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World War I- Part I: The world in 1914

World War I- Part I: The world in 1914

Europe still dominated the rest of the world in 1914

  • Most of the decisions which shaped the fate of the world were taken in the capitals of Europe.
  • Germany was the leading power in Europe both militarily and economically.
    • She had overtaken Britain in the production of pig-iron and steel, though not quite in coal, while France, Belgium, Italy and Austria-Hungary (known as the Habsburg Empire) were well behind.
  • Russian industry was expanding rapidly but had been so backward to begin with that she could not seriously challenge Germany and Britain.
  • But it was outside Europe that the most spectacular industrial progress had been made during the previous 40 years.
    • In 1914 the USA produced more coal, pig-iron and steel than either Germany or Britain and now ranked as a world power.
    • Japan too had modernized rapidly and was a power to be reckoned with after her defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5.

The political systems of these world powers varied widely

  • The USA, Britain and France had democratic forms of government.
    • This means that they each had a parliament consisting of representatives elected by the people.
    • These Parliaments had an important say in running the country.
  • Some systems were not as democratic as they seemed: Germany had an elected lower house of parliament (Reichstag), but real power lay with the Chancellor (a sort of prime minister) and the Kaiser (emperor).
  • Italy was a monarchy with an elected parliament, but the franchise (right to vote) was limited to wealthy people.
  • Japan had an elected lower house, but here too the franchise was restricted, and the emperor and the privy council held most of the power.
  • The governments in Russia and Austria-Hungary were very different from the democracy of the West.
    • The Tsar (emperor) of Russia and the Emperor of Austria (who was also King of Hungary) were autocratic or absolute rulers.
    • This means that although parliaments existed, they could only advise the rulers; if they felt like it, the rulers could ignore the parliaments and do exactly as they wished.

Imperial expansion after 1880

  • The European powers had taken part in a great burst of imperialist expansion in the years after 1880. Imperialism is the building up of an empire by seizing territory overseas.
  • Most of Africa was taken over by the European states in what became known as the ‘the Scramble for Africa’; the idea behind it was mainly to get control of new markets and new sources of raw materials.
  • There was also intervention in the crumbling Chinese Empire; the European powers, the USA and Japan all, at different times, forced the helpless Chinese to grant trading concessions.

Europe had divided itself into two alliance systems (or two armed camp)

  • The Triple Alliance (in 1882):
      • Germany
      • Austria-Hungary
      • Italy
  • The Triple Entente:
      • Britain
      • France
      • Russia
  • After Franco-Prussian war, Germany made here at one stroke the leading power in Europe and France crushed and isolated and Britain holding herself aloof from the continent.
    • After 1871, Bismarck’s policy was no longer “blood and iron”. It was essentially defensive. It was directed towards protection of “German Empire”.
    • He feared that France might wage war of vengeance against Germany, so henceforth it became his chief business to build up a comprehensive system of alliances so as to keep France completely isolated. Hence he formed the famous Triple Alliance composed of Germany, Austria and Italy and tried to keep France completely isolated.
      • Triple Alliance of 1882:
        • Austro-German alliance
          • The interest of Russia and Austria conflicted in Balkans. At the Congress of Berlin (1878) , Bismarck was forced to choose between Austria and Russia and he preferred Austria considering Russia as uncertain ally.
          • Finally, Austro-German alliance was concluded in 1879. This alliance was aimed against Russia and France.
        • Bismarck next drew Italy into the Austro-German alliance as Italy feared that France may seek to restore the Papacy.
        • Also there was Franco-Austrian rivalry over Tunis in North Africa.
        • Bismarck used these situations to draw Italy and isolate France.
        • Thus formed Triple Alliance of 1882 between Austria, Germany and Italy.
        • This was masterstroke of Bismarck as the alliance contained countries with bitter historical rivalry.
  • Formation of Dual Alliance:
    • France got opportunity to form alliance when disagreement between Russia and Germany, at the Congress of Berlin over the settlement of Eastern Question.
    • She took advantage and formed an alliance with Russia in 1894 called Dual Alliance which ended her isolation and served as a counterweight to Triple Alliance.
  • These two defensive European alliances were formed with the object of maintaining the status quo on the continent. Thus the Dual Alliance confronted the Triple Alliance and the condition of Europe may be described as one of “armed peace”.
    • The continental powers of Europe, though at peace with one another, kept a jealous, fearful and suspicious watch on each other, with all busied themselves with making military preparations.
  • Formation of the Triple Entente:
    • 1894 France and Russia sign alliance (Dual Alliance).
      1904 Britain and France sign ‘Entente Cordiale’ (friendly ‘getting-together’)
      1907 Britain and Russia sign agreement.
    • Thus formed the Triple Entente.
  • In addition, Japan and Britain had signed an alliance in 1902. Friction between the two main groups (sometimes called ‘the armed camps’) had brought Europe to the verge of war several times since 1900.

