Origins of WW1

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Origins of the First World War

Domestic Political Factors

German Domestic Politics

Left-wing parties, especially the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) made large gains in the 1912 German election. At the time, German government was still dominated by the Prussian Junkers who feared the rise of these left-wing parties. Fritz Fischer famously argued that they deliberately sought an external war to distract the population and create patriotic support for the government.. Other authors argue that German conservatives were ambivalent about a war, worrying that losing a war would have disastrous consequences, and even a successful war might alienate the population if it were lengthy or difficult

Russian Domestic Politics

Russia was in the midst of a large-scale military build-up and reform that they intended to complete in 1916–1917. Russia had fled the Triple Crown alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary because of disagreements with Austria-Hungary over policy in the Balkans. Russia also hoped that large French investments in its industry and infrastructures coupled with an important military partnership would prove themselves profitable and durable.

French Domestic Politics

The situation in France was different to Germany as going to war appeared to the majority of political and military leaders to be a potentially costly gamble. It is undeniable that 40 years after the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, a vast number of French were still angered by the territorial loss, aand the humiliation of being compelled to pay a large reparation to Germany in 1871. The diplomatic alienation of France orchestrated by Germany prior to World War I caused further resentment in France. Nevertheless, the leaders of France recognized Germany's strong military advantage against them, as Germany’s population was twice as large and its army was better equipped. At the same time, the episodes of the Tangier Crisis in 1905 and the Agadir Crisis in 1911 had given France a strong indication that war with Germany could be inevitable if Germany continued to oppose French colonial expansionism.

France was politically polarized; the left-wing socialists pushed for peace against nationalists whereas the right-wing conservatives called for revenge against Germany. France in 1914 had never been so prosperous and influential in Europe since 1870, nor its military so strong and confident in its leaders, emboldened by France’s success in North Africa and the overall pacification of its vast colonial empire. The Entente Cordiale of 1904 with Britain held firm, and was supported by mutual interests abroad and strong economic ties.

The French foreign ministry had great turnover at the top. In the 18 months before the war there were 6 foreign ministers. The leadership was prepared to fight Germany and attempt to gain back Alsace-Lorraine lost in 1871. It is important to note however, that France never could have permitted itself to initiate a war with Germany, as its military pact with Britain was only purely defensive. The assumption that Germany would not violate neutral Belgium, was a serious blunder in French planning.


In 1867, the Austrian Empire fundamentally changed its governmental structure, becoming


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