Top 10 Causes of WWI

World War I was a global war  that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. It involved in all the world’s economic great powers, which were assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire) and the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary.  By the end of the war, four major imperial powers—the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires—were gone.  The other imperial powers – Great Britain, France – were severely weakened.

This war in particular was significant in terms of social memory. It was seen by many in Britain as the end of an era of stability stretching back to the Victorian period, and across Europe many regarded it as a turning point.

One of the most significant effects of the war was the expansion of governmental roles in Britain, France, the United States, and the Dominions of the British Empire. In order to harness all the power of their societies, governments created new ministries and powers. New taxes were levied and laws enacted, all made to strengthen war effort; many have lasted to this day.

The war actually much more complicated than a simple list of causes.While there was a chain of events that directly led to the fighting, the actual root causes are much deeper and part of continued debate and discussion. This top list is an overview of the most popular reasons that are cited as the root top 10 causes of WWI:


10. Economic Competition

economic competition

Although industrial capitalism had been an influential practice since the Industrial Revolution, traditionalist mercantilist economics still prevailed with regard to state economics. Mercantilism puts forth the ideology that there is a set amount of wealth in the world and in order to increase the wealth, one has to take someone else’s wealth. Mercantilism works in cooperation with imperialism. In order to get access to cheap raw materials needed for expanding industry in the nineteenth century, countries began to scramble all over the earth for regions they could capture and take under their wing. This was nowhere more visible than in the dark continent -Africa. By the end of the nineteenth century, all of Africa was under imperial control with the exception of two states. Liberia, a small colony on Africa’s west coast was a refuge for freed slaves and was able to resist any imperial control. The other free country was Ethiopia. Ethiopia was able to reflect and attack made by the recently unified Italy, a country that wanted to keep up with England and France. Italy’s failure allowed Ethiopia to remain independent. As for other parts of Africa, Britain controlled regions to the north, east, west, and south, and France controlled areas of the north and west. Belgium controlled the central parts of the African Congo.


9. Imperialism


Imperialism was also fueled in many countries by nationalist sentiments, especially in Italy and Germany. Before unification inn 1860, Italy was just a unity of independent principalities and regions controlled by Austria. Before unification in 1871, Germany was also a collection of independent states and principalities. However, a sense of national belong and the desire to become a nation drove these regions to unite. With a newly unified country, German and Italian peoples wanted to exert their superiority on the international scale.

A good means to an end of greatness was to create a respectable empire constructed of colonies. Imperialism was often justified through cultural reasons. For example, Britain believed that it was the country’s duty to “civilize” barbaric or savage cultures in Africa and Asia. Rudyard Kipling’s famous idea of the “white man’s burden” sums up Britain’s desire in imperialism. Russia also used cultural reasons to justify its exertion over the Balkans and Austria in the early twentieth century. The Russian Czar Nicholas II wished to pursue what was called “pan-Slavism” or an attempt to unite all Slavic-speaking people under one rukle. However, what Nicholas most wanted in the Balkans was access to a warm-water port in the Black Sea that wouldn’t freeze over in the wintertime. Pan-Slavism was just a means to an end.

Imperialist desires had a tremendous effect of stimulating arms races between the major powers in Europe at the time (late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). Germany, wishing to challenge Britain for dominance of the oceans, began a comprehensive program of naval arms building. Britain responded by ramping up its own naval funding in order to counter the threat Germany potentially posed to its overseas investments. These arms races were affected by the new military/industrial complex that had formed in the nineteenth century and would result in the first wide-scale industrial war.


8. Militarism


Militarism means that the army and military forces are given a high profile by the government. The growing European divide had led to an arms race between the main countries. The armies of both France and Germany had more than doubled between 1870 and 1914 and there was fierce competition between Britain and Germany for mastery of the seas. The British had introduced the ‘Dreadnought’, an effective battleship, in 1906. The Germans soon followed suit introducing their own battleships.

All in all, militarism played a role in World War I due to the desire of the governments involved to want to maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend its national interests. Militarism was one of the causes of World War I which began in central Europe in July 1914. Militarism has been a significant element of the imperialist ideologies of several nations throughout history.


7. Nationalism


Nationalism means being a strong supporter of the rights and interests of one’s country. The Congress of Vienna, held after Napoleon’s exile to Elba, aimed to sort out problems in Europe. Delegates from Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia (the winning allies) decided upon a new Europe that left both Germany and Italy as divided states. Strong nationalist elements led to the re-unification of Italy in 1861 and Germany in 1871. The settlement at the end of the Franco-Prussian war left France angry at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and keen to regain their lost territory. Large areas of both Austria-Hungary and Serbia were home to differing nationalist groups, all of whom wanted freedom from the states in which they lived.


6. Crises – Moroccan Crisis

moroccan crisis

In 1904 Morocco had been given to France by Britain, but the Moroccans wanted their independence. In 1905, Germany announced her support for Moroccan independence. War was narrowly avoided by a conference which allowed France to retain possession of Morocco. However, in 1911, the Germans were again protesting against French possession of Morocco. Britain supported France and Germany was persuaded to back down for part of French Congo.


