As soon as war broke out in 1914, historians began to ask why and how it could possibly have happened. What had gone wrong? As the fighting spread and casualties mounted, the question became more urgent. To this day no one has come up with a definitive explanation. In the following text I will attempt to highlight the principle factors which contributed to the outbreak of the First World War. After studying these causes I shall then decide in my opinion which is the most significant factor.
The First World War broke out against a background of rivalry between the world’s greatest powers. These powers were, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and the USA and not as much, Austria-Hungry, Italy and Japan. No single power was dominant. The US, for example, had the strongest economy. Britain the most powerful navy and Germany the most effective army. From 1870 onwards, the powers formed alliances for greater security. The Triple Entente consisted of France, Britain and Russia. The Triple Alliance consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. By 1914 the US was the only power not connected to the international web of military agreements. While Germany itself was strong, its allies were not. Austria-Hungary was made up of 11 quarrelling nations including some, such as the Czechs, who wanted independence, while others, the Serbs for instance wanted union with neighbouring states. Germany’s other ally, Italy, was extremely unreliable and was desperate not to go to war. Germany was concerned by this fact and so the tension between the empires grew.