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The Outbreak Of World War I

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World War I: The outbreak of the war

James Roder

To what extent was nationalism responsible for World War One?

Nationalism was the primary long-term factor in the outbreak of the First World War however there were several immediate crises which provided the excuse for the nations of Europe to go to war. Nationalism is a broad concept encompassing a race's desire for self rule and determination, a deep patriotism often rooted in militarism and the building of empires. This nationalism existed to an extent in each European country which would participate in the First World War and caused rivalry and mistrust between these nations. Due to this rising nationalism and determination by countries to further their national interest, Europe developed two blocs of alliances between the major parties whom each shared common national interests; the Triple Alliance and Triple Entente. However other factors which led to a large scale European War would be a lack of multiple German offensive plans, a complicated historical treaty system and a desire from many of the major European powers to become the eminent European nation.

The major powers of Europe developed intense rivalries as a result of fervent nationalism which was partially responsible for the outbreak of the First World War. One of the primary instigators of the conflict, Germany, was also the newest Empire. This Empire had been created after the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. Due to the German Empire's defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian war where the Germans claimed the French provinces of Alsace-Lorraine a strong rivalry was caused between Germany and France. This rivalry soon encompassed much of European politics as each nation attempted to win allies to ensure its defence. In the late 19th century German Chancellor Bismarck developed an alliance with Russia named the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 which effectively isolated France from any major European allies as Germany was already allied with the other major powers of Austria-Hungary and Italy. Meanwhile Great Britain maintained a policy of Ð''splendid isolation' which was based upon keeping out of continental European conflicts. However upon the elevation of Kaiser Wilhelm II who intensely disliked Russia and misunderstood Bismarck's strategy, the Reinsurance Treaty was allowed to lapse. This gave France the opportunity to gain a major continental ally in Russia and as a result soon formed the Franco-Russian alliance in 1892. This had the effect of trapping Germany between the two allies of France and Russia which placed Germany in a precarious position. Germany was also antagonizing Great Britain due to its policy of naval expansion, a desire to increase its empire and its rapid increase in industrialization. This was a direct threat to Britain as Britain's security of its colonies and trade routes depended on it having the strongest navy in the world. Concerned by German naval expansion Britain embarked on a policy of expanding its own navy which resulted in the naval race and the invention of the Dreadnought warship. Although the naval race did not overtly result in a military conflict it created an atmosphere of mistrust and antagonism between Germany and Britain. Fear of German expansion also moved Britain into a friendship with its traditional enemy France which was made official in the Entente Cordiale in 1904. Another growing nationalist movement in the early 20th century was the Pan-Slavism movement originating in Serbia. This movement called for the unification of all Slavic peoples into one state. This nationalist movement drew natural sympathy from Russia which was the largest Slavic Empire and saw itself as the protector of all Slavic peoples. As the polyglot Empire of Austria-Hungary which was ruled by its Germanic minority had annexed the Slavic region of Bosnia and Herzegovina it was placed in natural conflict with both Serbia and Russia in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary was also threatened by many other possible internal rebellions from various nationalities and was therefore not in the position to show weakness on the world stage. Due to these nationalist rivalries at the beginning of the 20th century Europe was firmly divided into two blocs; The Triple Entente of France, Russia and Great Britain and the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy.

Many of the crises preceding the First World War had the effect of strengthening the nationalist blocs which eventually led to the First World War. The first major crisis was the Tangier crisis of 1905. This crisis was sparked by German Kaiser Wilhelm II making a speech asserting his support of Moroccan independence in the Moroccan city of Tangiers. This was a deliberate attempt to provoke the French who believed Morocco to be within their sphere of influence and a test of the burgeoning alliance between England and France. As France and England had been enemies for most of the preceding 600 years Wilhelm assumed that this alliance would soon collapse which would effectively strengthen Germany's position in Europe. However this tactic failed. At a conference in the Spanish town of Algeciras to decide the fate of Morocco France won broad support from Britain and the other major European powers, with the exception of German ally Austria-Hungary. This tactic by the Kaiser to divide France and Britain backfired and resulted in the two nations becoming closer as the alliance had been tested yet had remained resolute. The crisis would also confirm the suspicions of the Triple Entente that the Kaiser was bellicose and agitating for war. The next major crisis was the Bosnian crisis of 1908. In 1908 Austro-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. This outraged Serbia as Bosnia and Herzegovina was composed of mostly Slavic peoples and was perceived to be Germanic cultural imperialism and many Serbs believed that this move placed Serbia at direct risk. Although peace conferences were tried these soon failed and the Serbian army was mobilized with the intention of regaining Bosnia. Germany soon declared its support for Austria-Hungary should a conflict result. As Serbia could not possibly defeat both Germany and Austria-Hungary it would require Russian assistance. However the Russian military was still recovering from its defeat in the Russo-Japanese war and the Russian government was concerned with internal rebellion and did not believe it had the military strength to successfully support Serbia. This meant that Russia did not come to Serbia's aid effectively assuring temporary Austro-Hungarian control of Bosnia. This increased rivalry between Serbia and Austro-Hungary as Serbia was still upset about Bosnia and also wounded Russian pride as it was unable to come to Serbia's defence. This



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