5. Crisis – Bosnian Crisis

Bosnian Crisis

In 1908, Austria-Hungary took over the former Turkish province of Bosnia. This angered Serbians who felt the province should be theirs. Serbia threatened Austria-Hungary with war, Russia, allied to Serbia, mobilised its forces. Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary mobilised its forces and prepared to threaten Russia. War was avoided when Russia backed down. There was, however, war in the Balkans between 1911 and 1912 when the Balkan states drove Turkey out of the area. The states then fought each other over which area should belong to which state. Austria-Hungary then intervened and forced Serbia to give up some of its acquisitions. Tension between Serbia and Austria-Hungary was high.


4. Russo-Japanese Rivalry

russo japanese war

Russo-Japanese rivalry over Manchuria and Korea reached its height with the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). The outcome of the war against the Japanese was a major blow for the Russians who lost almost entire Baltic and Pacific fleet. The defeat also provoked a serious political crisis that led to the Russian Revolution of 1905. But the Russo-Japanese War also made an end to the Russian ambitions in the Far East and as a result, the Tsarist government focused its attention to Europe, in the first place to the Balkans. This intensified the old rivalry with Austria-Hungary that also had a great interest in the Balkans.


3. Alliances


An alliance is an agreement made between two or more countries to give each other help if it is needed. When an alliance is signed, those countries become known as Allies.

A number of alliances were signed by European nations between 1879 and 1914. These were important because they meant that some countries had no option but to declare war if one of their allies. declared it first.


2. Schlieffen Plan

schieffen plan

The Schlieffen Plan was created by General Count Alfred von Schlieffen in December 1905. The Schlieffen Plan was the operational plan for a designated attack on France once Russia, in response to international tension, had started to mobilise her forces near the German border. The execution of the Schlieffen Plan led to Britain declaring war on Germany on August 4th, 1914.

In 1905, Schlieffen was chief of the German General Staff. Europe had effectively divided into two camps by this year – Germany, Austria and Italy (the Triple Alliance) on one side and Britain, France and Russia (the Triple Entente) on the other.

Schlieffen believed that the most decisive area for any future war in Europe would be in the western sector. Here, Schlieffen identified France as Germany’s most dangerous opponent. Russia was not as advanced as France in many areas and Schlieffen believed that Russia would take six weeks to mobilise her forces and that any possible fighting on the Russian-German border could be coped with by the Germans for a few weeks while the bulk of her forces concentrated on defeating France.

Schlieffen concluded that a massive and successful surprise attack against France would be enough to put off Britain becoming involved in a continental war. This would allow Germany time (the six weeks that Schlieffen had built into his plan) to transfer soldiers who had been fighting in the successful French campaign to Russia to take on the Russians.

Schlieffen also planned for the attack on France to go through Belgium and Luxemburg. Belgium had had her neutrality guaranteed by Britain in 1839 – so his strategy for success depended on Britain not supporting Belgium.


1. Immediate Cause of WWI – Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

archduke franz ferdinand

In an event that has been acknowledged by almost every 20th century historian to have sparked  World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungary empire, was shot to death along with his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914.

The archduke traveled to Sarajevo that day to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Ottoman territories that were taken over by Austria-Hungary in 1908 to the indignation of Serbian nationalists, who believed they should become part of the newly independent and ambitious Serbian nation. The date scheduled for his visit, June 28, coincided with the anniversary of the First Battle of Kosovo in 1389, in which medieval Serbia was annexed by the Turks. Despite the fact that Serbia did not truly lose its independence until the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448, June 28 was a day that was quite important to the nationalists in Serbia, and one on which they could be expected to take exception to a demonstration of Austrian imperial strength in Bosnia.

June 28 also happened to be Franz Ferdinand’s wedding anniversary. His beloved wife, Sophie, was denied royal status in Austria due to her birth as a poor Czech aristocrat, as were the couple’s children. In Bosnia, however, due to its limbo status as an annexed territory, Sophie could appear beside him in all official proceedings.

On June 28, 1914, then, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were touring Sarajevo in an open car, with surprisingly little security, when Serbian nationalist Nedjelko Cabrinovic threw a hand granade at their car; it rolled off the back of the vehicle and wounded an officer and a couplem bystanders. Later that day, on the way to visit the injured officer, the Franz Ferdinands procession took a wrong turn at the junction of Appel quay and Franzjosefstrasse, where one of Cabrinovic’s cohorts, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, just happened to be standing.

Seeing his opportunity, Princip fired a shot at the couple, shooting Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point-blank range. Princip then turned the gun on himself, but was prevented from shooting it by a bystander who threw himself upon the famous assasin. A mob of angry onlookers attacked Princip, who fought back and was taken away by the police. Meanwhile, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie lay fatally wounded in their limousine. The driver was unaware that the couple were shot.

The assassination of Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie set off a rapid chain of events: Austria-Hungary, like many in countries around the world, blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for starting a war. As Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received a blank slate  from German leader that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention–which would likely involve Russia’s ally, France, and perhaps Britain as well. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers was over. Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had ensued.


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