The Major Causes of World War One
Breaking out in 1914, the First World War was a catastrophic global conflict which erupted in Europe and later expanded to other areas. Before eventually dying down in 1918, the war left a heavy death toll of about 17 million people. Two main rival groups fought the war ; it involved the Central Powers (Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, Germany) and the Allies (France, Britain, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan).
Usually termed “the war to end all wars”, World War I has a complicated history that makes it hard to pinpoint the exact cause of the war. Gathering information from numerous sources, it has been established that the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, played the most significant part in sparking the war. But that is only half of the tale; here are the facts of the sequence of events that triggered World War One.
Assassination of Archduke Franz
The main unfortunate incident that initiated the inevitability of World War I was the murder of Archduke Franz in 1914. In June that year, a group of Serbian militants – known as the Black Hand – showed their determination to exterminate the Austria-Hungarian heir.
Their first attempt on Ferdinand’s life was to blow up his car with a hand grenade — but fortunately for him, his car narrowly missed the thrown explosive device.
However, it later turned out that death was inescapable that day. Around 10:45 am of the same June 28, Archduke Franz and his wife Sophie were shot dead by 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip. The couple were cruising in their car through the streets of Sarajevo (in Bosnia), when they were fatally shot. Serbians masterminded this assassination because they wanted to carve a Bosnian territory away from Austria-Hungary.
Following the cold blooded assassination of Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary officially announced that it was at war with Serbia. In the wake of this, Russia started preparing to come to the defense of Serbia, since they had formed an alliance. The Russian involvement in the war stepped on the toes of Germany. The network of military alliances added more fuel to the fire, causing the war to quickly expand geographically.
The Growth of Imperialism
Imperialism is a situation whereby countries try to strengthen themselves by capturing many territories and exerting their political influence over other nations. Before the advent of World War 1, some European nations rubbed shoulders to establish their authority over weaker nations in Africa and Asia.
Due to the competitive quest to extract raw materials from weaker nations, tensions heightened among the imperialistic countries. In the end, this competition for resources contributed in plunging the world into a full-blown war.
During the early years before the explosion of the conflict, European countries sought for power by joining alliances. For instance, in 1881, Germany entered into an alliance with Austria-Hungary & Italy. These countries pledged to support each other militarily in case of an attack on one of them. However, Italy broke its vows when it secretly entered into another alliance with France.
In 1892, Russia linked up with France in an alliance. This was a direct response to threats of the German alliances. In 1904, the future of Great Britain was insured when it partnered with France to form an alliance. In 1907, three superpowers (Russia, France, and Britain) united to form the Triple Entente alliance.
The existence of the Triple Entente scared Germany because they felt insecure by the presence of those three big nations. The chain of military alliances ended up magnifying the location of any small conflict that confronted the allies. Eventually, in 1914, that was exactly the same thing that transpired after the Archduke’s murder — Russia, France, and Britain started declaring wars on Germany and its Austria-Hungarian allies.
The Rise Nationalism
Nationalism is about showing a strong sense of patriotism and national identity. But how possible is it for nations to take pride in themselves without looking down on others? World War 1 was partly caused by the extreme pride of the so-called superior nations who felt they were on top of the world.
In the Austria-Hungary & Serbia case, nationalism influenced certain regions to strive for independence. Nationalism instilled false dreams into nations — so they became more aggressive. Unfortunately, extreme nationalism led to imperialism. When nationalism was mixed with imperialism, chaotic events easily took place.
European Arms Race
Prior to the war, European nations took steps to militarily fortify themselves against threats. Prioritizing security over peace, the nations in Europe entered into an arms race. For example, a naval arms race was very realistic in the midst of Great Britain and Germany. By 1914, Great Britain had acquired a naval fleet of about 29 battleships while Germany could boast of 19 dreadnoughts.
In Europe, military expenditures skyrocketed throughout the nations within a three year window (1910-13). The European arms race led the countries to provoke each other at the slightest misunderstanding.
The Balkan Wars
The Balkan region is found in southeastern Europe; it covers areas such as Bosnia, Albania, Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Serbia. Due to chaos in the Ottoman Empire, the Balkan Wars saw an alliance of Greece, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Serbia fight against the declining Ottoman Empire. In 1913, the victory of this alliance in the First Balkan War was followed by the division of the Balkan region among themselves.
To Austria-Hungary (who couldn’t wait to exercise dominion over Serbia), the Balkan League was a big threat to their dreams. When the Ottoman Empire was razed down, the Balkan Wars created a vulnerable atmosphere for great European countries to try to benefit from the volatile scene.
Lack of a World Governing Body
Before World War 1, there was no United Nations (UN) to foster peace amongst nations. Since there were no international laws to deal with offensive nations, this lawlessness made the prevention of wars impossible.
Even though a global economy may have existed in the latter parts of the 19th century, laws were not written down. It was only in 1945, that the UN emerged to save the world from global scale wars in the aftermath of World War II.