To what extent was the accelerating European arms race after 1900 responsible for the outbreak of the First World War?

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Millie Rollason
To what extent was the accelerating European arms race after
1900 responsible for the outbreak of the First World War?
The accelerating European arms race after 1900 certainly contributed to the
outbreak of the First World War as it fuelled competition between the powers,
creating deep divides within Europe. By 1900 the Great Powers were driven
by their insecurities with their governments concentrating huge amounts of
funding and attention to building their military defences in a time where `war'
was a mind-set. However, there were also other crucial and arguably more
important factors that certainly contributed more directly to the war. Theses
factors undermine the responsibility held by the arms race in contributing to
the outbreak of the First World War.
Nonetheless, the accelerating European arms race after 1900 was responsible
for the outbreak of the First World War to an acknowledgeable degree as it
encouraged rivalries within the Great Powers as raced each other to build the
biggest and best armed forces. Every country, except Great Britain, had a
conscript army. This meant that these countries had a large number of trained
soldiers they could call up very quickly in the event of war. In 1914 the
German army was the biggest and best in the world - but the Russian army was
growing the fastest, and German generals were worried that, in a few years
time, they would not be able to defeat Russia. At the same time Britain and
Germany had an arms race to see who could build the biggest navy. Due to
this, military spending doubled in the period 1900-1914. The launching of the
British Dreadnought battleship in 1906 effectively left every German ship
obsolete consequently resulting in Germany developing Dreadnoughts
themselves, which further accelerated Anglo-German rivalry. As Britain's
empire largely depended on their ability to control the seas, challenge and
tension grew with Britain feeling threatened by Germany's blatant attempts to
contest with British naval forces. It was this rivalry which established the
opposition between powers who eventually went to war.
However, it could be argued that the climate of Nationalism and Militarism was
a superior factor to the European arms race. This is because the arms race can
in fact be seen as a result of this culture of militarism, common in Europe at the
time. Germany, often regarded as the most militaristic of the powers, certainly
had acclimatised to the idea of militarism being the norm. There were often
many military related processions and many of the men in government wore
military attire. With the Kaiser being the supreme warlord, army leaders were
responsible to him alone and he had a personal military staff operating beyond
the civil service and naval staffs. Decision could be made without the
knowledge of the civilian government. It was this mind-set of Germany's
politicians in combination with the acceptance of the public that made foreign
policy which potentially encouraged war or actions such as rapidly building up
arms seem acceptable. Germany and her people was not alone in this
militaristic mentality ­ like Germany, the British government felt obliged to
continue with focusing on building defences due to strong, nationalistic public
support and pressure groups. To build the army was a patriotic and nationalist

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Millie Rollason
matter, especially as Britain's defended her far-flung and precious Empire. This
militaristic outlook, fuelled by nationalism, was thriving in Europe at the time,
and it was this factor that encouraged key sub-factors such as the arms race.
Furthermore, it was rampant nationalism - especially evident in the
Austro-Hungarian Empire - that furnished the immediate cause of hostilities.
On June 28, 1914, Serbian nationalist Principe assassinated Archduke
Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo.…read more

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Millie Rollason
to the frictions and conflicts between the Great Powers. However, it was the
assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that brought such friction and
conflict to the surface to materialise into warfare, and the system of alliances in
Europe that turned what could have been simply a localised war into a general
world war.…read more


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