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To what extent was imperialism mainly responsible for creating international tensions in the period 1878-1914?

By lucywilliams96 May 11, 2014 1457 Words
Essay: To what extent was imperialism the main cause of international tension in Europe up until 1914? There were several factors that contributed to the undeniable international tension in Europe up until 1914 and each factor played a definite part in pushing Europe closer and closer to a World War.The late 1800s and early 1900s saw a period of vast empire building and severe colonial rivalry. In the nineteenth century European countries such as Britain, France and Austria-Hungary realised that they would need to scramble for the control of regions all over the world in order to receive raw materials to keep up with the fast expanding industries. For example, in the late 1800s Britain, France and Germany all snapped up what was left of Africa during ‘the scramble for Africa’. This imperialism, alongside growing nationalism and militarism, created international tensions in Europe as countries found themselves facing each other off in battles to win over their desired colonies. European countries didn’t only want control of these countries to gain resources from them, but also for influential reasons. They wanted to influence the satellite states which were strategically and militarily important to their empire. An example of this is Austria-Hungary’s desire to control Serbia alongside Russia’s desire to spread nationalism in the Balkans and gain control of the Straits. This resulted in a conflict between these two empires and contributed to international tensions because both empires wanted more power in the Balkans.Imperialism disrupted the balance of power in Europe before 1914. As Bismarck made clear, it was important to maintain the balance of power in Europe in order to avoid conflict and keep the peace between countries. International tensions in Europe grew more and more when one country felt another had more power than her. Imperialism is not the only factor that contributed to the tensions in Europe before 1914. In fact, in my opinion it certainly wasn’t the most important reason for the international tensions. I think the sharpest tool in this event was in fact nationalism. Nationalism was very apparent in Europe before 1914, especially in the Balkans. Russia strongly believed in Pan-Slavism and wanted to spread Slavism throughout the Balkans. This caused tension between Russia and Austria-Hungary and also caused credible instability in the Balkans. When Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina Serbia began to fight for the independence of her fellow Slavic country and Russia decided to support her. This caused a great deal of tension between Austria-Hungary and Serbia and Russia. An example of how the growing nationalism in the Balkans created international tensions is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of 1914. He was assassinated by a member of a Serbian terrorist group, Gavrilo Princip. This pushed Austria into determination to crush Serbia once and in full confidence that she had German support. After Germany handed Austria the ‘Blank Cheque’, Austria gave Serbia an Ultimatum which was made virtually impossible to accept and made a war almost inevitable. I believe this is the most important factor in increasing international tensions because it is where the war began – the war began when Austria handed Serbia the Ultimatum and the Ultimatum was handed to Serbia because of the growing nationalism in the Balkans. The alliance systems in Europe before 1914 were another factor that contributed to the international tensions. The Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1879 threatened Russia and made her feel as if Germany was favouring Austria-Hungary over her. This was proven correct in the Congress of Berlin of 1878 when Bismarck gave Austria-Hungary more power in the Balkans. This increased international tensions as it pushed Russia away from allying with Germany and into allying with another country. The alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary also threatened Serbia as Germany gave Austria-Hungary a ‘Blank Cheque’ and Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia in the secure knowledge that Germany would support her.Germany was threatened by an alliance in 1892 when the Franco-Russian alliance was formed. The alliance stated that Russia and France would support each other if either was attacked by Germany. This created huge tensions between Germany and France’s already tense relationship as it meant that one of Bismarck’s biggest fears had come alive – France was no longer isolated and Germany faced the prospect of a war on two fronts. A distinctive line between who would side with who in the event of war was drawn when the Triple Alliance and Triple Entente were finalised. Europe was divided which caused a lot of international tension and made Europe feel as if it were on the cusp of war. Because of these alliances, a war which could have just been a local war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was turned into a war on a much larger scale as Germany supported Austria and France and Russia supported Serbia. The alliance systems played a very important part in the tensions in Europe before 1914, however I believe that the rigidity of the alliances can be exaggerated. After all in 1914 Italy did abandon the Triple Alliance and become neutral. I think that imperialism was a far more dangerous factor.Militarism was a factor which was encouraged by imperialism as empires began to feel the need to protect their colonies. As imperialism grew, insecurity hit. Empires soon realised that they would benefit from increasing and changing their army in preparation for war. Europe entered an undeniable arms race. This made countries feel more and more anxious, for example Russia’s reforms made Germany feel threatened. Tensions were increased as empires were unnecessarily preparing for the outbreak of war.The most notorious event during the arms race was the naval race between Germany and Britain. Britain’s two power standard was threatened when two naval laws were passed in Germany in 1898 and 1900 and they began a huge naval-expansion programme. The two countries were in intense rivalry which was emphasised when the first Dreadnoughts were built by both countries in 1906. Tensions were increased between these two countries and the countries around them as they all wondered why Britain and Germany needed such big navies. Whilst militarism played a very dangerous role in the international tensions, I don’t believe it played a bigger role than imperialism. After all, if it wasn’t for imperialism then there would be nothing for the empires to protect and no reason for the arms race to have even started. The German foreign policy of Weltpolitik increased international tensions in Europe before 1914. When Kaiser Wilhelm was appointed he wanted ‘World Power’ and wanted to be just as strong, if not stronger, than all of the other powers. This could be responsible for Germany’s vast naval-expansion, which created strong tension between Germany and Britain. Weltpolitik is also responsible for the clumsy diplomacy used by the Kaiser before 1914, for example he sent the Kruger Telegram to President Paul Kruger after the Boer War to congratulate him for defeating Britain. This created unnecessary tensions between Germany and Britain. However whilst Weltpolitik did threaten countries such as Britain due to the naval expansion, I don’t believe it was an entirely influential threat. Weltpolitik didn’t have an important role in creating international tensions but in fact just highlighted the clumsiness of Kaiser Wilhelm II. I conclude that there were many different factors that contributed to the international tensions before 1914, and I also conclude that imperialism was hugely important in this. Imperialism made countries feel incredibly anxious as it led to militarism and it also contributed to the instability in the Balkans. If it wasn’t for imperialism, then countries would not have felt the need to expand and reform their armies and Austria-Hungary would probably not have had an interest in the Balkans and there may have not been a war between herself and Serbia. So, from a long-term perspective, I certainly believe that imperialism was the most important factor in creating international tension before 1914. However, from a short-term perspective I would conclude that nationalism was in fact responsible for the tensions in Europe before 1914. The main site of tensions in Europe was the Balkans. The Balkans was a place of erupting nationalism which built and built upon international tension. If it wasn’t for Russia’s enforced Pan-Slavism on the Balkans which encouraged them to fight for independence, then there may never have been a conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary and the war may never have broken out. However, even if it wasn’t for nationalism, imperialism would have still meant that Austria Hungary was sitting on the edge of the Balkans reeling in the power. So, finally, I conclude that imperialism on its own was not responsible for international tensions in Europe, but together with all of the other factors, imperialism was the most important factor in creating these international tensions.

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