By the end of the nineteenth century, besides the predominance of Old Europe on the global international arena, certain signs already indicated the future formation of two dominant world powers (Kennedy, 1988). The main indicator that defines the national strength of the leading world countries was industrial productivity. Besides the manufacturing strength, the key factors that had an impact on the destiny of the leading countries were their political instabilities, alliance policies, and geographical positions.
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Changes in the Balance of the Leading Forces in 1885-1914
The end of the nineteenth century was characterised by a rapid development of economies, due to industrialisation and urbanisation of countries. The power of each leading country was defined by the state of its military, economy, technological advancement, foreign policy and government efficiency. The balance of forces on the global arena changed with the emerging strength of Japan, Italy and Germany. Italy was gaining weight by leading progressive internal and international policies. Japan was in relative security due to its geographical isolation and remarkable patriotism. Germany had become one of the most prominent players on the map of Old Europe (Kennedy, 1988). The nation was strong both in the high rate of growth of its population and economy-wise, possessing both human and material resources. Despite being one of the most influential military forces on the continent, the country was spending a relatively small percentage of its human resources and GDP compared to Russia and France.
Austria-Hungary’s main industries were coal, steel production and textile; the country has achieved great successes in the fields of mechanisation and electrification. Meanwhile, there were internal tensions and complicated relations with neighbours. All these factors led to a weakening of the situation in the country, making it dependent on German military support. France possessed a significant colonial army and naval bases in Africa and Asia. Besides a substantial growth in the economy, France was the fifth leading world power. Great Britain was the largest world empire, possessing colonies across the whole globe. It had the biggest fleet, a secure banking system, and developed traditional industries. Great Britain had a conflict on interests with France over its colonies in West Africa and Asia.
Russian Empire was one of the countries with the fastest growing population, having at the same time the lowest rate of urbanisation and industrialisation per capita. Its economy was based on the production of steel, coal, textiles, and food processing. In the first decades of the 20th century, it experienced a series of political crises, which resulted in the Communist Revolution in 1917. The beginning of the 20th century was linked with continuous economic growth of the United States in both traditional industries and the development of modern technologies. Due to its geographical isolation, the country could enjoy uninterrupted development.
Formation of the Great Alliances and the Military Situation in 1890-1914
The beginning of the twentieth century was linked to tensions between the leading countries. They were caused by the development of imperialism that was building barriers to free trade, the competition of growing military forces, and the fight against the balance of world forces. Another vital factor was local conflicts, destabilising the situation inside the leading countries. All these reasons prepared ground for World War I.
The triple Alliance was a political and military agreement between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The policies of the countries of the triple agreement were focused on emerging wars for their colonies. To oppose the Triple Alliance, the union of the Entente was formed in 1904, featuring France, Great Britain, and Russia. In the course of World War I, Italy cancelled its obligations in the Triple Alliance and joined the opposing camp of Entente. However, Triple Alliance was in its turn supported by the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. Already by the beginning of 1917 the states of Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Russia were at the verge of collapse. The result of the war was predetermined, resulting in disastrous economic situations in the participating countries, and the fall of the most powerful empires – the Russian, the Ottoman, the German, and the Austro-Hungarian.
Kennedy P. (1987). The rise and fall of the great powers: Economic change and military conflict from 1500 to 2000. The rise and fail of the great powers. New York, NY: Random House.