World War 1 Essay Alliances Meaning

Alliances are possibly the best known cause of World War I. An alliance is a formal political, military or economic agreement between two or more nations. Military alliances usually contain promises that in the event of war or aggression, one signatory nation will support the others. The terms of this support is outlined in the alliance document. It can range from financial or logistic backing, like the supply of materials or weapons, to military mobilisation and a declaration of war. Alliances may also contain economic elements, such as trade agreements, investment or loans. During the 19th and early 20th centuries European nations formed, annulled and restructured alliances on a regular basis. By 1914, the Great Powers of Europe had shuffled themselves into two alliance blocs. The existence of these two opposing blocs meant that war between two nations might mean war between them all.

Alliances were hardly a new phenomenon in European history. For centuries Europe had been a melting pot of ethnic and territorial rivalries, political intrigues and paranoia. France and England were ancient antagonists whose rivalry erupted into open warfare several times between the 14th and early 19th centuries. Relations between the French and Germans were also troubled, while France and Russia also had their differences. Alliances provided European states with a measure of protection; they served as a deterrent to larger states who might make war on smaller ones. During the 1700s alliances were used both as a defensive measure and a political device. Kings and princes regularly formed or re-formed alliances, usually to advance their own interests or isolate rivals. Many of these alliances and alliance blocs were short lived. Some collapsed when new leaders emerged; others were nullified or replaced by new alliances.

The rise of French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800s ushered in a brief period of ‘super alliances’. European nations allied themselves either in support of Bonaparte, or to defeat him. Between 1797 and 1815 European leaders formed seven anti-Napoleonic coalitions. At various times these coalitions included Britain, Russia, Holland, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Spain and Portugal. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, European leaders worked to restore normality and stability to the continent. The Congress of Vienna (1815) established an informal system of diplomacy, defined national boundaries and sought to prevent wars and revolutions. The congress system worked for a time but started to weaken in the mid 1800s. Imperial interests, changes in government, a series of revolutions (1848) and rising nationalist movements in Germany, Italy and elsewhere saw European rivalries and tensions increase again. Nations again turned to alliances to defend and advance their interests. Some individual agreements signed in the mid to late 1800s include:

The Treaty of London (1839). Though not an alliance, this multi-lateral treaty acknowledged the existence of Belgium as an independent and neutral state. Several of Europe’s great powers, including Great Britain and Prussia, were signatories to this treaty. Belgium had earned statehood in the 1830s after separating from southern Holland. The Treaty of London was still in effect in 1914, so when German troops invaded Belgium in August 1914, the British considered it a violation of the treaty.

The Three Emperors’ League (1873). This league was a three way alliance between the ruling monarchs of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. The Three Emperors’ League was engineered and dominated by the Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, who saw it as a means of securing the balance of power in Europe. Disorder in the Balkans undermined Russia’s commitment to the league, which collapsed in 1878. The Three Emperors’ League, without Russia, formed the basis of the Triple Alliance.

The Dual Alliance (1879). This was a binding military alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary, that required each signatory to support the other if one was attacked by Russia. It was signed after the collapse of the Three Emperors’ League and during a period of Austro-Russian tension in the Balkans. The alliance was welcomed by nationalists in Germany, who believed that German-speaking Austria should be absorbed into greater Germany.

The Triple Alliance (1882). This complex three way alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy was driven by anti-French and anti-Russian sentiment. Each of the three signatories was committed to provide military support to the others, if one was attacked by two other powers – or if Germany and Italy were attacked by France. Italy, being newly formed and militarily weak, was viewed as a minor partner in this alliance.

The Franco-Russian Alliance (1894). This military alliance between France and Russia restored cordial relations between the two imperial powers. The Franco-Russian Alliance was in effect a response to the Triple Alliance, which had isolated France. The signing of the Franco-Russian Alliance was an unexpected development that thwarted German plans for mainland Europe and angered Berlin. It also provided economic benefits to both signatory nations, allowing Russia access to French loans and providing French capitalists with access to  Russian mining, industry and raw materials.

The Entente Cordiale (1904). Meaning ‘friendly agreement’, the Entente Cordiale was a series of agreements between Britain and France. The Entente ended a century of hostility between the two cross-channel neighbours. It also resolved some colonial disagreements and other minor but lingering disputes. The Entente was not a military alliance; neither signatory was obliged to provide military support for the other. Nevertheless it was seen as the first step towards an Anglo-French military alliance.

