What were the causes of the First World War?

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Answered by: Amir, An Expert in the Wars, Battles and Conflicts Category
The First World War is often considered to be the transition to the modern age, the age of technology, ever-increasing social rights, and conflicts of sovereignty. This was the war that showed the world what would come to be, how the world must interact. Such a war must by necessity be the cause of a broken system- this system was the Concert of Europe. Burdened by the steady accumulation of Machiavellian alliances, imperialism and colonization, and national pride, this system collapsed in the fire that was the First World War.

To understand this conflict, it is necessary to interpret the role of the Concert of Europe. After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the idea of liberalism had taken root in various countries. Along with this idea came the hope of a European peace- the idea that maybe war wasn’t a necessary state of being. Four powers came together to make this idea into a system- Austria, Prussia, Russia, and the United Kingdom, with France being later incorporated into their group. For a time, there was peace. However, the steadily increasing political rivalry between countries pushed the system apart. The European revolutions of 1848 led to more strife and discontent- the Crimean War, the Austro-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian war.

And then Germany was created. Originally a group of loose states bounded into a “German Confederation” in 1814, the German state was created in 1871. Germany was an extremely powerful state with industrial and economic power that made the states leading the Concert look weak in comparison. The leader of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, was an extremely capable leader who kept Germany together and prevented other states from overwhelming this new country. While Germany was working hard to keep afloat, the Balkans- Southeast Europe- were vying for unification, which was a complicated process, since many powers controlled different parts of the Balkans. As a large war was about to start, Bismarck called together the Congress of Berlin, which redrew the borders of the Balkans, which silenced the war. However, many states had negative views of the Congress- Russia, which had supported the unification of the Balkans, was discontent with Germany and Austria, which gained from the Congress.

A complex alliance system was why World War One became a world war instead of a regional conflict. The two main alliance systems were the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. The Triple Alliance, composed of Germany, Austria, and Italy, was formed by Bismarck in order to give the new Germany a barrier from attack from Russia and France simultaneously- Austria wished to expand in the Balkans through this alliance and Italy wished to build a colonial empire. The Triple Entente, composed of Russia, France, and the United Kingdom, was formed in response to the Triple Alliance- all three of them formed an alliance to protect each other simply because Germany was so powerful. Japan had also allied with Britain, and was competing with Russia for influence in Korea. All of these states except for Germany had a network of overseas colonies, and a network of protégés and interests in various smaller states all over Europe and the world. Therefore, any small thing could escalate into a world war through the alliance system.

Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, was killed on 28 June 1914 by a group of six Serbian assassins, who wanted greater Serbian independence from Austria and a unified Balkan state. Austria took this chance to mobilize and prepare for war in revenge, in defiance of the advice of nearly all other European countries, which did not want to see a war break out. Fearing it would, Russia, and then Germany began to mobilize. In the July Crisis, ambassadors from all countries ran across Europe to prevent a war from starting, but ultimately were unable to. On July 28, 1914, Austria went to war against Serbia. The rest of the world followed, and thirty-seven million people were killed.

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