Why did War break out?

A number of different factors contributed to a situation where the First World War could break out.

The Threat of Germany

Germany had been made up of a number of separate states but became a united 'empire' in 1871 by defeating and humiliating France in the Franco-Prussian War. This gave Germany greater strength to develop.

  • After 1900, Germany built up its navy - this frightened the British.
  • In 1901, Kaiser Wilhelm II demanded an overseas empire for Germany – this frightened Britain and France.
  • Germany wanted to build a railway through the Balkans to Baghdad – this alarmed the Russians, who said they were the protectors of the Balkans.
  • Germany's military defence plan – the Schlieffen Plan – involved attacking and defeating France quickly and then turning its armies on Russia.
Map showing World War One military alliances of the Triple Entente, Triple Alliance and Neutral countries.

The Balkans

The Turkish Empire in the Balkans collapsed:

  • Nationalist interests became clear when the new nation of Serbia clashed with Austria-Hungary.
  • Austria-Hungary and Russia clashed because they both wanted more power in the Balkans.

The System of alliances

Two opposing groups had grown up by 1914, believing that a 'balance of power' would prevent war:

  • The Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy (1882).
  • The Triple Entente of France, Russia and Great Britain (1907).