The Causes of WWI


M: Militarism
GLORIFICATION of War and the Military

Definition: Policy of Aggressively building up a nation's armed forces in preparation for war, as well as giving the military more authority over the government and foreign policy.
What's Happening?
The great powers of Europe--- Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia-- all spent large sums of money on new weapons and warships for expanding their armed forces. All except Britain had conscription. Over 85% of men of military age in France and 50% in Germany had served in the army or navy. France had the highest proportion of its population in the army. Their endless planning for war mad war much more likely.


  • Competition for military power and strength
    • Arms race – competition to build up armed forces and weapons
    • Standing armies – soldiers trained and ready to fight
    • Conscription – mandatory participation of civilians in the military
    • Increase in military spending
    • Increasing influence of military in the government
  • Example: Germany expanded its navy, Britain soon followed with a bigger and better navy

Percentage Increase in
Military Spending
Size of Peacetime Army 1914
Austria Hungary

A: Alliances
Definition: A close association of nations or other groups, formed to advance common interests or causes. It is usually a partnership agreement to go to war in event of one country in the partnership is attacked.


What's Happening?
Before 1914 Europe's main powers were divided into two armed camps by a series of alliances. These were
  • The Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy (1882)
  • The Triple Entente: Britain, Russia and France (1907)

Although these alliances were defensive in nature, they meant that any conflict between one country from each alliance was bound to involve the other countries.

Here is how it happened!!!

So then, we have the following remarkable sequence of events that led inexorably to the 'Great War' - a name that had been touted even before the coming of the conflict.

  • Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia's response to her ultimatum (which in the event was almost entirely placatory: however her jibbing over a couple of minor clauses gave Austria-Hungary her sought-after cue) declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914.
  • Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilization of its vast army in her defense, a slow process that would take around six weeks to complete.
  • Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, viewed the Russian mobilization as an act of war against Austria-Hungary, and after scant warning declared war on Russia on 1 August.
  • France, bound by treaty to Russia, found itself at war against Germany and, by extension, on Austria-Hungary following a German declaration on 3 August. Germany was swift in invading neutral Belgium so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route.
  • Britain, allied to France by a more loosely worded treaty which placed a "moral obligation" upon her to defend France, declared war against Germany on 4 August. Her reason for entering the conflict lay in another direction: she was obligated to defend neutral Belgium by the terms of a 75-year old treaty.

    With Germany's invasion of Belgium on 4 August, and the Belgian King's appeal to Britain for assistance, Britain committed herself to Belgium's defence later that day. Like France, she was by extension also at war with Austria-Hungary.
  • With Britain's entry into the war, her colonies and dominions abroad variously offered military and financial assistance, and included Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa.
  • United States President Woodrow Wilson declared a U.S. policy of absolute neutrality, an official stance that would last until 1917 when Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare - which seriously threatened America's commercial shipping (which was in any event almost entirely directed towards the Allies led by Britain and France) - forced the U.S. to finally enter the war on 6 April 1917.
  • Japan, honoring a military agreement with Britain, declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914. Two days later Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan.
  • Italy, although allied to both Germany and Austria-Hungary, was able to avoid entering the fray by citing a clause enabling it to evade its obligations to both.

    In short, Italy was committed to defend Germany and Austria-Hungary only in the event of a 'defensive' war; arguing that their actions were 'offensive' she declared instead a policy of neutrality. The following year, in May 1915, she finally joined the conflict by siding with the Allies against her two former allies.

N: Nationalism

Definition: Devotion to one's country.

What's Happening?
There were two kinds of nationalism in 19th Century Europe:
  1. the desire of subject peoples for independence - led to a series of national struggles for independence among the Balkan peoples. Other powers got involved and caused much instability.
  2. the desire of independent nations for dominance and prestige.

Key Points

  • Extreme love and devotion for one’s country
    • determination of European nations to show power and strength
  • Freedom from foreign rule
    • France wants Germany to return Alsace and Lorraine lost in Franco-Prussian war
  • People of the same nationality wanted to form their own nation-state
    • Pan-Slavism – Slavs had a long-term goal to develop their culture and unite into an empire
      • Serbian nationals wanting to unite Bosnia with Serbia
      • Russia – protector of the Slavs

Definition: Policy by a stronger nation to attempt to create an empire by dominating weaker nations economically, politically, culturally, or militarily.


Whats happening?

Great Britain, Germany and France needed foreign markets after the increase in manufacturing caused by the Industrial Revolution. These countries competed for economic expansion in Africa. Although Britain and France resolved their differences in Africa, several crises foreshadowing the war involved the clash of Germany against Britain and France in North Africa. In the Middle East, the crumbling Ottoman Empire was alluring to Austria-Hungary, the Balkans and Russia.

A: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
(If you need a reminder, watch the video again under Alliances)
Spark – immediate cause that creates a chain of diplomatic failures setting WWI in motion
  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria assassinated
    • Heir to the Austrian throne in Bosnia-Herzegovina (territory annexed by Austria, containing many Serbian-Slavs)
    • Black Hand – secret Serbian nationalists group with ties to the Serbian government
      • Gavrilo Princip - leader of the black hand assassinates Franz Ferdinand and his wife

C: Conflict in the Balkan Peninsula

  • Large # of different religions, nationalities
  • Russia and A-H wanted to colonize the Balkan Peninsula
  • Called the “Europe’s powder keg” – waiting for an event that would start a major war

S: Series of diplomatic failures
resulting in war

  • Domino effect - chain or series of diplomatic failures resulting in war
    • U. Ultimatum from A-H to Serbia fails. A-H declares war on Serbia
    • R. Russia, Protector of the Slavs, and France mobilize against Germany,
    • G. Germany declares war on France using the Schlieffan plan, going through neutral Belgium
    • E. England, declares war on Germany for attacking neutral Belgium

In your journals, respond to the following questions:
1. Which cause do you think is the primary cause of WWI? Explain.
2. Do you feel this war was avoidable? Why or Why not?
3. How had these problems been building tension in Europe for years?
4. Why was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the "spark" and not the full cause of WWI