Causes of World War 1

By Jeremy Michelson


The wars of mid-century - the Crimean War and the wars of Italian and German unification reshaped the map of Europe, but they also settled the most significant territorial disputes between the great powers. Before 1914 the European great powers divided into two diplomatic blocks. In 1879 Germany and Austria formed the Dual Alliance. In 1882 Italy formed the Triple Alliance with these two states, an arrangement renewed until the war. Seeking escape from isolation, France and Russia formed an alliance in 1894. Based on common interests in Africa and central Asia, Britain concluded an entente with France in 1904 and with Russia in 1907.


European violence against African and Asian states was a cause and consequence of peace in Europe. Great power crises over rivalries in Africa and Asia occurred periodically between the 1880s and 1911, but few of these crises threatened to end in war. Governments recognized that provoking a general European war over a colonial dispute would be unacceptable to their own citizens and that the costs of war would outweigh any potential gain.

Militarism (Arms Races)

Countries needed swords to defend their empires and also their borders in Europe. Within Europe the vast investments in conscript armies and new military and naval technologies were primarily for the purpose of defense. Governments, often spurred on by military advisers, sanctioned increased expenditure on arms.


Nationalism can unify a country & it can also cause competition between nations. Due to this a fierce rivalry developed between Europe's great powers.

The Balkin Wars

These crises and wars undermined the bonds of peace in significant ways. First, the limits of great power control over events within Europe were exposed. Owing to rivalry between Russia and Austria in the Balkans, the Concert of Europe was unable to impose its will on the Balkan states. Austria, in particular, lost faith in multilateral diplomacy. Vienna issued ultimatums to Serbia, often without securing the backing of its allies, Germany and Italy. The alliance was losing its effectiveness as a restraint.

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

On June 28th, 1914 the Archduke & his wife were in Sarajevo & a Serbian nationalist name Gavrilo Princip assassinated both the Archduke & his wife. This set off a chain reaction.

  • Austria-Hungary delivers an ultimatum of 10 demands to Serbia.
  • Serbia accepts all but two of Austria-Hungary's demands. Austria-Hungary rejects Serbia's reply and cuts off diplomatic relations.
  • European powers begin mobilization.
  • Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
  • Austro-Hungarian warships on the Danube bombard Belgrade, the Serbian capital. Serbian artillery returns fire.

  • Germany declares war on Russia.

  • Germany declares war on France and Belgium.
  • Germany invades Belgium in force. Britain declares war on Germany. The United States declares its neutrality.
  • Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia. Serbia declares war on Germany.
  • Britain and France declare war on Austria-Hungary.
World Global Review: WWI in Ten Minutes