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The three major causes of the first world war

June 28 in Sarajevo We'll start with the facts and work back: The events of July and early August 1914 are a classic case of "one thing led to another" - otherwise known as the treaty alliance system.

Ferdinand's death at the hands of the Black Handa Serbian nationalist secret society, set in train a mindlessly mechanical series of events that culminated in the world's first global war. Austria-Hungary's Reaction Austria-Hungary's reaction to the death of their heir who was in any case not greatly beloved by the Emperor, Franz Josefor his government was three weeks in coming.

Arguing that the Serbian government was implicated in the machinations of the Black Hand whether she was or not remains the three major causes of the first world war, but it appears unlikelythe Austro-Hungarians opted to take the opportunity to stamp its authority upon the Serbians, crushing the nationalist movement there and cementing Austria-Hungary's influence in the Balkans.

It did so by issuing an ultimatum to Serbia which, in the extent of its demand that the assassins be brought to justice effectively nullified Serbia's sovereignty. Sir Edward Greythe British Foreign Secretary, was moved to comment that he had "never before seen one State address to another independent State a document of so formidable a character.

However, Serbia had long had Slavic ties with Russia, an altogether different proposition for Austria-Hungary. Whilst not really expecting that Russia would be drawn into the dispute to any great extent other than through words of diplomatic protest, the Austro-Hungarian government sought assurances from her ally, Germany, that she would come to her aid should the unthinkable happen and Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. Germany readily agreed, even encouraged Austria-Hungary's warlike stance.

Quite why we'll come back to later. One Thing Led to Another So then, we have the following remarkable sequence of events that led inexorably to the 'Great War' - a name that had been touted even before the coming of the conflict. Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia's response to her ultimatum which in the event was almost entirely placatory: Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilisation of its vast army in her defence, a slow process that would take around six weeks to complete.

European History

Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, viewed the Russian mobilisation as an act of war against Austria-Hungary, and after scant warning declared war on Russia on 1 August. France, bound by treaty to Russia, found itself at war against Germany and, by extension, on Austria-Hungary following a German declaration on 3 August.

Germany was swift in invading neutral Belgium so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route. Britain, allied to France by a more loosely worded treaty which placed a "moral obligation" upon her to defend France, declared war against Germany on 4 August. With Germany's invasion of Belgium on 4 August, and the Belgian King's appeal to Britain for assistance, Britain committed herself to Belgium's defence later that day.

Like France, she was by extension also at war with Austria-Hungary. With Britain's entry into the war, her colonies and dominions abroad variously offered military and financial assistance, and included Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa. 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.

In short, Italy was committed to defend Germany and Austria-Hungary only in the event of a 'defensive' war; arguing that their actions were 'offensive' she declared instead a policy of neutrality.

The following year, in May 1915, she finally joined the conflict by siding with the Allies against her two former allies. The Tangle of Alliances Such were the mechanics that brought the world's major nations into the war at one time or another. It's clear from the summary above that the alliance system was as much at fault as anything in bringing about the scale of the conflict.

What was intended as a strictly limited war - a brief the three major causes of the first world war - between accuser and accused, Austria-Hungary and Serbia, rapidly escalated into something that was beyond the expectations of even the most warlike ministers in Berlin and certainly Vienna, which quickly became alarmed at spiralling events in late July and sought German reassurances.

It's possible to delve deeply into European history in the quest to unearth the roots of the various alliances that were at play in 1914. However, for our purposes it serves to date the origins of the core alliances back to Bismarck's renowned intrigues, as he set about creating a unified Germany from the loose assembly of German confederated states in the 1860s.

Bismarck's Greater Germany Bismarck, first Prime Minister of Prussia and then Chancellor of the German Empire once he had assembled itset about the construction of Germany through high politics judiciously assisted by war against Austria and France.

  • A Secret Franco-Italian Alliance In the event the Triple Alliance was essentially meaningless, for Italy subsequently negotiated a secret treaty with France, under which Italy would remain neutral should Germany attack France - which in the event transpired;
  • However she was determined not to be humiliated again.

