Increase in military control of the civilian government

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Militarism denotes a rise in military expenditures, such as an increase in military and naval forces, more influence of the military men upon the policies of the government, and a preference for war as a solution to problems.

Increase in military control of the civilian government

After 1907, there was an increase in military influence on policy making. This could be seen especially in Germany and Russia. The German army at this period was called a "State within the State". The politicians had to follow the generals. The politicians had no say in the army's design to preserve the ‘Fatherland’. In 1914, the Russian generals were also able to force the Czar to accept full mobilization of the army. They threatened him with the danger of defeat if he did not cooperate.

Arms race

After 1871, the war atmosphere, produced by the secret alliances, led to an armaments race among the powers. The race was particularly serious between 1900 and 1914, as the international situation became much worse than before. There was a significant rise in the army and naval estimates of the European powers in these years.

Rise in Military Expenditures

The Total Defense Expenditures of the Major European Powers (in millions)

(Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Britain, France and Russia)













It is also important to take notice of the fact that from 1910 to 1914, while France increased her defense expenditures by 10%, Britain by 13%, Russia by 39%, and Germany was the most militaristic as she increased by 73%. Increased war expenditure enabled all the powers to raise more armies and improve their battleships.

Army conscription

All the Continental European powers had adopted the conscription system since 1870. France had conscription since the Revolutionary Wars, Austria-Hungary since 1868, Germany since 1870, Italy since 1873 and Russia since 1874. Only Britain did not have conscription. After 1890, the deteriorating diplomatic relations among the powers accelerated their military expansion program.

From 1913 to July 1914, Germany increased her standing forces by 170,000 men. France lengthened her period of military service from two to three years. Russia lengthened her term of service from three to three and a half years. Britain did not introduce conscription but had prepared her armed forces for both European expedition and for home defense. In general, all the powers increased their stocks of arms, produced more modern weapons of war and built more strategic railways.
Naval Race between Germany and Britain

Britain and Germany were the chief rivals at sea. Under Admiral Tirpitz, State Secretary of the Imperial Naval Office from 1897, a long-term shipbuilding program began. The German Navy Law of 1898 increased the German battleships from nine cruisers to twelve. In 1900 Germany passed a Navy Law which doubled the German battle fleet.

In the meantime, Britain produced her first Dreadnought (literally, the word means fear nothing). Dreadnoughts were large, fast and heavily armed battleships with 12inch guns. They set a new standard in naval armaments and rendered all previous battleships obsolete. The naval race became intense. Between 1909 and 1911 Germany built nine Dreadnoughts while Britain completed 18 Dreadnoughts. In 1913, Germany widened the Kiel Canal to allow the easy passage of her Dreadnoughts from the Baltic to the North Sea while Britain built new naval bases for the Dreadnoughts in northern Scotland.

Increased military and naval competition led to the belief that war was unavoidable. An increase in military control of the civilian government also increased cooperation among the military staff of the countries of the same side. For example, all the three Entente powers held secret military talks. The British and the French naval authorities agreed that the French navy should be concentrated in the Mediterranean and the British in the North Sea. Germany and Austria also had military agreements. When the First World War was fought, it was to be fought by all powers because they had made the military plan cooperatively. As a result of the arms race, all the European powers were prepared for a war by 1914.


There were two kinds of nationalism in 19th Century Europe:

  1. The desire of controlled peoples for independence

    • This led to a series of national struggles for independence among the Balkan peoples. Other powers got involved and caused much instability.

  2. The desire of independent nations for dominance and prestige

Nationalism in Germany

Germany was united in 1871 as a result of the Franco-Prussian War, and she rapidly became the strongest economic and military power in Europe. From 1871 to 1890, Germany wanted to preserve her hegemony in Europe by forming a series of peaceful alliances with other powers. After 1890, Germany was more aggressive. She wanted to build up her influence in every part of the world. German foreign policy in these years was best expressed by the term, Realpolitik. Because German ambitions were extended to many parts of the globe, Germany came into serious conflicts with all other major powers of Europe (except Austria-Hungary) from 1890 to 1914.

Nationalism in Italy

Italy was unified in 1870. She was barely powerful enough to be counted as a great power. Her parliamentary system was corrupt and inefficient. Her industrial progress was slow. But Italy had great territorial ambitions. She wanted Tunis and Tripoli in northern Africa. This brought her into conflicts with France because Tunis was adjacent to the French colony, Algeria, and was long regarded by France as French sphere of influence. Italy also wanted Italia Irredenta--Trieste, Trentio and Tyrol. Although the majority of the people in these places were Italians, they were kept under the rule of the Austria-Hungary. Thus Italy came into serious conflicts with Austria-Hungary.

