Causes of First World War - Civil Services Preparation Online! UPSC and IAS Study Material

Causes of First World War

by Devender

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In 1914, a war started in Europe which soon took over the whole world. The damages caused by this war have no comparison to any war in mankind's history. In this war, every state gave all of its resources for the war.

  • The Economy of the whole world was affected by war
  • Battles were fought all over in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific
  • Casualties from bombing, famines, and epidemics to the civilians were much more compared to armies
  • The extent of spread of this war and its nature was the reason it was called the First World War

Causes of First World war

There were many reasons that led to the First world war and some important ones are as follow:

  • Imperialistic Rivalries:
  • One of the underlying causes of this war was the conflicts between the imperialistic countries. The conquest to conquer Asia and Africa brought these conflicts. Sometimes these countries were able to come to terms with each other and avoided any blood-shed. Sometimes these conflicts brought wars.

    Wars were generally avoided between these countries because there were many more lands to conquest but sometimes neither country wanted to back out and wars happened like in the case of Japan and Russia.

    By the end of the 19th century, most of Asia and Africa were already divided up and no further lands were available to conquer which did bring a lot of conflicts among imperialistic nations. Many countries were trying to re-divide the world which created the conditions for war.


  • Rise of Germany:
  • After the unification of Germany, it achieved tremendous economic progress. It even left France and Britain far behind in the production of steel and iron. Germany even entered the shipping trade and one of its ships was considered the biggest ship in the world at that time.

  • Both Britain and France got alarmed by the expansion of Germany
  • They considered the expansion a threat to themselves
  • Germany arrived late at the scene but it also had imperialist ambitions and wanted to control the economy of the Ottoman Empire
  • Germany wanted to build a railway line from Berlin to Baghdad
  • Russia, Britain, and France also had ambitions to capture Ottoman Empire and they considered this railway line a danger to their ambitions
  • Britain had already acquired a lot of areas and created a vast empire. They still had to defend all this empire and they considered the rise of any other country as a threat to their empire.


  • Conflicts within Europe:
  • There were 6 major powers in Europe - Britain, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Italy, France, and Russia. The Balkan Peninsula countries were under the reign of Ottoman Turks but the Ottoman empire collapsed in the 19th Century and revolts broke for independence.

  • Russians thought once Ottoman is out, they will control these areas
  • Many slavs were living in Austria-Hungary, so Russia started movements against both Ottoman and Austria-Hungary
  • All other 5 countries got alarmed with Russian expansion in this area

  • Serbian Nationalism:
  • The Serbs wanted to integrate the Balkan area and create a single Yugoslavia. The idea of a single Yugoslavia threatened the integrity of the German Empire because it meant secession of several areas of the German Empire.


  • Two Different Alliances:
  • Europe had divided into two different alliances. The triple Entente had Britain, France, and Russia whereas the triple alliance had Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

    Although, these alliances were not rigid which was proved when Italy decided to fight from Britain and France side in WW I. So, the First World War was fought between central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Ottoman Empire) and the Allied power (Britain, Italy, France, U.S, and Russia).



    Incidents before the World War

  • The rivalry between Germany and Italy:
  • In 1904, France and Britain got in a secret agreement which gave Britain a free hand in Egypt and France in Morocco. This agreement came to light to Germans and they felt angry about it. German Emperor met Sultan of Morocco and promised to provide full support for the independence of Morocco.

    In 1911, France acquired most of Morocco and a port of France Congo to Germany to avert war. The war did avert but it caused every country to prepare for war.


  • Britain-Russia agreement:
  • In 1907, an agreement was signed between these countries to end their disputes in Asia. Afghanistan and Tibet became recognized under the British Sphere of Influence. Iran was divided into three parts.


  • Bosnia Crisis:
  • Austria took control of Bosnia which was under the Ottoman Empire. It had a large population of Slavs and Serbia also wanted Bosnia to create a single Yugoslavia. Russian wanted to start a war against Austria for this but Germany gave full support to Austria which caused Russia to step back. All this led to an even tenser situation in Europe.


  • Balkan Wars:

The Bosnia crisis led to Balkan wars in 1912, Balkan countries - Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece went against the Turks. As a result of this war, Turkey lost all its possession in Europe. The Balkan countries then fought among each other to divide the territory.

Austria succeeded in making Albania, which was called an Independent country by Serbia which tensed the situation between Serbia and Austria even more. All these incidents put the last nails in the coffin and brought Europe to the edge of War.



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