Appointed Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Prussia by Kaiser Wilhelm I in 1862, Bismarck was consumed with a desire to achieve the creation of a German Empire out of the collection of smaller German states largely led by Austria's influence another German-speaking nation. His first step was to oust Austria as the prime influence among these German states.

He achieved this by engineering war with Austria in 1866 over disputed territory in the duchy of Holstein much against the wishes of his own Kaiser. The resulting war lasted just seven weeks - hence its common title 'The Seven Weeks War' - and ended with the complete dominance of the supremely efficient Prussian military.

As importantly, Bismarck had successfully displaced Austria in the spheres of influence over the many small German states. Having assembled a united assembly in the north Bismarck determined to achieve the same in the south - and so unite all of the German states under the Prussian banner. How to achieve this? Bismarck resolved that war with the French, a common enemy, would attain his aims.

First, he needed to engineer a credible reason for war. Thus, in 1870, Bismarck attempted to place a Hohenzollern prince on the throne in Spain.

7 causes of the First World War

Napoleon III, fearful of the prospect of theoretical war on two fronts - for the Hohenzollern prince was a relative of Kaiser Wilhelm I - objected.

Bismarck turned up the diplomatic heat by releasing, on 14 July 1870, a doctored version of a telegram ostensibly from the Kaiser to Bismarck himself, called the Ems Telegram. The effect of the telegram was to simultaneously insult both France and Prussia over their inability to resolve the dispute over the Spanish throne.

Napoleon III, facing civil revolt at home over quite unrelated matters, and receiving encouraging noises from his military commanders, responded by declaring war against Prussia five days later, on 19 July 1870.

Once again, as was the case against Austria, the Prussian military machine demolished the French forces. Napoleon III, who personally led his forces at the lost Battle of Sedan, surrendered and was deposed in the civil war that boiled over in France, resulting in the Third French Republic.

Meantime the Prussian forces laid siege to Paris between September 1870 and January 1871, starving the city into surrender. The consequences of the war were numerous.

Bismarck's Need for Alliances Bismarck's creation of a unified Germany was of direct relevance to the outbreak of war some 43 years later, since it resulted in the assembly of the key alliances that later came into play.

For, having achieved his life's aim, Bismarck's expansionary plans were at an end. He had secured what he wanted, and his chief desire now was to maintain its stability.

He therefore set about building European alliances aimed at protecting Germany from potentially threatening quarters. He was acutely aware that the French were itching to revenge their defeat at the earliest opportunity - and the loss of Alsace and Lorraine to Prussia would prove to be a lasting sore. Indeed, the French plan for war in 1914, Plan XVIIwas largely based around the recapture of Alsace and Lorraine in the shortest possible time - with disastrous consequences.

Bismarck did not initially fear an alliance between France and Britain, for the latter was at that time in the midst of a self-declared 1870s policy of "splendid isolation", choosing to stay above continental European politics. If not Britain then, how about Russia and, conceivably, beaten foe Austria-Hungary?

A multimedia history of world war one

This however only lasted until Russia's withdrawal five years later in 1878, leaving Bismarck with a new Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879. This latter treaty 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. Should either nation be attacked by another power, e. France, they were to remain - at the very least - benevolently neutral.

This alliance, unlike others, endured until war in 1914. It was this clause that Austria-Hungary invoked in calling Germany to her aid against Russian support for Serbia who in turn was protected by treaty with Russia. The Triple Alliance Two years after Germany and Austria-Hungary concluded their agreement, Italy was brought into the fold with the signing of the Triple Alliance in 1881. Under the provisions of this treaty, Germany and Austria-Hungary promised to assist Italy if she were attacked by France, and vice versa: Italy was bound to lend aid to Germany or Austria-Hungary if France declared war against either.

Additionally, should any signatory find itself at war with two powers or morethe other two were to provide military assistance. Finally, should any of the three determine to launch a 'preventative' war a euphemism if ever there was onethe others would remain neutral. One of the chief aims of the Triple Alliance was to prevent Italy from declaring war against Austria-Hungary, towards whom the Italians were in dispute over territorial matters. A Secret Franco-Italian Alliance In the event the Triple Alliance was essentially meaningless, for Italy subsequently negotiated a secret treaty with France, under which Italy would remain neutral should Germany attack France - which in the event transpired.

