WW I.
What do you think might have caused the Great Powers to become such rivals and have caused them to enter into a system of alliances?
Nationalism: a strong sense of loyalty to your own state, a desire for your own nation state. It increased tension among European nations

Imperialism: brought on in part by the Industrial Revolution, this was the desire to expand your nation's rule over other nations.

Militarism: Led to need for large army and navy to protect newly acquired lands. It bred rivalry, jealously, and mistrust.

glorification of armed strength. Both the military and the civilian populations supported build-up as it glorified the nation. Many believed that only force could solve problems among nations. A militarily strong nation could usually get what it wanted.

System of Alliances:
How did the system of alliances begin?
Bismarck, having unified Germany in 1871, sought peace to protect the newly formed German Empire. Bismarck believed that France was Germany's greatest threat because France was so bitter over the lost of Alsace and Lorraine. Bismarck believed that if France was isolated Germany would be safe.
1871: End of Franco-Prussian War; creation of German Empire; Germany’s annexation of Alsace-Lorraine

1873: Three Emperor’s League of Germany, Austria, and Russia established at urging of Bismarck; soon disbanded due to

Austro-Russian rivalry in Balkans

1875: Russo-Turkish War resulted in Russian victory; concluded with Treaty of San Stefano

1878: Congress of Berlin, at which, treaty of San Stefano is overturn; 1st Russian humiliation

1879: Dual Alliance   Germany entered into an alliance with Austria. This was a mutual defense pact   would come to each other’s aid if attack by Russia and would remain neutral if either was attacked by another country.

1881: Three Emperors' League is secretly renewed; the three countries promised to maintain friendly neutrality in case any of them was attacked by a fourth power.

1882: Triple Alliance   Italy joined Dual Alliance because they upset with French occupation of Tunisia and they hoped to expand their colonial holdings

1885: Reinsurance Treaty   a Balkan crisis resulted in the dissolution of the Three Emperors' League. Resentful of Germany's support of Austria Hungary in the Balkan crisis, the Russians suggested that Germany enter into a new treaty with just Russia alone. The new treaty provided for neutrality in case either Russia or Germany became involved in a defensive war.

1890: Recently crowned William II of Germany used a disagreement with Bismarck to force his retirement. William’s new chancellor, Leo von Caprivi then allowed the Reinsurance Treaty to lapse.

1894: Franco-Russian alliance signed. This was a joint defensive alliance against Germany

1898: Germany begins to build a battleship navy

1899 Boer War begins – war between the Dutch and English in South Africa

1902: Boer War ends; Britain begins to abandon “splendid isolationism”; Britain agrees to alliance with Japan who agrees to defend British interests in the Far East against Russia.

1904: France and Britain enter into a friendly understanding – the Entente Cordiale. It was not a formal agreement and it did not have any military provisions, but it did settled all outstanding colonial differences between the two countries.

!904-05: Russo-Japanese War; this war increased tensions between Britain and Russia; however, because the war exposed the weakness of Russia, Britain became less apprehensive of the Russia’s power. (Russia’s second humiliation)



  1. First Moroccan Crisis – see below

  2. Algeciras Conference -- see below

1907: Triple Entente   Britain and Russia work out their differences and thus Russia, Britain, and France enter into an understanding that none of these countries would enter into a war against the other. But there was no promise of aid if one of the other should be attacked.
By 1907 the alliance system threatened world peace because it divided Europe into two armed camps. Should hostilities develop between any two rival powers, all six nations would become involved in the fighting, whether or not the original dispute concerned all of them. A minor quarrel could lead to serious consequences, as events in 1914 would prove.

