‘The alliance system was critical to the outbreak of World War One in 1914.
‘ Assess the validity of this view within the context of the years 1806 to 1914.Alliances were the main cause of World War I because of how many different countries who otherwise would not be involved, were unified against one another, simply because of their alliances. Although the immediate cause of the first world war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the war was ultimately caused by countries becoming threats to other countries based on their armies and political power, forcing alliances to be formed.With alliances, came rivalries which ultimately created two sides during the first world war however the remnants of these trace back as far as the 1800s. Parts of the rivalries existing in the first world war can be seen during Napoleon Bonaparte, a political and military leader who later rose to Emperor of the French. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade, ushering in a brief period of ‘super alliances’.
This divided many nations and caused disrupt between countries as they were pitted against each other to either support Napoleon or to be against him. Between 1803 and 1815 there were a series of conflicts between the Coalition Powers, including the United Kingdom and the Spanish Empire, and the French Empire and allies, such as the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the defeat of Napoleon and his dictator like rule of both his country and Europe, the Congress of Vienna (1815) was formed by European heads of government. An alliance of sorts including some of the major European powers at the time, Prussia, Russia, Britain, Austria and France; almost a century later and some of these countries were in alliance with one another which shows the long-lasting history some of these nations had as allies and even rivals. The Congress of Vienna was held in order to agree on what to do with Europe following the Napoleonic Wars in terms of preventing future French aggression and restoring the balance of power.Many of the countries involved in the first world war have been at unrest for centuries, for example, the French and the German especially during Napoleon’s rule in 1807 when he conquered The Confederation of the Rhine, along with this came Napoleon’s ideas of the French revolution; this also sprung an idea of German nationalism which was another cause of World War I.
The emergence of nationalism in countries such as France and particularly Germany, saw an increase in conflicts between people rather than a conflict between leaders. An example of this would be how the Napoleonic wars ushered in a period of Total War, through the “people’s wars.” Increased nationalism ultimately lead to disturbances in the Balkan region, in particular where Serbs sought independence from Austria-Hungary which would ultimately lead to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; therefore the severity of nationalism as a cause of WW1 cannot be undermined. The eventual weakening of the Congress of Vienna lead to many significant alliances which would be the basis of the alliance system in place when the first world war started. Whilst technically not an alliance, as it was only a form of legal recognition, The Treaty of London (1839) was a document which provided recognition and independence for Belgium; by recognising Belgium’s neutrality, the signatory powers were dedicated to guarding their neutrality. This meant that as a direct result of Germany’s decision to invade Belgium in 1914, it was considered a violation of the treaty. The treaty contained numerous articles throughout detailing signatures, dates, and outlining boundaries for the state of Belgium. “Your King and Country need you”, these words were the heading for a 1914 British recruitment poster with the following text at the bottom, “To maintain the Honour and Glory of the British Empire”.
There is a clear nationalistic tone being taken in this source, with the words ‘honour’ and glory’ being heavily associated with Nationalism, and rightfully so as the poster was made public in order to rally troops for the war. With this aim in mind, it would have been in the full view of the British public therefore solidifying even more, anti german feelings. That being said it was in fact a form of British propaganda, not only against the germans but also in support of the British; this makes the source less valuable The words “a wee scrap of paper” inscribed, mocking the German Chancellors exclamation, “he could not believe that Britain and Germany would be going to war over a mere ‘scrap of paper'”, referring to the treaty Germany violated. This shows how important and significant these treaties, such as the Treaty of London, were to the countries involved and the blatant disregard Germany showed towards them. Britain was insulted by the German chancellors choice of words words, and Bonar Law’s reply to this was, “‘Just for a scrap of paper’ – this will go down to history as one of the most dishonorable sayings that have ever been heard”.The Dual Alliance of 1879 was an incredibly significant alliance as it included two of the powerhouses of Europe who would ultimately make up one side of the first world war.
The military alliance included Germany and Austria-Hungary, which later turned into the Triple Alliance in 1882 with the inclusion of Italy, which required each country to support the other if attacked. Italy, being the smallest and weakest of the three parties remained neutral and eventually joined the Allies. Turkey, another weak power was Germany and Austria’s next choice as they could also manipulate the smaller country; Italy’s lack of importance is demonstrated in this Italian cartoon from the Numero in Turin.
