The Origins of World War I, 1900-1914

The Origins of World War I, 1900-1914

Key Tensions and Powers

  • The Alliance System: European powers formed complex alliances which created an atmosphere of suspicion and fear. The Triple Entente (Russia, France, and Britain) counterbalanced the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy).
  • Imperial Rivalries: Nations sought greater political and economic influence, leading to clashes like the Moroccan Crises between France, Germany, and Britain.
  • Arms Race: Naval competition between Britain and Germany increased tension. Both nations dramatically expanded their armies and navies, leading to an arms race.

Events Leading up to the War

  • The Balkan Wars: The wars in the volatile Balkan region destabilised Europe further. The annexation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary angered Serbia and Russia, accelerating the escalation to war.
  • Assassination in Sarajevo: The event that directly led to the start of the war was the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip.

Diplomatic Failures

  • Failure of Diplomacy: Attempts at peaceful resolution, such as the Hague Conferences, failed to adequately address the escalating tensions.
  • Blank Cheque: The “blank cheque” provided by Germany to Austria-Hungary to take any action against Serbia increased the momentum towards war.
  • The Ultimatum: Austria-Hungary’s harsh ultimatum to Serbia, rejected by Serbia, led to war declarations.

Complexity and Controversies

  • Multiple Causes: World War I didn’t have a single cause but was the result of a combination of factors including nationalistic tensions, economic rivalries, and political alliances.
  • Historical Debate: Historians have argued about the relative importance of these causes, with some emphasising the role of Germany (Fischer Thesis) and others pointing to broader systemic factors (Sleepwalking Thesis).

Consequences: The Start of World War I

  • On 28th July, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia mobilised to support Serbia, and the complex web of alliances activated, leading to the outbreak of World War I.