England’s position- Change from isolation to Entente

  • England’s isolation:
    • After Napoleonic wars, she had occasionally interfered in European affairs when her interests demanded, but had no alliance of permanent character.
    • Though England took part in Balkan crisis of 1875-78 but it was more on imperial plan-  the old threat of Russia in East which had earlier drawn Britain into Crimean war.
  • England was suspicious of the Dual Alliance and so courted German friendship:
    • Imperial issues in Africa and Asia made Britain modify her policy of isolation. With Russia expanding into central Asia and knocking at the gates of Afghanistan, there occurred a crisis in 1885 which almost threatened war.
    • The British occupation of Egypt irritated France and Fashoda incident in 1898 them on the verge of war.
    • So Britain in 1898 proposed an alliance between Britain, Germany and the USA but Germany rejected it. Anglo-German relations were further embittered during Boers war (1899-1902) when public opinion in Germany was hostile to Britain and sympathetic to Boers.
  • Entanglement between England and Germany was also due to Naval competition as Kaiser’s resolve that Germany’s future lay upon the sea, filled England with a sense of alarm as it would have threatened her Naval supremacy.
  • The development of Berlin-Baghdad Railway under German auspices and prospective establishment of a German naval base in Persian Gulf at the terminus of railway also raised alarm.
  • No challenge was so certain to arouse the anger of Britain as a challenge to her sea power and so it drew her closer to Dual Alliance.
    • She first turned to France and settled her long standing misunderstanding.
    • In 1904, she made an agreement or Entente with France by which all differences between them made up.
    • This was followed in 1907 by a similar agreement with Russia.
  • Thus France, Russia and England formed a separate diplomatic group known as Triple Entente.
    • This Entente was not an alliance and England was not pledged to support France or Russia in times of war. It was only to work in harmony in regard to certain measures and problems.
    • Its chief significance was that both Britain and Russia drifted away from Germany and had a common distrust of German policy.
    • Now it was Germany’s turn to feel that she was being isolated and encircled by a ring of enemies.

Europe in 1914

Causes of friction

  • There were many causes of friction which threatened to upset the peace of Europe:
    • Rivalry between Britain and Germany:
      • There was naval rivalry between Britain and Germany.
    • French resentment:
      • The French resented the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany at the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871).
    • German policy:
      • Ambition of Germany:
        • Bismarck was interested in maintaining status quo based on supremacy of Germany as, in Bismarck’s phrase, a “satisfied power”.
        • But with the fall of Bismarck in 1890, Germany’s ambition began to soar higher.
        • By 1900, the world had been partitioned among England, France and Russia, but Germany had been left with the smallest share of extra-European possessions.
        • So, from beginning of 20th century, she tried in every direction for possible outlets and means of expansion and everywhere she found the way barred against her.
        • The strongest and proudest of European nations cannot be expected to be left behind in the race for imperial expansion.
        • Thus Germany became the chief source of unrest and her vaulting ambitions and visions of world empire may be looked upon as the ultimate cause of the World War I.
      • The Germans accused Britain, Russia and France of trying to ‘encircle’ them.
      • She feared that England can support France in Alsace-Lorraine and Russia in Balkans.
      • Germany thought that all 3 powers, who had divided the great part of the world, came into agreement to prevent the realisation of her legitimate aspiration in the imperial sphere.
      • Germany tried hard to break up the Entente from 1907 to 1914, to strengthen the position of Austria (her only faithful ally in Balkans) and to win over Turkey to her side.
      • The Germans were disappointed with the results of their expansionist policies (known as Weltpolitik – literally ‘world policy’).
        • Although they had taken possession of some islands in the Pacific and some territory in Africa, their empire was small in comparison with those of the other European powers, and not very rewarding economically.
    • Russia’s suspicion:
      • The Russians were suspicious of Austrian ambitions in the Balkans and worried about the growing military and economic strength of Germany.
    • Serbian nationalism:
      • Serbian nationalism was probably the most dangerous cause of friction.
      • Since 1882 the Serbian government of King Milan had been pro-Austrian, and his son Alexander, who came of age in 1893, followed the same policy.
      • However, the Serbian nationalists bitterly resented the fact that by the Treaty of Berlin signed in 1878, the Austrians had been allowed to occupy Bosnia, an area which the Serbs thought should be part of a Greater Serbia.
      • The nationalists saw Alexander as a traitor; in 1903 he was murdered by a group of army officers, who put Peter on the throne.
      • The change of regime caused a dramatic switch in Serbian policy: the Serbs now became pro-Russian and made no secret of their ambition to unite all Serbs and Croats into a large South Slav kingdom (Yugoslavia).
      • Many of these Serbs and Croats lived inside the borders of the Habsburg Empire; if they were to break away from Austria-Hungary to become part of a Greater Serbia, it would threaten to break up the entire ramshackle Habsburg Empire, which contained people of many different nationalities.
        • There were Germans, Hungarians, Magyars, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Poles, Romanians, Ruthenians and Slovenes, as well as Serbs and Croats.
        • If the Serbs and Croats left the fold, many of the others would demand their independence as well, and the Hapsburg Empire would break up.
        • Consequently some Austrians were keen for what they called a ‘preventive war’ to destroy Serbia before she became strong enough to provoke the break-up of their empire.
        • The Austrians also resented Russian support for Serbia.
  • Arising from all these resentments and tensions came a series of events which culminated in the outbreak of war in late July 1914.
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