In 1914 Italy declared that Germany's war against France was an 'aggressive' one and so entitled Italy to claim neutrality. Austria-Hungary signed an alliance with Romania in 1883, negotiated by Germany, although in the event Romania - after starting World War One as a neutral - eventually joined in with the Allies ; as such Austria-Hungary's treaty with Romania was of no actual significance.

The Reinsurance Treaty Potentially of greater importance - although it was allowed to lapse three years after its signature - Bismarck, in 1887, agreed to the three major causes of the first world war so-called Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. This document stated that both powers would remain neutral if either were involved in a war with a third be it offensive or defensive.

However, should that third power transpire to be France, Russia would not be obliged to provide assistance to Germany as was the case of Germany if Russia found itself at war with Austria-Hungary.

Causes of the First World War

Bismarck's intention was to avoid the possibility of a two-front war against both France and Russia. Both powers agreed to consult with the other should either find itself at war with any other nation, or if indeed the stability of Europe was threatened. This rather loosely worded agreement was solidified in 1892 with the Franco-Russian Military The three major causes of the first world waraimed specifically at counteracting the potential threat posed by the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.

In short, should France or Russia be attacked by one of the Triple Alliance signatories - or even should a Triple Alliance power mobilise against either where to mobilise meant simply placing a nation on a war footing preparatory to the declaration of hostilitiesthe other power would provide military assistance.

British Emergence From Splendid Isolation Meanwhile, Britain was awaking to the emergence of Germany as a great European power - and a colonial power at that. Kaiser Wilhelm's successor, Wilhelm II, proved far more ambitious in establishing "a place in the sun" for Germany. With the effective dismissal of Bismarck the new Kaiser was determined to establish Germany as a great colonial power in the pacific and, most notably, in Africa.

Wilhelm, encouraged by naval minister Tirpitzembarked upon a massive shipbuilding exercise intended to produce a naval fleet the equal of Britain's, unarguably by far and away the world's largest.

Britain, at that time the greatest power of all, took note. In the early years of the twentieth century, in 1902, she agreed a military alliance with Japanaimed squarely at limiting German colonial gains in the east.

She also responded by commissioning a build-up in her own naval strength, determined to outstrip Germany. In this she succeeded, building in just 14 months - a record - the enormous Dreadnought battleship, completed in December 1906.

By the time war was declared in 1914 Germany could muster 29 battleships, Britain 49. Despite her success in the naval race, Germany's ambitions succeeded at the very least in pulling Britain into the European alliance system - and, it has been argued, brought war that much closer. This 1904 agreement finally resolved numerous leftover colonial squabbles. More significantly, although it did not commit either to the other's military aid in time of war, it did offer closer diplomatic co-operation generally.

Together the two agreements formed the three-fold alliance that lasted and effectively bound each to the other right up till the outbreak of world war just seven years later. Again, although the two Entente agreements were not militarily binding in any way, they did place a "moral obligation" upon the signatories to aid each other in time of war.

It was chiefly this moral obligation that drew Britain into the war in defence of France, although the British pretext was actually the terms of the largely forgotten 1839 Treaty of London that committed the British to defend Belgian neutrality discarded by the Germans as "a scrap of paper" in 1914, when they asked Britain to ignore it. In 1912 Britain and France did however conclude a military agreement, the Anglo-French Naval Convention, which promised British protection of France's coastline from German naval attack, and French defence of the Suez Canal.

Such were the alliances between the major continental players. There were other, smaller alliances too - such as Russia's pledge to protect Serbia, and Britain's agreement to defend Belgian neutrality - and each served its part in drawing each nation into the coming great war. Russian War With Japan: Shock Japanese Victory Ever since Russia declined Japan's offer in 1903 for each to recognise the other's interests in Manchuria and Korea, trouble was looming.