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2. Germany became a nation in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War.
3. Germany’s political system was part-democratic (in that the parliament, known as
the Reichstag, was elected by the people) and part-autocratic (in that the Kaiser
determined foreign policy, controlled the army and appointed the government).
This meant that the Kaiser had the power to start a war.
4. Germany had the fastest rate of economic development in Europe, which made its
neighbours very nervous. This was particularly so with France, which had lost
Alsace-Lorraine to Germany following in 1871.
5. Germany’s first chancellor (prime minister), Otto Von Bismarck, was determined
to avoid war with his neighbours. As such, he forged alliances with Russia and
Austria, ensuring that neither allied with France. In this way, he kept Germany’s
greatest enemy (France) isolated in Europe, and therefore weak.
6. When Wilhelm II became Kaiser, he sacked Bismarck and appointed a less
cautious man as chancellor. He believed Germany His foreign policy became
more expansionist in nature, as he sought to win Germany a ‘place in the sun’.
7. Britain was the most powerful nation in the world in the 19th century. It had the
largest empire, and maintained control of this via its industrial strength and its
huge navy (the largest in the world).
8. Because of its unique position as the only major power that was separated from its
neighbours by sea, it could afford to remain aloof from European affairs. This was
known as ‘splendid isolation’. Britain maintained no permanent alliances with the
major powers of Europe. Its interests were best served by maintaining a balance of
power on the Continent.
9. When Germany began to build a powerful navy in the 1890s, Britain started to
become concerned about its security. Many of Britain’s leaders suspected that the
Germans wanted the navy in order to invade Britain or to threaten its empire.
10. As a result of this fear, Britain allied itself with France and Germany, forming the
Triple Entente. Under this agreement, France and Russia would come to each
other’s aid in the event of an attack by Germany. Britain would avoid conflict
with either France or Russia. In practice, it meant the three nations would be
aligned together against Germany.
11. France’s biggest problem in the late 19th century was the loss of Alasace and
Lorraine – the two provinces seized by Germany following the Franco-Prussian
War of 1870-71. Until that defeat, France’s only serious rival had been Britain.
Now, however, it had a powerful and aggressive nation on its eastern border.
12. After the Franco-Prussian War, the French became obsessed with the treat of
another invasion by Germany. They also became obsessed with the desire to gain
Alsace-Lorraine back.
13. Wilhelm II’s aggressive foreign policy made France even more paranoid, and
drove it to forge an alliance with Russia.
Austria-Hungary and Turkey
14. The greatest danger facing Austria-Hungary at the turn of the century was that it
would fall apart, as many of its subject peoples did not wish to be part of the
empire. Foremost among these were the Serbs, who wished to join with Serbia.
15. Russian and Austrian interests conflicted in the Balkans over Serbia. Austria saw
Serbia as a threat, and wished to eliminate it as a nation. Russia saw Serbia as an
ally in its quest for influence in the region. (The Russians’ ultimate aim was to
gain control over the Bosphorus – the strait separating the Black Sea from the
Mediterranean.) Because Serbia was allied with Russia and Austria was allied
with Germany, any war between Austria and Serbia threatened to become a war
between Germany and Russia.
16. Turkey was referred to as the “sick man of Europe” because its empire was in
decline. In the years before the First World War, it lost almost all of its land in
17. Russia was beset by a host of problems in the years before World War I. In the
first place, it was very backward, with insufficient industry to provide for its own
defensive needs. It was also extremely poor, with a population unhappy with their
lot in life. In 1905, tens of thousands of Russians marched on the Tsar’s palace in
St. Petersburg, demanding political and economic change, but were gunned down
by the palace guards. This precipitated a revolution, which was crushed ruthlessly
by the army and the secret police.
18. Russia’s system of government was autocratic, with the emperor (Tsar/Czar)
having almost absolute power.
19. In 1904, the Russian navy suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the
Japanese. Russia’s army was likewise defeated in one of the largest land battles in
20. Russian interests and German interests conflicted in Poland, a divided country
which they each controlled.