Causes of World War I
1. Colonial Rivalries. European powers shared an insatiable
appetite for expansionism and wealth creation. Natural resources were
required to feed their growing industrialization capabilities. Most land
throughout the world the could be feasibly conquered was already under
European colonial control, leaving colonial powers to fight over
increasingly limited territory, such as the African interior. By the
late 1800s, bitter rivalries developed as colonial powers butted heads
with greater frequency.
2. Arms Race. As economic rivalries and colonial competition came
to a boiling point, nations began to build their military arsenals at an
unprecedented rate. Armament build-ups continued to spiral out of
control as European powers sought to gain a military advantage over one
3. Unmitigated Nationalism. European kingdoms had given way to
nation-states throughout the 1800s following the Napoleonic Wars,
lending widespread support to colonial, economic and military expansion.
The Napoleonic Wars taught Europeans that it was critical to consolidate
and strengthen one’s nation in relation to potential rivals.
Furthermore, new nations and new colonial powers such as the German
Empire and Italy (formed comparatively recently, during the mid-1800s)
were especially fervent, as they had been under foreign domination for
so long, and were eager to reverse the situation. Their tactics became
increasingly brutal and hostile as they felt compelled to play catch up
with established colonial powers such as the United Kingdom, France and
4. Complex Network of Alliances. As tensions grew, alliances were
formed. Nearly all of the European powers were mobilized and prepared to
go to war at the drop of a hat. As Germany grew in strength, France and
the UK formed an alliance to keep it in check. By the late 1800s,
Germany was threatening UK naval dominance. France had just lost an
important region to Germany from their loss in the Franco-Prussian War
of 1870, and remained vulnerable to this still-growing power along their
eastern border. Russia and Austria-Hungary had become distrustful of one
another, as both were interested in gaining control over the Balkans.
France and the UK recruited Russia to their alliance to force Germany
into a two-front war in the event of hostilities, while Russia sought
help in order to counterbalance the Austrian threat. Consequently,
Germany and Austria-Hungary became natural bedfellows. They recruited
the Ottoman Empire based in Turkey to neutralize Russia, with the
promise of regaining lost Balkan territories used as a carrot.
5. The Catalyst. The Balkans had become a tinder box, as both
Austria and Russia had designs on the region. When the heir to the
Austrian throne was assassinated in Bosnia in 1914, Austria reacted
harshly, resulting in war. Serbia was prepared to concede to Austria,
but Russia made a strong showing of support, giving it courage to
standup to Austria. Austria then declared war, and all the treaties and
alliances were triggered, initiating The Great War (WWI).
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