World War I: The Causes

Sabrine Alsalih


Britain especially with its vast worldwide British Empire was a main example, although it entered the war later than the other key players on the issue of Belgium. Britain also had an "informal empire" based on trade in neutral countries. It grew rich in part from its success in trade in foreign resources, markets, territories, and people, and Germany was jealous because its much smaller empire was much poorer.

Franco-German Tensions

Some of the distant origins of World War I can be seen in the results and consequences of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870–71, over four decades before. The Germans won decisively and set up a powerful Empire, while France went into chaos and military decline for years. The new and prosperous Germany had the industrial and military capability to dominate Europe. Bismarck was a moderating leader who achieved peace and a balance of power. After his removal the new Kaiser was reckless and his blatant use of Germany's nationalism, its natural resources, its economic strengths and its ambitions sparked rivalries with other nations, such as the Anglo-German naval arms race.

The Balkan Wars

The Balkan Wars in 1912–1913 increased international tension between Russia and Austria. It also led to a strengthening of Serbia and a weakening of Turkey and Bulgaria, who might otherwise have kept Serbia in check, thus disrupting the balance of power in Europe in favor of Russia. The conflicts demonstrated that a localized war in the Balkans could alter the balance of power without provoking general war and reinforced the attitude in the Austrian government. This attitude had been developing since the Bosnian annexation crisis that ultimatums were the only effective means of influencing Serbia and that Russia would not back its refusal with force. They also dealt catastrophic damage to the Habsburg economy.

The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

The immediate cause of World War I that made all the aforementioned items come into play (alliances, imperialism, militarism, nationalism) was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. In June 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated him and his wife while they were in Sarajevo, Bosnia which was part of Austria-Hungary. This was in protest to Austria-Hungary having control of this region. Serbia wanted to take over Bosnia and Herzegovina. This assassination led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia. When Russia began to mobilize due to its alliance with Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia. Thus began the expansion of the war to include all those involved in the mutual defense alliances.