Crises in the Balkans


Three old ruling families the Hapsburgs of Austria, the Romanovs of Russia, and the Ottomans, had dominated Eastern Europe, for many years. Within each of these aging empires many ethnic groups resided, and after 1848 social unrest and nationalist movements grew.
With the unification of Italy and Germany, Austria declined in power; the Ottoman Empire had been growing weaker since the 1500's. Russia's interest grew as she sought a warm-water port. Russia wanted to take the Bosporus from the Ottomans.
1854: Crimean War   an early attempt by Russia to take the Bosporus from the Ottomans. Britain and France joined the Ottomans to defeat the Russians. Austria remained neutral, but occupied Moldavia and Wallachia.
Pan Slavism: a movement for Slavic unity and independence in the Balkans. Russia saw herself as the natural leader of such a movement since the Russians were themselves Slavs. This movement fueled both Slavic nationalism and Russia's expansionist plans in the Balkans.
1875: nationalist revolts broke out in Slavic Balkan states ruled by the Ottomans.
1877 79: Russians seeking greater influence decided to aid the rebels by declaring war on Ottomans. Ottomans were defeated. By the Treaty of San Stefano   Romania, Montenegro, and Serbia achieved their independence. Russia gained the right to occupy Bulgaria and to use its seaport on the Aegean Sea. Alarmed by this Germany under the leadership of Bismarck called the leaders of the major European nations to Berlin. At the Congress of Berlin, Russia was forced to rewrite the treaty. Bulgaria was reduced in size and Russia loses its port. Britain gains Cyprus. (First Russian humiliation)
After 1880 the Balkan Peninsula became the renewed focus of Russian Ottoman conflict. This brought Austria Hungary into the dispute. They feared a growing Russian influence in the Balkans. Slavic groups sought to further unify Slavic peoples and take more territory from the Ottomans and the Austrians.
Britain was fearful of growing Russian influence in the Balkans because of the closeness to the Suez Canal. They were also suspicious of German plans to build a railroad from Berlin to Baghdad.

Crises in Morocco – 1905 and 1911


To test the strength of the understanding between France and Britain, William II, in 1905, disembarked at Tangier in Morocco and made a speech in favor of Moroccan independence. The Kaiser was not interested in driving France out of Morocco, or in acquiring if for Germany. What he really wanted to do was to destroy the understanding between Britain and France. The Germans demanded and got an international conference to settle the question. At the Algerciras Conference, the major European powers and the United State upheld French claims to Morocco. The main result of this incident was a strengthening of the ties between Britain and France; both began to share military information and plan joint operations. (first German humiliation)
In 1911, a second Moroccan crisis occurred. A German gunboat, the Panther, arrived at Agadir to protect German interests. It soon developed that the move was a holdup. The Germans offered to make no further trouble in Morocco if they could have the French Congo. The crisis passed, the Germans obtaining some trifling accessions in Africa. Meanwhile a series of crisis rocked the Balkans. (second German humiliation)
In the early 1900's several events occurred that increased diplomatic tensions in the area and made the Balkans the "powder keg of Europe."
1908: Austria struck a deal with Russia in which Austria would annex Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria would support Russia’s demand for Turks to open Dardanelles to Russian ships. However, Austria moved before Russia could act. Serbia, who had hoped to annex this area was angry and Russia was upset that Austria moved too quickly. Germany backed Austria. Still reeling from their defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and fearful of Germany, Russia backed down. (Third Russian humiliation)

1912: Balkan League, consisting of Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro, formed. That same year the Balkan League declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were defeated in this the First Balkan War. Serbia also wanted to annex Albania, a province of the Ottoman Empire. Austria Hungary, backed by Germany and Italy, demanded Serbia give up Albania and make it an independent state. Serbia without international support had to back down.

