To What Extent Was German Aggression the Cause of the First World War?

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Some historians argue that blame for WW1 is with Germany, through her aggressive foreign policy, whilst others believe it to be with Austria-Hungary for instigating the clash in the Balkans, which eventually, it is argued, created war. Many believe it was the effect of colonial imperialism, and greed that compelled the world leaders to launch an attack enhancing their individual status in the balance of European and World-power. The issue of blame is one which has caused vast controversy throughout history, and was controversially re-opened in the 1960’s by Fischer. Other theories include, the impact of trade rivalry on tension between powers and in launching the arms race thus reinforcing the competition for power and deterioration of relations. It is evident that the decision makers of 1914 were influenced by the tensions built up in the previous twenty years. Historians have highlighted imperial rivalry and the statesman who proliferated its values as responsible for war. The country with colonial superiority had majority influence meaning the struggle to be part of the most prestigious empire was at the heart of the many countries around Europe. As Crowe stated, ‘The dream of a colonial empire had taken a deep hold on the German public opinion.’ This craving for international power led to strained relations and various clashes in the build up to WW1, for example, the First Moroccan Crisis. France (and Britain) issued a programme of reform to bring Morocco stability, and in response Germany evoked an antagonistic, political dispute contesting their influence in the hope that they would withdraw. Some historians believe Germany’s aggressive tactics were attempting to threaten France out of Morocco so Germany could annex the region. It seems that the Kaiser’s belligerent attempt to establish colonies put international relations at an all-time low. However, that is not to suggest that other countries are not equally at fault of colonial rivalry. For instance, had France not been determined to introduce Morocco into their sphere of influence, Germany may never have initiated the 1905 Crisis. It does therefore seem that colonial rivalry is contributory in the build up to war, but not the most instrumental cause. The friendship between France and Britain that evolved throughout this dispute would form an alliance that would generate considerable tension between world-powers, in contradiction of Germany’s intentions of preventing friendship. Some historians focus on development of alliances as the trigger for war. They were used to initiate conflict with the assurance of backup meaning any disagreement could activate war. Germany expressed fear of encirclement, whereby they were surrounded by enemies, fearing that they would not be supported in European disputes. The Triple Alliance originated out of German need to keep the French isolated after her quick recovery from 1871. After many unsuccessful attempts to establish colonies, they adopted a more realistic and ‘quick fix’ approach to their ultimate aim, by attaching themselves to an existing empire (Austria-Hungary). Austria-Hungary embarked on a German alliance against Russia as both wanted control of the Balkans and former Ottoman Empire. They were keen to involve Italy in the Alliance to ensure they would not have to fight on two fronts. These protective alliances however, became increasingly offensive, for example Germany delivering the Blank cheque. This suggests that the alliances can be held culpable because they were used as an excuse to introduce aggression in otherwise peaceful situations, and escalate local disagreements into continental conflicts. Similarly, the Triple Entente developed as a defensive Franco-Russian partnership to counter the Triple Alliance developing amidst Germany’s expanding Armed Forces. France’s geographical position meant that it could provide useful protection for the Balkans that both Russia and the combination of Germany and...
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