The prehistory of the First World War, the “great catastrophe of the 20th century”, is extraordinarily multifaceted. The immediate triggering factor, but in turn afflicted with a complicated previous development ( Balkan inquiry), was the South Slav national movement in the Balkans. It had come into conflict with the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century and after its displacement from Europe in the 1st Balkan War (1912/13) with Austria-Hungary. This escalating conflict led to the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip in the assassination attempt in Sarajevo (June 28, 1914), which over the July crisis 1914 led to the beginning of the First World War.
The European great powers (Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia) and the Ottoman Empire, supplemented by the two overseas great powers USA and Japan, with their imperialist politics, with their rivalries and their alliances in a chain of Conflicts and crises, accompanied and significantly exacerbated by the international arms race, the decisive potential for conflict, which triggered the armed clash by means of an apparently insignificant factor. There was no lack of warnings. As early as 1887, F. Engels prophesied “a world war of unprecedented extent and violence” and the foreseeable consequences: “The devastation of the Thirty Years’ War compressed in three to four years and spread over the whole continent “; the former chief of staff of the army, the “older” Helmuth Graf von Moltke , had already foreseen a “thirty years people’s war” in 1890.
In relation to Great Britain and France with their extensive colonial possessions overseas and in relation to Russia with its quasi-colonial territories on the Asian continent, Italy and the German Empire emerged as nation-states relatively late (1861 and 1871, respectively) and accordingly endeavored to establish themselves as great powers (in Germany manifest in striving for a “place in the sun”). Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, stood in the tradition of the old Austrian Empire and continued this despite the defeat against Prussia (German War 1866) continued in a new form for half a century. From the periphery of Europe, Great Britain, as the strongest maritime and economic power, balanced the other European great powers through its policy of equilibrium in such a way that the Empire overseas remained undisturbed.
According to a2zdirectory.org, the great powers saw this European equilibrium (“Balance of Power”) being shaken by the founding of the German Empire, especially since it was feared that the economically and militarily strengthened German Reich would maintain the expansionary policy of the founding period. The annexation of Alsace-Lorraine resulted in a dismantling of the after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 The more or less strong Franco-German tensions did not arise, and the global political expansion of the German Reich, especially after 1890, was perceived by Great Britain as a direct threat in connection with the German naval construction. Russia’s advance in the Balkans, in turn, drew reactions from Austria-Hungary, which saw its sphere of interest impaired. The German attempt to overcome the crisis in the Orient through the Berlin Congress (1878) was basically successful, but could not eliminate the Austro-Russian tensions, especially since Russia subsequently increasingly switched to a Pan-Slavic prestige policy in the Balkans, which in turn ran counter to the interests of Austria-Hungary. The run following the Congress of Berlin German alliance policy (1879 Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary, 1882 with the accession of Italy to the Triple Alliance extended) drew a counter-coalition after himself: 1893/94 of the Russian-French was two Association concluded the bilateral by a system agreements Great Britain with France (Entente cordiale, 1904) and Russia (Petersburg Treaty, 1907) to the Triple Entente was expanded. Decisive for Great Britain to turn away from the German Reich were not so much the trade rivalry between the two states, which was later hyped up by propaganda, and the German colonial acquisitions (especially in Africa) than the arming of the imperial navy through the Tirpitz naval building program, through which Great Britain saw its supremacy on the seas endangered. A challenge to Britain on the seas and overseas challenged the balance of power, especially as the German Empire had grown to become the strongest military and economic power on the continent. The endeavor to maintain this equilibrium by curbing German dynamism was just as characteristic of British politics of the time as the endeavor to B. von Bülow formulated in 1906 to break the encirclement of the German Reich.
However, the German Empire lacked the financial strength to match or even surpass the Royal Navy in number and size. In 1910/11 A. von Tirpitz had to admit the failure of his plan.
From now on the focus was on army armor.
The policy of mutual hostile distrust intensified in a series of diplomatic tensions, which were located alternately in the west and east and which roughly corresponded to the later war fronts: After the formation of the Entente cordiale (1904), the German imperial government took the defeat of Russia in the Russian The Japanese War (1904-05) and the ensuing first Russian Revolution gave rise to pressure on France, which was almost completely isolated by the paralysis of Russian policy on the continent, with the first of the two Moroccan crises (1905/06). The German attempt to blow up the Entente cordiale failed, however, and British-French cooperation intensified as a result.