The Sarajevo incident that occurred in 1914 served as the direct cause of the WWI. It was an unprecedented attack on the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, who were being shot by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb extremist; during Ferdinand’s visit to Sarajevo, Princip was caught on the scene. A chain of events ensued after the incident. When Germany provided the “Blank Cheque” to Austria-Hungary, she was cleared to send an ultimatum consisting of three harsh terms to Serbia, which Serbia’s refusal led to the World War I. As it seemed, to some people, that this incident caused the immediate outbreak of the war, I would say yes, and no. In the following paragraphs, I am going to explain, to what extent did the Sarajevo Incident cause the outbreak of World War I, which, I think that to a small extent, the incident caused the war to happen.
To a large extent, the war was caused by the series of pre-war disputes, ideology differences or other forms of competition. Firstly, the Austro-Serbian hostility rooted to the pre-war crises. Serbia, which promoted the Greater Serbia movement, pledged to unite all Serbs in the Balkan Region to form a large, independent Slav country after bringing the neighboring country of Bosnia-Herzegovina under Serbian control. However, Serbia’s ambition was shattered when Austria-Hungary annexed the state. Russia intervened; she wanted to expand her influence in the Balkans and aided Serbia. On the other hand, Germany, who promoted Pan-Germanism, openly supported Austria-Hungary’s annexation. Due to the German intervention, Russia and Serbia were forced to accept and recognize their territorial claim. Serbia’s irredentism hopes were crushed, and the Serbians gradually grew hostile towards Austria-Hungary. The above incident was known as the Bosnian Crisis.
Second, colonial rivalries or economic interests also contributed to the outbreak of World War I. For example, the Moroccan Crises, which happened in 1905 to 1911 were notable. For the First Moroccan Crisis, France had been keeping an eye on Morocco as she longed for turning Morocco into her colony, Britain supported France on this because they signed the Entente Cordiale, and this aroused Germany’s suspicion. Kaiser Wilhem II of Germany visited Tangier, he conferred with the Moroccan Sultan, and France seemed to be provocated by this act; however in 1906, the conference of Algeciras was held to settle the First Moroccan Crisis, Germany stepped down in the conference. It was decided that Morocco would come within the French sphere of influence. The German-Franco Relations worsened as a result. For the Second Moroccan Crisis, Germany sent a gunboat to Agadir to protect German interests after the Sultan uprisings, a war between the two countries seemed imminent. But yet again, Germany stepped back; this settled the Second Moroccan Crisis. It seemed that the colonial rivalries were at an end, but it was like a flame that had not been completely extinguished, the two countries still held grudges concerning the crises which remained as of one of the causes to the outbreak of WWI.
Speaking of the alliance system, this system was started by the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He prompted a possibility that France might long to seek vengeance in Germany after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, this was accepted by the Kaiser. Therefore Germany allied herself with Austria-Hungary and Italy to isolate France. This alliance was known as the “Triple Alliance”. This alliance system also proved effective, and as France wanted to look for allies so as not to be isolated, she joined forces with Britain and Russia as the “Triple Entente” in 1907. Since then, Europe was divided into two rival camps. Besides, the alliances were all conferred in secret, this increased tension and suspicion among countries. On the other hand, they didn’t solve disputes peacefully because they believed that their allies would offer assistance. Like the aforementioned Moroccan Crises, the rivalries between the two camps were intense, this stirred up international tensions, which paved way for the war.
As for the armaments race, the countries strongly believed in military strength, therefore countries were willing to spend sums of budget on military expenditure, it directly caused an armaments race between countries. Britain and Germany were the chief rivals. As Britain was the strongest empire in both industry and military, she boasted herself as the ‘Empire on which the sun never sets’; whereas Germany wanted ‘A place in the sun’, the German Kaiser initiated the ‘Weltpolitik’ (World Policy). Under Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany became stronger day by day. Ever since Britain built the first dreadnought, Germany and Britain raced to build more dreadnoughts, aiming to outrival the opposition. This aroused their warlike nature as neither of them were willing to disarm, it also contributed to the cause of the war.
On the contrary, to a small extent, the Sarajevo Incident caused the World War I, as Austria-Hungary was provoked by Serbia’s refusal of the terms on the ultimatum after the assassination. Austria-Hungary then invaded Serbia, which triggered the domino effect. Under this effect, Russia was the first to declare war against Germany and Austria-Hungary as her ally Serbia was being invaded. Then, France publicized her declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary; in order to avoid a two front war, Germany adopted the Schlieffen Plan, by attacking France through Belgium. The violation of Germany to Belgium’s neutrality broke the balance of power in Europe, most countries therefore declared war on the Alliance Powers. In 1914, Japanese forces stormed the German sphere of influence in Shandong, China; the European conflict had escalated into a world war.
In conclusion, the Sarajevo Assassination did cause the war to a small extent, but to a large extent, the pre-war incidents planted the seeds of the war and the Sarajevo assassination ignited the spark which set off the First World War.