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Why Europe Went to War Cause and Effect Essay

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Updated: Apr 11th, 2019


Several intertwined factors are believed to have forced Europe into war. In particular, the war was mainly triggered by conflict and hostility that had plagued the region over the years. The major super powers in Europe had been involved in diplomatic clashes due to power shifts that had been witnessed in the region since 1867.

This resulted in tensions in such areas as the Balkan region. The nations were scrambling for power and territory and this resulted in conflicts among the powerful nations. This was particularly reinforced by the signing of treaties and the formation of alliances[1]

Reasons for the War


The causes of the war dates as far back as before 1914 and tension was so high among the various European nations that the continent only needed a little triggering to plunge into war. There are several reasons why this war was inevitable.

By then most of the countries exercised a lot of militarism as it was perceived as a way of enhancing a nation’s foreign policy. All the European countries were militaristic with Germany and Austria-Hungary being the best examples. By 1914, the European countries had well built armies and the navy forces with large number of soldiers and warships.

Countries competed to upgrade their military forces in order to ensure balance of power. Britain and German for instance were in conflict over the sizes of their armies in 1900 with the German leader at that time proclaiming that he needed to secure a place in the sun for Germany so that the sun’s rays may shine on his country. Kaiser Wilhelm therefore decided to build very powerful warships for his mission to conquer the world.


Britain had always had the notion that it was the ruler of the sea waves and as such, efforts by Germany to challenge her position were perceived as a threat and challenge to its superiority. This was also seen as a threat to the overseas colonies of Britain. Britain therefore decided to build more dreadnought battle ships given that the Germans had refused to limit their military build-up. The public was also at the forefront in demanding for more of the building of more ships.

Most of these European countries also managed to train extra men apart from those in the military for them to support their armies if the need arose. By 1914, Germany had a large and powerful army. There was however a cause for worry given that the Russian army was also growing at an alarming rate. It came to the realization of the German generals that within a short time, defeating Russia would not be an easy task.[2]


The formation of alliances was also another way by which the European nations sought to enhance their protection. Bismarck had for instance formed an alliance with Russia although this was overturned by Kaiser Wilhelm who mainly focused on the alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary. Italy later joined the due to form the Triple Alliance. This alarmed other countries and France added Russia as its ally in 1894.

France also decided to develop friendship with Britain and the two countries agreed to work together in 1904, in an alliance known as the Entente Cordiale. This was more of a friendship agreement than an alliance. Later on, Britain reached such an agreement with Russia hence forming a collaborative friendship between Britain, Russia and France. A naval treaty was also made between Japan and Britain in 1902.

Germany was alarmed by the entente as it felt surrounded by adversaries. Such alliances just meant that in the event that one country went to war, the others would be obliged to follow automatically. This was therefore a recipe for the war that later broke out in 1914.[3]


At that time, people were staunch nationalists and this was another recipe for war. Rage was eminent and in the event that one’s country was insulted there were higher chances for fighting back for the sake of one’s country. People strongly stood by the slogans of their respective countries in patriotism.

This made most European countries to be warlike. Most of the colonies wished to free themselves from the yoke of their master’s rule. The Romanians and Bulgarians for instance wanted to free themselves from the Turkish rule while the Serbs wanted to be free from the Austria-Hungary rule. All this led to acts of rebellion and terrorism in the European continent.


Countries that perceived themselves as superior felt that it was alright for them to conquer those countries that they perceived as weaker or inferior like most African countries. In 1900 for instance, Britain had conquered about a fifth of the world. This caused the imperial nations to have conflict as they scrambled to conquer the world hence leading to war. In most cases, the rivaling powers always clashed whenever they met. The German leader at that time, Kaiser Wilhelm, decided to have colonies as well and this led to increased tension.

Awful governments

Most of the European countries were ruled in an autocratic manner and the governments were mainly characterized by corruption and bad governance. Most of the European countries at that time were not democratic and the decisions to go to war did not encounter much opposition either from the leaders or the people.

No agreement was reached upon before plunging into war. At that time, a country did not require to have a lot of justification before going to war. At times, war would break out for the simple reason of defeating the adversary and gaining more power or extending the territory for whoever was ruling by then.[4]


During the Balkan war which ensured the expansion of Serbia, the Austrian officials thought of the best way to curtail its continued expansion and strengthening. Austria wanted to protect its dual monarchy and it was thought that this would only be made possible by waging a preventive war against Serbia.

The Austrians wanted to wage war against the Serbians so as to weaken them as they would not tolerate the expansion and increase in power of an enemy state. Russia had been challenged on its inability to protect Serbia in the Bosnian crisis as well as the Balkan war and this made it to reconstruct its military.

This was followed by the destabilization of power balances and war threats. War was almost inevitable given that Russia was to support Serbs in their war against Austria while other nations like Britain sided with Austria.

