World War One Causes

Causes of the War

The First World War begun in 1914, after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and lasted for four years. The causes of the war are debatable, but the generally accepted factors are:

The Assassination

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1914) which highlighted the political tension between Serbian and Austro-Hungarian nationals. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia supported Serbia and Germany declared war on Russia due to their alliance with Austria-Hungary.

Chronology of the July Crisis

28 June 1914Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in Bosnia.
5/6 JulyAustro-Hungarian envoy Count Hoyos travels to Berlin to establish level of German support for Austrian action against Serbia. Kaiser Wilhelm II and Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg encourage Austrian action and Germany issues ‘blank cheque’, promising unconditional support to their ally.
7 JulyAustro-Hungarian Ministerial Council convenes and decides on (deliberately unacceptable) ultimatum to Serbia to initiate military action or Serbia’s humiliation. (Later decision to delay delivery of the ultimatum to coincide with the departure of the French President Poincaré and Prime Minister Viviani from St. Petersburg (scheduled for 23 July).)
20-23 JulyFrench state visit to Russia (French President and Prime Minister absent from France from 16 to 29 July).
23 JulyAustria issues ultimatum to Serbia, giving Serbia 48 hours to reply.
25 JulySerbia replies to the ultimatum, surprisingly meeting almost all demands. Wilhelm II concludes that all reason for war had gone. Austria-Hungary breaks off diplomatic relations with Serbia.
26 JulyBritain proposes mediation conference; ignored by Berlin and Vienna. Partial mobilisation of four Russian districts.
28 JulyAustria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. Wilhelm II proposes ‘Halt in Belgrade’.
29/30 JulyBethmann Hollweg attempts to restrain Austria-Hungary for the first time during the crisis.
30 JulyNicholas II authorises general mobilisation for the next day.
31 JulyGermany declares state of ‘impending danger of war’ and sends ultimatums to Russia and France. Russia begins mobilisation.
1 AugustGermany declares war on Russia. France and Germany begin general mobilisation.
2 AugustGerman troops invade Luxembourg. German ultimatum to Belgium. British cabinet approves protection of French coast and of Belgian neutrality.
3 AugustGerman troops invade Belgium; Germany’s declaration of war on France. Italy decision to stay neutral announced.
4 AugustBritain declares war on Germany.
6 AugustAustria-Hungary declares war on Russia.

Imperialism and Colonialism

The process of European powers extending their powers through colonisation and military force, caused tension and conflict. The desire to expand and consolidate territory, highlighted in the ‘Scramble for Africa’ which started from the 1880s, caused competition.

Alliance System

The alliance system created a divided Europe, whereby nations were granted support from others. This support could be in the form of military or commerce, however it arguably encouraged conflict. The Triple Entente comprised of France, Britain, and Russia. The Triple Alliance was originally composed of Germany, Austria–Hungary, and Italy, which remained neutral in 1914. Japan joined the Entente in 1914.

Arms Races

Certain nations were building up their armies, navy and military armoury and this caused arms races. The most notable was the naval race between Germany and Britain, which saw the creation of the Dreadnought in 1906 and revolutionised naval ships. These arms races and production created anxiety in that nations felt threatened, though the domestic nation felt secure in their own protection.

Declining Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was described as the ‘sick man’ of Europe, and the fear of decline was a considerable motive for expanding and consolidating empires. The declining Ottoman Empire provided an opportunity for other nations to seize territory. The Balkan Wars (1912 – 1913) ignited Serbian nationalism after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and weakening of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Deliberate War (?)

Although continental warfare was not necessarily planned, it can be argued conflict was somewhat desired. The tensions rising between ethnicities and nations could be realised by conflict, such as the Moroccan Crisis and Balkan Crisis that preceded it.

Think about why the First World War happened, whereas previous conflict did not result in continental war. Try to come up with some ideas why the July Crisis escalated into war while previous conflict was successfully contained or avoided altogether. Critical analysis of causes of the First World War get the best results.

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