Nationalism in Austria-Hungary

Austria-Hungary was established in 1867. The empire controlled a large area consisting of many nationalities, but only the Austrians and the Hungarians had the right to rule. The other nationalities- the Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, Romanians and Poles- resented their loss of political freedom. They desired for political independence. Thus the policy of the Austrian-Hungarian throne was to suppress the nationalist movements both inside and outside the empire. The particular object was to gain political control over the Balkan Peninsula, where nationalist movements were common and were always giving encouragement to the nationalist movements within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The center of the nationalist movements in the Balkans was Serbia. Serbia always hoped to unite with the Serbs in the Austro-Hungarian Empire so as to create a large Serbian state. Therefore the first enemy of Austria-Hungary from 1871 to 1914 was Serbia. Besides Serbia, Austria-Hungary was wary of Russia, because Russia, being a Slav country, always backed up Serbia in any Austro-Serbian disputes.

Nationalism in Russia

Russia was the largest and most populous country in Europe. It extended from the shores of the Arctic Ocean to those of the Black Sea and from the Baltic Sea eastwards to the Pacific Ocean. Two thirds of her people were Slavs. She was still territorially ambitious. She wanted to expand in all directions. In 1870, Russia renewed her aggression in the Balkans. Thus, her territorial ambitions clashed with the interests of Austria-Hungary and Britain. However, Russia did not retreat. Being a 'landlocked' state, she wanted to acquire warm water ports in the Balkans. Moreover, as most of the Balkan peoples were of the Slavic race, Russia could claim to be the protector of her brother races in her expansion.

Nationalism in France

France had been the dominant power in Europe for centuries. Napoleon I and Napoleon III had attempted to dominate Europe. In 1871, France was defeated by Germany. She lost two provinces: Alsace and Lorraine. She also needed to pay heavy compensation. From 1871 onwards, France's greatest ambition was to recover Alsace and Lorraine from Germany. She also wanted to prevent another defeat by Germany, to recover her national prestige by acquiring overseas colonies (e.g. Morocco) and to make diplomatic alliances with other important powers in Europe.

Nationalism in Britain

In 1870 Britain was the most industrially advanced country in Europe. She also possessed the largest overseas empire and the largest navy in the world. She did not want to trouble herself with the continental affairs of Europe. Her main concern was to preserve her overseas empire and her overseas trade by maintaining a large navy. Before 1890, her chief enemies were France and Russia. The colonial interests of France often clashed with those of Britain. Britain and France had colonial rivalries in Asia and Africa--for example, India, Burma, Thailand, Egypt.

Russia's interest in the Balkan area also alarmed Britain, as British naval interests in the Mediterranean Sea would be immediately threatened. After 1890, as Germany went on increasing her naval strength and threatened British naval supremacy and the British overseas interests, she became Britain's chief enemy.

Economic Rivalries

From 1890 onwards, there were economic conflicts between Germany and Britain. Since 1871 Germany had been experiencing a period of rapid industrialization, and by 1890 the products of her industry were competing with British manufactures everywhere in the globe and German merchant ships threatened Britain's trade.

There were also economic struggles between Germany and France. In 1870 France had already lost two of her coal producing provinces--Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. From 1871 onwards, France had to import coal from other countries. Thus France had to compete with Germany in Morocco because the place was rich in mineral resources.
Germany and Austria also rivaled with Russia in the Balkans for commercial privileges. As early as 1888 Germany began to build a railway in the area. Austria regarded the area as a field for profitable investment and as a big market for her manufactured goods. Russia also hoped to control the area because half of her exports passed through this area.
Undoubtedly economic rivalries played a considerable part in creating international tensions in the four decades prior to the First World War.
Colonial Rivalries

After 1870, the European nations began to acquire colonies in Asia, Africa and the Pacific. Their imperialistic activities accelerated from 1880 onwards. Between 1895 and 1905 imperialistic expansion reached its climax.

First of all, colonial rivalry led to strained relations among the European powers. In Africa, all the European powers except Austria and Russia had colonies there. Thus there were many clashes among France, Britain, Germany and Italy. For example, France competed with Italy over Tunis and with Germany over Morocco.
Secondly, colonial rivalry led indirectly to the formation and strengthening of alliances and ententes (agreements). Italy turned to Germany and Austria when she lost Tunis to France in 1881. Russia and Britain could patch up their differences and form an entente in 1907 as a result of their mutual fear of Germany's expansionist activities in the Balkans. Russia, Britain and France could become firm friends after 1907 partly because of aggressive attitude of Germany in both the first and the second Moroccan crises.

Thirdly, colonial rivalry led to an intensification of the arms race. In 1896, when Britain pushed into the Dutch Republic of Transvaal, in South Africa, Germany found that, without a navy, she could not send much military help to the Dutch. Shortly after the event, German military leaders argued for the need of a strong navy. From 1898 onwards, Germany built more battleships.

