What factors led Britain to declare war on Germany in August 1914?
On the 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany, on the side of France and Russia. There were many factors that contributed to the war; some commentators believed it was a stockpiling of issues that ultimately led to it. Initially it was Austria-Hungary who declared war on Serbia, on the 28th July, after receiving an unsatisfactory response from Serbia to the ultimatum they had issued her. This was triggered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand- heir to the Austria-Hungary throne- on 28th June 1914. It instigated a remarkable sequence of events, between July and early August, described as an archetypal case of “one thing led to another”- also referred to as the treaty alliance system. The British Governments decision for war arrived 5 days later, on 4th August, and was based on many different factors and principles. These included, ensuring the maintenance of peace and the European balance of power, defending the neutrality and independence of Belgium and honouring Britain’s alliances. The German involvement in the war, as an ally of Austria-Hungary, played a large part in Britain’s involvement as she was concerned about the rise of Germany as a naval and economic power, in particular their threat of colonial ascendency. These factors will be discussed in more detail and expanded on throughout the essay.
For a period of time Britain claimed its’ foreign policy was that of splendid isolation, where she largely kept out of wars and endeavoured to refrain from European entanglements. Throughout the 19th century she only fought in three wars and appeared relatively successful at avoiding European affairs. Although later it would seem that many scenarios of isolation, for instance poor relations with the United States between 1895 and 1896 over Venezuela, were more an indication of Britain’s universal unpopularity than a deliberately chosen path. It was often the case that Britain reacted by isolating herself as a symptom of the pressure from the activity of the European powers, for instance when the entirety of Europe supported the Boer’s after and during the Boer war. Either way, gradually Britain emerged from the policy and started to become more involved in European affairs. One of the factors that dragged Britain into war was the alliances which had been made, and those which had not. In 1904 Britain and France made an arrangement which was more of a friendly understanding than an alliance, called the Anglo-French Entente (1904). Although not a formal alliance it prompted further co-operation between France and Britain, especially at the growing fear of the Germans and their increasingly aggressive behaviour. In 1907, the agreement with France was extended to include Russia becoming knows as the Triple Entente. Britain wanted- in vein- to expand the system of agreements to include Germany. In 1899 and again in 1901 Joseph Chamberlain had pursued a possible alliance, with no success. Germany wished for Britain to join their alliance system with Austria and Italy but Britain was forced to decline to avoid the risk of conflicts with Russia and France. In 1912 the Naval agreement was formed which indicated that Britain was prepared to defend the Channel, Atlantic and French Mediterranean, if threatened by the Germans. In 1914 King George V went to Paris solidifying the Anglo-French Alliance. These decisions and alliances drew Britain closer to war by gradually weakening the cordial relations with Germany and pulling her further into the arising conflict. Britain wanted to honour and fulfil her international commitments which had been progressed and built on since the 1904 Entente. Many countries were dragged into the war due to their alliances. Although originally it was Austria-Hungary who declared war on Serbia, Russia, allied to Serbia by treaty, announced deployment of her extensive army in Serbia’s defence. Germany, bound by...
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