The Anglo-Russian Entente (1907). This agreement between Britain and Russia eased tensions and restored good relations between the two nations. Britain and Russia had spent much of the 19th century as antagonists, going to war in the Crimea (1853-56) and later reaching the verge of war twice. The Anglo-Russian Entente resolved several points of disagreement, including the status of colonial possessions in the Middle East and Asia. It did not involve any military commitment or support.

The Triple Entente (1907). This treaty consolidated the Entente Cordiale and the Anglo-Russian Entente into a three way agreement between Britain, France and Russia. Again, it was not a military alliance – however the three Ententes of 1904-7 were important because they marked the end of British neutrality and isolationism.

Most alliances and ententes were formulated behind closed doors and revealed to the public after signing. Some nations even conducted negotiations without informing their other alliance partners. The German chancellor Bismarck, for example, initiated alliance negotiations with Russia in 1887, without informing Germany’s major ally Austria-Hungary. Some alliances also contained ‘secret clauses’ that were not publicly announced or placed on record. Several of these secret clauses only became known to the public after the end of World War I. The secretive nature of alliances only heightened suspicion and continental tensions.

An additional factor in the outbreak of World War I were small but significant changes to European alliances, in the years prior to 1914. A clause inserted into the Dual Alliance in 1910, for example, required Germany to directly intervene if Austro-Hungary was ever attacked by Russia. These modifications strengthened and militarised alliances and probably increased the likelihood of war. Despite that, the impact of the alliance system as a cause of war is often overstated. Alliances did not, as is often suggested, make war inevitable. Alliances did not disempower governments or lead to automatic declarations of war; the authority and final decision to mobilise or declare war still rested with national leaders. It was their moral commitment to these alliances that was the telling factor. As historian Hew Strachan put it, the real problem was that by 1914, “nobody was prepared to fight wholeheartedly for peace as an end in itself.”

1. The alliance system was a network of treaties, agreements and ententes that were negotiated and signed prior to 1914.
2. National tensions and rivalries have made alliances a common feature of European politics, however the alliance system became particularly extensive in the late 1800s.
3. Many of these alliances were negotiated in secret or contained secret clauses, adding to the suspicion and tension that existed in pre-war Europe.
4. The Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) formed the basis of the Central Powers, the dominant alliance bloc in central Europe.
5. Britain, France and Russia overcame their historical conflicts and tensions to form a three way entente in the early 1900s.


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This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “Alliances as a cause of World War I” at Alpha History, http://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/alliances/, 2014, accessed [date of last access].

What was the most significant cause of World War One? (WW1)

World War one started on the 28th of July 1914 between two sides; triple alliance and the triple entente. It ended on the 11th of November 1918. Difference in policies were to blame, although the immediate cause of World War one was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The war started mainly because of four aspects: Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism. This is because big armies become potential threats to other countries, other countries started forcing alliances in order to secure land. Imperialism was a cause because building an empire needs manpower such as an army and a navy to conquer and keep the land that they colonised. The alliances system meant that a local conflict could easily result into an intimidating global one. The overall cause of World War was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Nationalism was a great cause of World War one because of countries being greedy and not negotiating. Nationalism shows you are proud of your country and want it to be the best. A lot of causes all linked back to countries all wanted to be better than each other. Nationalist groups in Austria-Hungary and Serbia wanted independence. France wanted Alsace Lorraine back from Germany who was lost in 1871 Franco-Prussian war. The use of Nationalism gave nations false hope and aggressive to win the war. Even if they weren’t able to win a war due to their strength and understanding of plans and leaders. This leads to Imperialism. As you can see Nationalism had made a big dent in Countries understanding and strength of war. Also how different countries wanted land to help their plan succeed in winning the war.

One of the most significant causes of World War one was Imperialism, which is where a system where powerful nation rules and exploits one or more colonies. There are two main crisis’s that occurred in Morocco in 1905 and 1911. In 1905, Kaiser visited Morocco in North Africa, where Germany was building up its own Empire. An international conference was held in 1906. At the conference Kaiser was humiliated, this made him fill with rage because he wanted to be seen as Major power in Africa. Instead, he was treated as if he had no right in speaking at the conference that was made global news. In 1911 France tried to take over Morocco again. Britain feared that Kaiser wanted to set up a naval base in Agadir. Another conference was held and the British and French stood up against Germany once again. France took control of Morocco and Germany was given land in central Africa as an act of compensation. These two events lead directly to Militarism. This was a significant cause of World War one because Kaiser was humiliated and could have felt determined to fight Britain and France earlier as an act of Revenge. Also, at the time he would have been more hostile.