The Triple Entente of 1907 was the other treaty, which included Britain, France and Russia; however this time, not a military alliance. It combined the entente Cordiale and the Anglo-Russian Entente. This shows the inner works of the alliance system and shows the important and significant role in which the bigger and stronger countries of Europe played in the alliance system. An example of this can be seen through Germany giving a ‘Carte Blanche’ to Austria-Hungary, a smaller and weaker country than Germany, promising unconditional support in case of war, which encouraged aggressive policies and further enabled them to display their dominance, which in turn contributed greatly to the problems which lead to war in the Balkans.Gary D.
Sheffield, an English academic at the University of Wolverhampton specialising in military history wrote an article for the Guardian titled, “This war was no accident”, where he talks about how “the war had deep roots” detailing some of the events which strengthened or even made alliances. For example Sheffield details how German economic interest for Austria-Hungary stoked rivalries in the Balkans preceding the Balkan wars. The title of the article is supported throughout as Sheffield talks about the “unconditional support, the blank cheque” offered by Germany to the Austrians in terms of attacking Serbia, meaning that many of these countries knew that their actions would lead to a widespread regional war and not a localised one. Also, despite the various alliances in place, many of the countries involved had their own motives for war and alliances; for example, Germany wanted to build and expand its empire and army, whilst France had its own grudges against Germany; this is a reason why I agree with Sheffield’s argument which he presents in his book, “Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities”, that the first world war was not an accident, also challenging the traditional view that the war was ‘tragic and unnecessary’. He talks about how important it was that Britain joined the war when it did as it prevented the victory of Germany. This shows the important of the alliance system in place With that said many countries such as Britain did not want to enter a war however based on their alliances and potential consequences they had to.
Gary D. Sheffield’s expertise are in military history and has widespread knowledge on war studies. He has made numerous books on the first world war and was at the forefront of military history in world war one. This can be seen through his numerous positions, including the Inaugural Chair of War Studies in 2006, and was a part of the “Strongest group of military history scholars in a conventional UK university”.
This shows that he is well educated and knows a lot about the various alliances, rivalries and what they meant in the years preceding the war. Sir Max Hastings, a military historian, has said “Gary Sheffield is one of Britain’s foremost historians of the First World War – insightful, original and superbly informed”; meaning he has a prestigious reputation among his fellow historians. The fact that he is broadcasted on radio and television means that other people are confident in his interpretations and ideas about the cause of the first world war. Overall I think that the article is useful as it provides you with insight on the effects alliances and rivalries can have on different countries, whether they be direct or indirect.Another significant Alliance was that of Britain and Belgium. Similar to the alliance between Russia and Serbia, the British saw it as their duty to defend Belgium as a result of the Treaty of London (1839).The Schlieffen Plan was created by General Count Alfred von Schlieffen in 1905 with the intention of a coordinated attack on France, who Germany believed to be their strongest opponent, but only once Russia had started mobilising their massive amount of troops.
Thanks to the Schlieffen Plan in 1914, Britain felt the need to follow through on their promise in protecting Belgium’s neutrality from the invading Germans, and therefore joined the war. The issue of Belgian neutrality was the final component which lead the British to join the war. This telegram from Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary, to Sir Edward Goschen. Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, shows the unease and unrest in Belgium at the time and also highlights the tension in Europe following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. All it would seemingly take was one country, being Germany, to violate a treaty and a seemingly avoidable and localized war would turn into a devastatingly global war, which highlights the significance of the alliance system. The source, taking a serious tone, shows how the British were concerned about what Germany’s plans were, as they knew that it could potentially lead to them getting involved in the war which is something they wished not to be involved in, as the majority of public opinion was not in favour or war. The importance of what the British public thought is expressed in the telegram, “our attitude would be largely determined by public opinion here and the neutrality of Belgium would appeal very strongly to public opinion here”. The fact that the source was written in private, and only intended for another person in government, makes the source more valuable as it shows that they are speaking truthfully and have less to hide as it is in private.
Another reason the source is valuable is because it gives an insight into how the different countries were feeling at that tense time in Europe; for example it shows that Germany was feeling anxious as they wanted reassurance from Britain that it would stay out of the war. The strong significance of the Alliance system and their treaties is expressed here, as Britain would rather go to war than violate the Treaty of London.The book, “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914” by Christopher Clark explores the events and complex relationships that lead to war in 1914. The book details numerous causes including nationalism, an intricate network of a mix of alliances and also treaties and ever growing conflict in the Balkans. Clark is a Australian Historian and specialises in European History. His relevant area of expertise and his prestigious career,such as PHD at the University of Cambridge, suggest that his information and interpretations are reliable. He has also won the Wolfson History Prize, meaning that he is an expert in this area and his standard of writing is excellent. Clark outlines the two main alliances in Europe and states that there was nothing inevitable about the First World War.
