History - International Co-operation and Conflict, 1890s - 1920s


Long Term Causes of War


For war to have occurred on the scale of the First World War, two armed camps opposed to each other must have developed. This was greatly helped by the development of two alliance systems before 1914.
An alliance is an agreement between two sides to help each other if they are attacked.
Three major alliances were formed in the first world war:

  • Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy were allies from 1882.
  • Triple Entente: France and Russia were allies from 1894.
  • Entente Cordiale: Britain and France were allies from 1904. This was supposed to be a 'friendly agreement' rather than an actual alliance, but it became stronger in the following years, particularly as it was tested.

Testing the Alliances

  • The Moroccan Cris 1905-6: The German leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II, wanted to test the new friendship between Britain and France and hopefully split them up. The French had agreed that Britain should control Egypt whilst France could take control of Morocco. The Kaiser publicly stated his support of the Sultan of Morocco's independence from France and demanded a conference in Algeciras. To the Kaiser's astonishment the French and British stuck together and he had to back down. The Entente Cordiale became stronger and the British and French started military talks.
  • Agadir Crisis 1911: As the French took over Morocco, the Kaiser tried to intimidate the French into giving Germany some land. He sent the gunboat Panther to Agadir to make his point. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, made a speech in London warning Germany not to threaten British interests, such as the Atlantic port of Agadir. The Kaiser was forced to back down again.


The British Empire controlled one quarter of the world in 1914. The French and Belgian Empires were also very large. The German Empire was only formed in 1870 and, although it had gained some land in the 'Scramble for Africa', the Kaiser felt left behind. He wanted 'a place in the sun', i.e an overseas empire like Britain. Britain and France saw this ambition as a threat.
British anxieties increased even further as its economic dominance in the world was also being threatened. Germany in particular was stealing its markets in steel, engineering and chemicals.


Naval Race: The development of the Dreadnought battleship by the British in 1906 threatened to make much of Britain's navy obsolete. The news that Germany was building its own battleship created panic in Britain. When Germany built four ships, the newspapers demanded, 'We want eight and we won't eight'.


  • Nationalism is the idea that each country puts it's own interests first. Before 1914, prestige and not losing face were guiding principles of foreign policy for Germany, Britain and most other countries.
  • The idea of nationalism was also especially important in the Balkan countries. As the old Turkish (Ottoman) Empire began to fall apart, nationalities such as the Bulgarians, Greeks and Surbs fought for their independence, and for as much


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