Militarism could have cause the war due to the naval and arms race. The main event of Militarism causing World War one was the naval rivalry which was made after 1900. Britain had the most powerful navy in the world. The new Keiser Wilhelm announced his intention to build a bigger German navy than Britain. Britain felt very threatened by this. Germany’s navy was much smaller than Britain’s navy but the British army was put all over its colonies so they can be protected. Germany didn’t have a big Empire like Britain but most people agreed, at the time, they were the best trained and the most powerful. The Kaiser felt he needed a bigger navy than Britain to protect its country.

While Britain and Germany built up their navies, the major powers on mainland Europe were also building up their armies. The problem for Germany was that if the war broke out they would have to fight both Russia and France at the same time. The Germans then came up with the Schlieffen Plan.

On the other hand, Russia could put millions onto the fields and France had a plan of attack which was to change across the frontier and attack deep into Germany, forcing surrender. Britain and France were working closely together with commanders which meant their military plans were designed to achieve quick victory. The British navy knew the cost of the war would lead to an economic collapse on the enemy. Overall, if countries have a big army, enough resources and a great navy they would be ready for conflict. By Germany, Britain and France participating in the naval and army race, they were able to build their navies to their top standard, this lead to the next stage which was Alliances, also their navy’s strength, significance in the war and how it would help them win the war.

Alliances showed a great dent in World War one. In 1914 the six most powerful countries in Europe divided into two opposing Alliances (sides/teams). The Triple Alliance consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy which was formed in 1882. The Triple Entente included Britain, France and Russia which was formed in 1907. Each country was heavily armed and each one had reasons for distrusting each other’s countries in Europe. In the nineteenth century, Britain had tried to not get involved in European Politics. It’s attitude towards this decision became known as ‘splendid isolation’ as it concentrated on its huge oversea colonies.

Britain had regarded France and Russia as its most dangerous rivals at the time. Meanwhile, Britain’s real ally was Japan at the time. Britain was very worried about Germany to have an Empire and a strong navy, which Britain saw as a serious threat to its own Empire and Navy. The central powers alliance was a collection of small independent states of which Prussia was the most powerful. In 1870 the Prussian statesman Bismarck won a war against France, after which he united the many German states into a new and powerful German empire. This all leads to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This shows how the use of creating Alliances was an advantaged and disadvantaged idea between the global nations.

The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife was critical in setting off the chain of events that led to the First World War. Not only was it a bad day for the Archduke and his family, but also a bad day for Europe. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. He was inspecting the army in Sarajevo with his wife Sophie. The royal couple arrived by train at 9.28am. Seven young Bosnian Serbs planned to assassinate Franz Ferdinand as he drove along the main road in Sarajevo, the Appel Quay. The first conspirator who tried to kill Franz Ferdinand threw a bomb at his car. He missed and was arrested. The Archduke escaped unhurt. He decided to abandon the visit and return home via a different route to the one planned. No one had told the driver the route had changed. On the way back, therefore, the driver turned into Franz Josef Street, following the published route and, when told of his error, stopped the car to turn around. Unfortunately, the car stopped in front of Gavrilo Princip, one of the conspirators, who was on his way home thinking he had failed. Princip pulled out a gun and shot at Franz Ferdinand, hitting him in the jugular vein. There was a tussle, during which Princip shot and killed Sophie. By 11.30am, Franz Ferdinand had bled to death.

This then led to the cold-blooded World War one. It caused the war because Austria blamed Serbia for the killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Then Austria declared war on Serbia, the Russian army got ready to help Serbia defend itself against the attack and Germany sends a demand to Russia ordering it to hold back from helping Serbia. Then Germany declared war on Russia. The French army is put on a war footing getting ready to fight a German invasion. After all of that Germany declares war on France and invades Belgium, Britain orders Germany to withdraw from Belgium and the Germans did not listen. As you can see the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the cause of different events which then led to the war indirectly.

I think the most significant cause of World War one was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other causes of the war was Imperliasm, Militarism, Nationalism and Alliances that were formed. These were the causes of World War One. Also, everyone wanted to be the best country, which links back to all four causes and aspects of the events.

Thanks for reading and please comment below on any further improvements or even just any more opinions.

-Dhiresh Nathwani

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