Clark identifies a key event, in the emergence of the German Empire in 1870. Stating that this gave rise to the “bipolar alliance system that emerged by 1907”. In my opinion he uses the word bipolar because of the rocky relationship many of these countries had before the two major alliances for example Britain and Russia were allies with each other against Napoleon in the early 19th century, however enemies in the Crimean War in the 1800s. Following German expansion France, growing suspicious of German influence and power, looked for allies in the form of Russia. Clark argues that the alliances drew France and Britain into the Balkans. “By the spring of 1914 the Franco-Russian Alliance had constructed a geopolitical trigger along the Austro-Serbian frontier. They had tied the defence policy of three of the world’s greatest powers to the uncertain fortunes of Europe’s most violent and unstable region.
” In my opinion this shows that war was in fact inevitable thanks to a combination of the unstable Balkan region; spurred on by bigger countries such as Germany and their alliances, which is similar to Sheffield’s view.Both Gary D. Sheffield and Christopher Clark have had prestigious background and education in History and have refined their skills over the years; however one of the things I think which makes Clark a unique historian in studying the first world war, was that he lived in West Berlin between 1985 and 1987. This was during the last years a divided Germany and therefore gave him insight into German history and society which he was then able to transfer into his various books and talk insightfully about nationalism.
I believe this why Clark holds the idea of German emergence of the German empire in such high regard. Despite Sheffield not receiving nearly enough awards as Clark, that does not make him any less qualified as their expertise are in different areas. For example Sheffield specialises in military history, which helps greatly when analysing the first world war whereas Clark seems to excel in numerous areas of History through his critically acclaimed books.This political cartoon titled, “A Chain of Friendship” appeared in an American newspaper, the Brooklyn Eagle, in July 1914. Although the source was published very close to the start of the war, the message is still the same as the cartoon shows many of the world’s leaders represented as countries, declaring war on one another in a domino effect. This displays the instability among these nations in the events leading up to the war.
That being said because the cartoon is dated so close to the start of the war, it may have been obvious that this system of alliances will trigger a war, therefore this makes the source less valuable. From this cartoon it is clear through the illustrations of the the people who represent the countries, that even though countries may be smaller or have a smaller militaries, it is ultimately their alliances and rivalries which determine their fate as Serbia is shown as a child, showing that the country was helpless and small. The person representing Germany is drawn in a soldier’s outfit which shows that Germany wanted war and was prepared for it; also the dialogue from the Austrian person is interesting as it reads, “If you make a move i’ll” which portrays Austria as a aggressive and controlling.
The fact that this cartoon was published in a newspaper, in a time where there was a lot of tension in the world especially following the events in Sarajevo, shows that its audience was meant for the general public with its purpose being to inform them, largely due to America’s inactivity in European politics at this time. Meaning that the majority of the general public would have been unaware of simply not informed enough about the events going on in the world, despite it being so close to the start of the first world war. The source is also a cartoon, meaning it takes a less serious tone and does this in order to quickly make the reader realise and think as in a newspaper, the cartoon would not be thoroughly analysed by readers.
The United States never officially joined the allies in the first world war, however it operated closely with the Allies +military forces and contributed greatly in terms of supplies. This shows another aspect of the Alliance system and shows the importance of relationships with other countries.The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was critical to setting off the chain of events that led to the First World War, and the various alliances in place in 1914 did not spark the war however it did set up what should have been just a regional war into a devastating intercontinental conflict. The alliance system was in fact incredible critical in the outbreak of world war one however there were other consequential factors which played a part in the outbreak of the first world war. Nationalism played a big role as it had been slowly expanding into the European countries, and made people feel proud about themselves and their countries.
This also made many countries act on their self interests and it is clear that in the alliance system, all the countries involved also had their own reasons for their alliances. For example Russia had a sense of pride and nationalism which lead to them agreeing to fight with Serbia. Overall the alliance system was responsible for the outbreak of world war one due to the fact that it created major problems and competition between the countries involved and caused a devastating chain of events.