What were the major causes of the First World War

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International Relations and European Studies

What were the major causes of the First World War?

The second decade of the 20th century marked the largest military cataclysm — World War One. Nearly two thirds of all people living on the planet at that time took part in the war. There were over 30 countries with half a billion inhabitants. The scale of the loss was overwhelming. Millions of people died from injury, hunger and disease while many were left crippled and wounded.

The world political and economic situation on the beginning of the 20th century contributed greatly to the pre-war tensions and the beginning of the WWI. There is no certain country which can be considered guilty in the escalation of the conflict. The Anglo-German conflict, which was developed over the years, has divided the world into two parts. Tensions between the great powers increased both in economic and political spheres. There were several tendencies before WWI that in conjunction lead to the development of the conflict. There are four main political trends defined by scholars and politicians that influenced the beginning of the Great War. Those trends are: Alliance system, Imperialism, Militarism, Nationalism.

This essay is an attempt to highlight and analyze the causes of the World War One and to determine how certain events and actions of different states and their authorities can influence the course of the world politics and the development of intra-state relations.

The formation of the alliances between the European states became one of the most important causes of World War One. The 'Great War' began from the Balkan’s War spilled over to most of the countries around the world in a short period of time. There were two main opposition alliances formed before the War. The Triple Alliance included Austro-Hungary, Germany and Italy and the Entente alliance included Soviet Union, France and Great Britain. Those alliances divided the Europe into two antagonist blocks. In the number of international crises these two blocks acted confrontational to each other. Moreover, the countries inside of each block had promised to help each other when it was necessary. For example, if Germany had attacked France, Britain and Russia would help France but Italy and Austria would help Germany, dragging Europe into a state of chaos and violence. However, initially Great Britain and France were enemies. These two countries united together with Russia because of their fear of Germany. The Entente alliance helped to exclude antagonism between Britainand France. This particular configuration in the alliance system had led to the outbreak of the war.

The other important reason for the beginning of the First World War was Militarism. When the alliance system divided the world into two camps, Germany and Great Britain were in great competition to prove its imperial dominance. Both states had greatly increased their spendings in order to raise naval power. Each nation had tried to their increase military force. When one state had enlarged its military power and expanded the army, others states did the same in order to keep the balance of power. The «arms race» had evolved into the Security Dilemma, creating mutual fear in both blocks. Suspicions that arose in the countries led to hostile relationship. The military race created a conflict between two blocks that escalated into the WW1.

The Imperialism which was closely connected with militarism had embodied the competition between European nations for colonies and trade. At the beginning of the 20th century the Great Britain and France already were strong Empires with many colonies. On the other side, Germany had just started to gain strength and it couldn`t take over the colonies. Germany wanted to be as huge empire as Great Britain and it tried to make best in every sphere. Britain controlled its overseas trade with help of the military and trade navy, which helped Britain to be dominant. Germany had put all the forces out to be able to fight with Britain over the sea. The competition between the states has also partially led to the war.

Nationalism is considered to be one of the central and long-term causes of the World War I. It has been highlighted by many historians in their works. An American academic Samuel R. Williamson in The Origins of World War I has emphasized that «nationalism and a mixture of chauvinism and racism were prevalent in both Europe and North America. In Germany, Britain, Russia, and France, nationalism often served as a centripetal factor. «The feeling of belonging to certain a nation spread around the world, especially in Europe, during the pre-war period and caused conflicts between states. Up until the 20th century Balkan islands were at the center of the conflict. The Balkans consisted of a variety of countries with different national and cultural values, wishing to become free and independent. Moreover, before the beginning of the WWI the Balkans became a shatter belt, torn by the opposing great powers. For example, Serbia, who wanted to unite the Slavs and to replace the Ottoman rule in the region, had faced incompliance from Russia, which was its powerful companion. At the same time, France was angry after the loss of Franco-Prussian war and wished for the revenge by having back Alsace and Lorraine.

Four major reasons of the outbreak of the First World War were presented and analyzed in the essay. There are many opinions about whose blame was at the beginning of the War. Such war could not turn around the fault of a single country, every state has played a certain role. It should be noted that after WWI, many countries have accused throughout Germany. Germany lost almost all of its influence in international policyandcountry should pay all costs of war. The country has been humiliated and insulted. All these events had certain consequences. It should not go without saying that every state has pursued its goal, but all of the countries wished of all countries to take new territories, colonies, remove competitors and hide internal problems from residents. All this things served tense conflict and led to a war which affected most countries.


world war nationalism

1. Best, Antony et al., Chapter 1, Great Power rivalry and the World War, 1900−17, International History of Twentieth Century. London, 2004. pp. 5−31.

2. Mombauer, Annika. A Companion to Europe 1900−1945, Chapter 12, The Coming of War, 1914. 2005. pp. 180−194.

3. Williamson, Jr., Samuel R. The Origins of World War I, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 18, No. 4, The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars. Spring, 1988. pp. 795−818.

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