There were many factors that led up to the start of World War I in Europe. A lot of these factors were rooted in the deep history of the old powers of Europe including Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Britain. The real causes of World War I included politics, secret alliances, imperialism, and nationalistic pride. However, there was one single event, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, which started a chain of events leading to war.
Alliances and Politics
In the years leading up to the war, the nations of Europe were constantly jockeying for power and making alliances. Germany made an alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1881. These countries all agreed to protect each other in the event they were attacked by France. However, Italy then went and made a secret alliance with France saying they would not aide Germany.
In response to Germany's alliances, France and Russia established an alliance in 1892. In 1904, Britain and France signed an agreement. The Triple Entente was formed between France, Britain, and Russia in 1907. Germany felt that this powerful alliance surrounding them posed a real threat to their existence and power in the region.
Imperialism is when a country expands its influence and power into a large empire. Some European countries, such as France and Britain, had created large worldwide empires and had become very rich. Other European countries, such as Russia and Germany, wanted to create their own vast empires. This caused competition and conflict between many of the countries throughout the world.
Europe Ready for War
In 1914, the situation in Europe was tense. Secret alliances, internal politics, and the desire to grow empires had built up distrust and dislike between many of the European powers. All it would take was one international event and Europe would be at war.
Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated in Sarajevo. The Austria government believed that the assassination was organized by the Serbian government. They also saw this as an opportunity to regain control of Serbia.
Austria-Hungary Declares War
Austria-Hungary issued a number of harsh demands on Serbia, threatening to invade if Serbia did not comply. They gave them 48 hours to respond. When Serbia's response fell short of the demands, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28.
More Declarations of War
Austria-Hungary had hoped they could quickly take over Serbia and that Serbia's ally, Russia, would not risk a major war in order to help Serbia. However, they figured wrong. Russia immediately began to mobilize its troops and prepare for war. In response, Germany, Austria-Hungary's close ally, declared war on Russia on August 1st. A few days later, Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium. Britain then declared war on Germany and World War I had begun.
Who was to blame?
Historians over the years have tried to figure out who was really to blame for starting the war. Many historians today agree that Germany wanted to start the war. The German leaders felt that they were being surrounded by enemies (France, Russia) and that war was going to happen eventually. They felt that the sooner the war occurred, the better chance Germany had to win.
Interesting Facts about the Causes of World War I
Germany quickly attacked France, hoping to conquer France in the west before they had to fight the Russian army in the east.
Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s the major powers in Europe had been building up their armies and navies in an arms race.
At the beginning, both sides believed that the war would be over before the end of the year.
The British had the largest empire which included India, Australia, Canada, and much of Africa.
The United States was neutral at the start of the war and hoped to stay out of the war.