A. Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871

i. Established a powerful Germany with industrial and military potentials that posed a threat to existing European powers.

ii. French anti-German sentiment and desire for revenge over Germany’s annexation of Alsace-Lorraine.

iii. France’s defeat sparked a revolution culminating in the French Third Republic.

B. Russo-Japanese War 1905

i. In 1903, Japan proposed to Russia a mutual agreement to recognize the other’s interest in Manchuria and Korea- Russia declined.

ii. European powers were astonished by the Japanese defeat of Russia at the Battle of Tsushima (May, 1905). Russia was humiliated as this was the first time an Eastern power defeated a European power.

iii. The peace agreement, with material gains for Japan, was mediated by U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt.

iv. Germany took note.

v. Contributed to the attempted Russian Revolution of 1905. Tsar Nicholas II was determined to re-establish Russian prestige= military conquest.

C. Balkans

i. In Austria-Hungary, less than 50% of the population was Austrian or Hungarian.

ii. Slavs most restless and wanted to join Serbs to form own nation.

iii. Turkey, Russia, Austria-Hungary had interest in the Balkans.

iv. Russia interested in the Balkans as an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea.

v. In 1908, Austria annexed the provinces of Bosnia- Herzegovina fuelling Slav. nationalism.

vi. Balkans: “Power keg” of Europe.


A. The Three Emperors League & Dual Alliance

i. In 1873, Bismarck created the Three Emperors League which consisted of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary.

ii. Aid in the event of war.

iii. Bismarck’s acknowledgement that France remains a threat; post 1870-71 defeat where France ceded Alsace and Lorraine to Germany.

iv. Having unified Germany, Bismarck’s main concern was to maintain its stability and protection.

v. 1878 Russia withdrew from the agreement; Bismarck formed a new Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879.
vi. Dual Alliance: aid in the event of an attack by Russia or a country that was supported by Russia against Germany and Austria-Hungary.
vii. Neutrality would be maintained should Germany or Austria-Hungary be attacked by another power.

Significance: Austria-Hungary called upon Germany’s support against a Russian supported Serbia due to the Dual Alliance.

B. The Triple Alliance

i. Italy joined Germany and Austria-Hungary in signing the Triple Alliance agreement in 1881.

ii. Under the provisions of this treaty, all sides would assist each other in the course of an attack or declaration of war by France.

iii. If a signatory was in a war with two (or more) powers, the other two would provide military aid.

iv. Should any of the signatories decide to launch a ‘preemptive’ war, the other two powers would remain neutral.

Aim: One of the main objectives of the Triple Alliance was to prevent war between Italy and Austria-Hungary over their territorial dispute.

C. A Secret Franco-Italian Alliance

i. In 1902, Italy negotiates a secret treaty with France in which it was agreed that Italy would remain neutral in the event that Germany attacked France.

Air and Sea battles in World War I

ii. In 1914, Italy remained neutral by claiming that Germany’s war against France was an ‘aggressive’ one.

iii. In 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of Britain, France and Russia.

Significance: The Triple Alliance was ineffective with regards to Italy’s participation because of the secret Franco-Italian Alliance.

D. The Reinsurance Treaty

i. Signed in 1887 between Germany and Russia.

ii. Both powers would remain neutral in the event of an offensive or defensive war.

iii. Stipulation: Obligations of assistance would be null in the event that Germany and France were at war or Russia was at war with Austria-Hungary.

iv. The treaty lapsed after three years; subsequently, Russia allied itself with Britain and France.

Bismarck’s intention: avoid a combined two-front attack by France and Russia.

E. Franco-Russian Agreements

i. In 1891, after the lapse of the Reinsurance Treaty, Russia formed an alliance with France.

ii. An agreement for both powers to consult each other if either powers were at war with a third nation.

iii. In 1892, this agreement was solidified at the Franco-Russian Military Convention.

iv. Aim: to counteract the potential threat of the Triple Alliance.

v. Should France or Russia be attacked by Germany, Italy, or Austria-Hungary, or should the Triple Alliance powers mobilize for war, military assistance would be provided.

