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Many researchers consider the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in June 1914 in Sarajevo to be the reason for the start of World War I. These researchers state that Germany decided to use this favorable moment to unleash military conflict; however, it can be argued that the assassination of the Archduke was not the cause of the war but rather a pretext for it. The purpose of this paper is to provide arguments in support of this position.
It should be noted that starting from 1878, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire had similar interests, which could be concluded to the desire to conquer the territories and divide the world differently. In the same manner, France and the Russian Empire needed to unite to be able to stand against their opponents. In 1907, Great Britain joined their side to protect its interests. However, even earlier, in 1848, Germany directed its efforts to reinforce the military power, and Great Britain comprehended the criticality of this maneuver; therefore, it had to join the French-Russian Union in 1907 to be able to protect itself. It is important to stress that prior to the start of the war, the opposing sides considered that it would be a Quick War. The allies had planned that the destruction would be immense and would not last long due to this reason.
The war was unleashed after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand and Austro-Hungary claimed such demands to Serbia, which the latter could not follow. Immediately after these events, Austro-Hungary received support from the side of Germany while the Russian Empire initiated support to Serbia and started the rapid mobilization. Thus, it can be stated that World War I was caused by an aggravation of existing conflicts between capitalist countries, conflicts that were associated with a struggle over markets and sources of raw materials rather than the fact of the assassination of the heir to Austro-Hungary. As these conflicts intensified, they gradually led to the emergence of hostile coalitions. Germany wanted to join the colonial powers and had a great interest in the re-division of the world map. Austria-Hungary decided to act as an ally of Germany since it had its own interests with respect to the Balkans. France, in turn, acted as an ally of Russia. Britain feared that the United States and Germany would reach the same naval power due to their growing economic potential. Thus, the Anglo-German conflict led to the unification of Great Britain with Russia and France. Russia was constrained by allied commitments and wanted to assert its status. In addition, it also sought to seize the Black Sea straits and the Balkans in order to compete with Austria-Hungary.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the competition between countries over the redistribution of land, as well as the existing economic conflicts, were the root causes of World War I and the assassination in Sarajevo was only an excuse to unleash war. The balance of power was changing since Germany was aimed at building up military capabilities and France had united with England in their mutual need to protect themselves from Germany’s rising power. Russia also joined their union and started rapid mobilization. Therefore, the assassination was used by these countries to deliver an ultimatum to each other. Within a few days, all of the major European powers had entered what would become World War I.