Fourthly, colonial rivalry led to much hostility among the powers. In the first and the second Moroccan crises, war nearly resulted between Germany and France. France and Britain nearly came to war over their rivalry in the Sudan in 1898.
After 1905, colonial issues became less important as the powers turned back to Europe and Europe remained their center of competition. From 1904 to 1907, Britain, France and Russia were able to settle their colonial disputes by the Anglo-French Entente and the Anglo-Russian Entente. By 1914 colonial disputes had greatly diminished.

Formation of the Triple Alliance

Dual Alliance 1879 - Germany sides with Austria

Unable to maintain friendly relations with both Austria and Russia, Germany chose Austria to be her ally because firstly, Germany preferred a weaker partner which could be more easily controlled; secondly, alliance with Austria would throw open the Danube valley to German trade; thirdly, Austria had racial ties with Germany; fourthly, such an alliance would enable Germany to exercise influence in the Balkans.
The terms of the alliance were:

  1. Each would support the other militarily until the end of the war if attacked by Russia or by Russia and another power

  2. Each agreed to remain neutral if her ally was attacked by a power other than Russia.

The Dual Alliance gave Germany a firm military ally but committed her more to the support of Austrian interests in the Balkans. In the meantime, however, Germany still feared that Russia would turn to the side of France, in which case Germany would face an enemy on both east and west.

Triple Alliance of 1882- Italy Joins the Dual Alliance

The French taking control of Tunis in northern Africa in 1881 infuriated Italy, which was ambitious to build up an Italian empire in Africa. Italy was thus driven onto Germany's side in anger.

The terms were:

  1. If Italy or Germany was attacked by France, each would aid the other

  2. If Austria was attacked by Russia, Italy would remain neutral, although Austria would aid Italy if she was attacked by France

  3. If one of the parties was attacked by two or more powers, the other signatories were to come to her aid

  4. At Italy's request, both Austria and Germany agreed that in no case would the Treaty operate against Britain.

By this time, a powerful bloc had been formed in central Europe. Germany was now guaranteed against Russia by Austria, and against France by Italy. Germany had successfully kept France completely isolated. Yet Italy's commitment to the Triple Alliance was doubtful because the arch-enemy of Italian unity had been Austria.

Formation of the Triple Entente

Franco-Russian Alliance 1893- Russia turns to France

Although at first there seemed little possibility for Czarist Russia to ally with Republican France, two factors made such an alliance possible: firstly, both felt necessary to form a military pact to offset the military threat of Germany; and secondly, France had floated several huge loans to help Russia to industrialize.
The terms of the alliance were as follows:

  1. If France was attacked by Germany or Germany and her ally (Italy), Russia would aid France; in return, if Russia was attacked by Germany or Germany and her ally (Austria), France would aid Russia

  2. If one or more members of the Triple Alliance mobilized -- they would mobilize to help one another automatically

  3. This agreement would continue as long as the Triple Alliance was in force.

The Dual Alliance ended the isolation of France, created a rival alliance to the Triple Alliance, and, most serious of all, faced Germany with the threat of a two front war.

Entente Cordiale 1904- Britain and France needed mutual support

Britain reached a series of agreements with France in 1904. These agreements settled their old colonial disputes in Siam, West Africa, and Madagascar. The most important agreement was the one by which France recognized Egypt and the Sudan as British sphere of influence and Britain recognized Morocco as French sphere of influence; in addition, both would support each other if their respective spheres of influence were challenged by a third power.

The Entente Cordiale (friendly agreement) was not an alliance in name, but it rapidly became something like it in fact. Germany was furious at it, both because it seemed to shut Germany out of Morocco and because it indicated that British influence would be used in the interests of France, rather than those of Germany.
Anglo-Russian Entente 1907- Britain and Russia end their rivalry

France had a military alliance with Russia and a friendly agreement with Britain. It now became her concern to draw her two partners together. She finally succeeded in inducing Britain to settle her disputes with Russia in 1907.

Thus England was bound to France and Russia by Entente and France and Russia were held together by a firm alliance. This group of three great powers was usually called the Triple Entente. The European powers had now aligned themselves into two rival camps--the Triple Entente versus the Triple Alliance.
Alliance System as a cause of the War

The alliance systems were a cause of the First World War. Firstly, the alliances were made in secret and so produced much distrust and suspicion among the European powers. Their general suspicion prevented their diplomats to devise a suitable solution to many of the crises preceding the war. Secondly, the heightened tension led to an arms race among the European powers. For example, within four years after the formation of the Triple Entente in 1907, Germany built nine dreadnoughts (battleships) and consequently Britain built eighteen. Thus all the European powers were ready for war in 1914. Thirdly, since the European powers had made alliances with one another, a small dispute concerning one power might lead to a war involving all powers. After the formation of the Triple Entente, Germany began to feel the threat to her security. The German press loudly talked about "encirclement", i.e. being surrounded by enemies on all sides.

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