Significance: Brought France and Russia closer together and set the stage for the Triple Entente.

F. Anglo-Japanese Alliance

i. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, was primarily directed against the potential shared menace posed, it was believed, by France and Russia in the Far East.

ii. To maintain neutrality if the other power was at war unless faced with two or more powers; then military aid would be provided.

iii. To limit Germany’s expansion in the East.

iv. The alliance was renewed in 1905 due to Japan’s success in the Russo-Japanese War.

G. Entente Cordiale

i. In 1904, Britain signed the Entente Cordiale with France.

ii. Did NOT commit either power to military aid of the other in the time of war but it did offer diplomatic co-operation.

iii. French aim: to encourage an alliance with Britain in case of a German attack.

iv. British aim: to encourage an alliance with France due to the threat of Germany’s naval expansion competition with Britain.

v. Russia signed the Anglo-Russian Entente agreement concerning Persia with Britain forming the Triple Entente in 1907.

vi. Neither agreement was militarily binding though there was a ‘moral obligation’ in place.

vii. It was this moral obligation along with the 1839 Treaty of London (which promised British defense of Belgian neutrality) that drew Britain into war.

viii. At the Anglo-French Naval Convention of 1912, however, Britain and France concluded a military agreement where Britain would protect France’s coastline while France defended the Suez Canal.

The Causes of World War I


A. British Emergence From Splendid Isolation

i. Self-declared “splendid isolation” in 1870s from European politics.

ii. Emergence caused by the determination of Wilhelm II to expand as a European colonial power in the pacific and Africa.

iii. British “two power standard” of 1889: the British navy should be equal to any two navies in the world combined.

B. Anglo-German Naval Race

i. At the encouragement of the naval minister Tirpitz, Wilhelm II began the massive production of a naval fleet that would equal in size to the world’s largest fleet (Britain’s). In order to expand and protect its empire, Germany needed a large navy.

ii. Britain responded by expanding her naval strength- a success.

iii. In 14 months, Dreadnought battleship was completed in December 1906.

iv. Competition focused on the possession of Dreadnoughts.

iv. In 1900, the British had a 3.7:1 tonnage advantage over Germany; in 1910 the ratio was 2.3:1 and in 1914, 2.1:1.

Significance: The naval race with Germany brought Britain into the European alliance system (Entente Cordiale).

The naval strength of the powers in 1914


Naval Vessels (Dreadnoughts)

(Source: Ferguson, The Pity for War: Explaining World War One 1998, p. 85)

C. Military

i. Between 1870- 1914 military spending by European powers increased by 300% and conscription was adopted by all continental powers in1871.

ii. By 1914, more than 12 million men could be called upon in the event of war.



i. “White man’s burden” as justification for many European’s racist aspects of imperialism.

ii. Partition of Africa began with the completion of the Suez Canal (controlled by Britain and France) in 1869.

iii. Colonies provided navies and marines ports and coaling stations and raw materials for industrialization.

iv. Britain, Russia and France had large empires when Wilhelm I came to power. He wanted Germany to be a large and powerful empire; “a place in the sun” with access to raw materials, new markets, and international prestige.

v. Germany doomed from the start for colonial greatness. – started too late.

B. First Moroccan Crisis

i. Germany’s objection for France’s attempt to turn Morocco into a colony.

ii. 1904, Britain and France signed a colonial agreement where Britain recognized Morocco as under French sphere of influence.

iii. In a speech in Tangier on March 1905, the German Kaiser advocated for Morocco independence in hopes of weakening Anglo-French entente.

iv. Plan failed, Britain supported France.

v. At the Algeciras Conference, France acquired the rights in Morocco with the support of Britain and Russia.

Significance: Example of how the race for colonies created tension between European nations.


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