These developments occurred at the time when Russia was in the process of upgrading its military power. Britain was however not ready for war at that particular time and the war had to be postponed until the completion of the Kiel Canal’s expansion and the completion of the U-boat base construction. The Germans on the other hand wanted the war to commence before the completion of the Russian armament.

The Germans felt that they could not compete with other powers like Russia and Britain in armament although they had started their armament process earlier, in 1911. This was due to the fact that the German government could not increase the tax levied on its civilians and pursuing more of its military armament programs could only lead to the country becoming bankrupt.

The Germans therefore felt that it would be good to carry out a preventive war aimed at Russia and it was perceived that the earlier the action was taken the better. They could not condone a powerful Russia as in no time the nation would be far ahead in its military sophistication and this had to be stopped by provoking a war with it.

The result for all these was political turmoil in the European countries. The cultural factors, political factors as well as shifts in the powers of the European countries are just some of the factors that led to the European countries plunging into war. The region was characterized by territorial disputes that had not been resolved and this contributed to the tensions between nations.

There were also several misperceptions. It was for instance thought by the Germans that the United Kingdom was meant to remain neutral. Some of the European countries were also characterized by systems of governance that were convoluted and fragmented and conflicts were eminent in such regions. Diplomatic communications in most of the countries were characterized by delays as well as misunderstandings.

Arms races that had been witnessed earlier and the military training seemed to have also played a big role in fueling the possibility for the war. Most of the powers were witnessing military, economic, colonial as well as imperial rivalry hence causing tensions that could at one point erupt into fully fledged war.

Diplomatic Political Factors

The Domestic Politics of Germany

At that time, Germany was witnessing a rise in the left wing parties which had started gaining enormous support from the civilians. They always sought to distract the population by insisting on an external war that could result in the government gaining support from the civilians. This was happening at a time when Russia was on its military armament program.

French Domestic Politics

France was also embroiled in internal political turmoil especially after the revolution. The monarchists and those loyal to Bonaparte formed the rightwing opposition while others formed the leftwing. There were therefore constant internal wrangles and this necessitated a nationalistic point of view.

The left-wing government was steering towards making the relevant social reforms while the right-wing opponents hoped to regain power the second time given that they had links with the military. All these factors played a big role in creating the right environment for war.

Changes in Austria

The Austrian government structure changed significantly in 1867. The Austrian government had become a dual monarchy: Austria-Hungary. The German aristocracy had particularly been at the top of the Austrian government and the change in the structure meant that a compromise had to be reached so as to preserve the aristocracy given that people had started to press for nationalism.

The elite in Hungary had to be given equal chance in the government as well. This became a challenge to the Germans within the Austrian government as they had to agree with the Magyar elite as well. A foreign policy that was coherent could therefore not be easily reached.[5]

It became difficult for Germany to rule Austria-Hungary and the use of non-diplomatic means was considered. At the same time, some of those in the Austria-Hungary government ascribed to the social Darwinism concept and felt that it was a good idea for countries to arm themselves in the struggle for survival.

Some therefore advocated for war with Serbia. It was therefore thought that bringing more slaves to Austria-Hungary would result in the elite compromising their power hence giving an upper hand to the Germans. It was feared that the southern slaves led by Serbia were planning to wedge war against the Austria-Hungarians and there was need to stop them before they became too powerful to defeat by using military means.

War with Serbia was therefore contemplated although some thought that military intervention would not necessarily result in solving the problems that were plaguing Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary is therefore thought to have played a significant role in the commencement of the war.

The empire was therefore disintegrating due to the Russian ambitions as well as the Serbian nationalism. Austria-Hungary therefore opted to go to war with Serbia while believing that the strong support that they got from Germany would keep Russia at bay and at the same time weakening the Balkan prestige.


A collection of several factors made war in Europe in 1914 inevitable. Different European countries plunged into the war with each country having its individual reason(s) for its involvement. Some got into war to assist their allies while some joined the war due to territorial disputes. Others simply wanted to outdo their adversaries.


. 1952 .The Origins of the War of 1914, trans. London: Oxford University Press.

. 1929. The Genesis Of The World War; An Introduction To The Problem of War Guilt, New York: Knopf.

Barnes, Harry Elmer . 1972. In Quest Of Truth and Justice: De-bunking The War Guilt Myth, New York: Arno Press

Carter, Miranda. 2009. Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to the First World War. London: Penguin.

Fay, Sidney. 1929. The Origins of the World War, New York: Macmillan.


  1. . 1952 .The Origins of the War of 1914, trans. London: Oxford University Press.
  2. . 1929. The Genesis Of The World War; An Introduction To The Problem Of War Guilt, New York: Knopf.
  3. Barnes, Harry Elmer . 1972. In Quest Of Truth And Justice: De-bunking The War Guilt Myth, New York: Arno Press
  4. Carter, Miranda. 2009. Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to the First World War. London: Penguin.
  5. Fay, Sidney. 1929. The Origins Of The World War, New York: Macmillan.
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