1913: Second Balkan War   Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece. Bulgaria was defeated and Serbia doubled in size.
Austria Hungary watched in fear.
Secret societies formed to unite Bosnia and Herzegovina with Serbia. One of these was the Black Hand whose slogan was Union or Death.
Immediate Causes of World War I
In the summer of 1914 many Europeans felt that war was inevitable. Many believe that only war could solve the problems between countries. The generals were anxious to put their plans into practice. To many ordinary citizens war seemed the purist kind of patriotism.
June 28, 1914: Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand goes to Saravejo in Bosnia where Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand, assassinates him.
Why did the Black Hand want to kill Franz Ferdinand when he had promised to treat the Slavs more leniently after he became emperor? Militant nationalists feared this lenience would damage the nationalist movement.
Why did Franz Ferdinand's assassination touch off the most destructive war the world had ever known to that time?
Rival alliances, imperialism, nationalism, and an arms race had brought all of Europe to the brink of war. The death of Franz Ferdinand by a Serb gave Austria a reason to crush the Serbs once and for all. Before acting through, Austria sought the approval of its ally, Germany. On July 5 Kaiser William II responded by saying that Germany would support whatever Austria decided to do. This, in effect, amount to a "blank check" given to Austria by the German Kaiser.
July 23, 1914: Austria sent Serbia an ultimatum that included the following:


  1. Serbian government would condemn all propaganda against Austria Hungary and suppress publications and societies that oppose Austria Hungary.

  2. Serbia would ban from its schools books and teachers who did not favor Austria Hungary.

  3. Serbia would dismiss any officials who had promoted propaganda against Austria Hungary.

  4. Austro Hungarian judges would conduct the trials of those accused of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

  5. Serbia had to accept all of these terms with 48 hours or Austria Hungary would declare war.

Serbia agreed to all terms except d and e. They offered to submit the entire dispute to the international court at The Hague.


July 28, 1914: Austria Hungary declared war on Serbia.
Serbia although smaller and weaker than Austria Hungary, had a powerful friend of her own    RUSSIA.

Russia knew that it would take time to get its army into place. It had few railroads and many soldiers to move; therefore, Russia ordered a general mobilization.


By July 30, Russia had begun moving its army along the Russian Austrian border. Expecting Germany to join Austria Hungary, Russia also began moving troops along the Russian Germany border. Czar Nicholas did assure Kaiser William that it was just a precaution.
Angered by the Russian mobilization and the encouragement the French (another blank check) had given the Russians, Germany declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914. In order to successfully implement the Schlieffen Plan, Germany declared war against France on August 3, 1914.
Von Schlieffen Plan   worked out by the late General Alfred von Schlieffen in the 1890's. The major purpose of the plan was to avoid a two front war. The plan called for a swift attack on France to quickly defeat the enemy in the west so that Germany could then concentrate on Russia in the east, which they expected to take longer to mobilize. German wanted to go through Belgium whose neutrality had been agreed to by the Great Powers in 1839. Germany asked Belgium's permission to bring her troops through, but Belgium refused. Nevertheless, on August 4 Germany sent her troops into Belgium. Fearing the approach of the Germans and outraged by Germany's actions against Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany.
Now the sides were clearly drawn; the Allies     Britain, France and Russia on one side; the Central Powers      Germany and Austria  Hungary on the other. In October, the Ottoman Empire entered on the side of the Central Powers and Bulgaria joined them a year later.
At first Italy stayed neutral, but eventually, they were lured to the side of the Allies with secret promises of Austrian territory after the war.
The German soldiers tramped through Belgium and into northern France throughout all of August. French generals felt that the "elan" of their soldiers would be all that was necessary for a quick victory; however, the French soldiers were no match for the German fighting machine. By September 2, the Germans were on the outskirts of Paris.
The German, believing that they were within days of victory, and fearing the Russians, decided to send a number of troops from the western front to the eastern front. This was the first of several mistakes by the Germans. Being further from Germany, their supply lines were stretched thin, on the other hand the French were now very close to their supply lines.
September 6, 1914: the First Battle of the Marne begins. The French attacked a gap in the German lines northwest of Paris in the valley of the Marne River. Every available soldier was hurled into battle. When the French ran out of trucks to transport the troops, they used taxis from Paris.
September 12, 1914: the German generals gave the command to retreat. Paris was saved as the Germans withdrew to a line 40 miles north of the Marne.
Battle of the Marne was perhaps the single most important event of the war. The German retreat left the Schlieffen Plans in ruins. Now Germany had to fight a two front war.


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