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Causes of World War I

Developments in European politics leading up to World War I centered on the rise of militarism, alliances, nationalism,
imperialism, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914.

Militarism in Pre-World War I Europe
The arms race of the early 1900s was a key precipitating factor in the outbreak of World War I. Starting in 1870, Germany and France doubled their armies, and Germany and Britain entered into a naval arms race, each strengthening its fleet to keep up with the other. When the British Royal Navy introduced the Dreadnought in 1906, Germany introduced a number of its own battle ships in an attempt to secure supremacy in the event of a naval war.

Major Alliances Set the Scene for World War I
A number of alliances were signed in Europe between 1979 and 1914. The Triple Entente, a pact between Britain, France, and Russia formed the backbone of the Allied Powers. These three nations garnered further support by signing alliances and pacts with Japan, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, Canada, and the United States. Germany and Austria-Hungary similarly signed the Triple Alliance with Italy. Such pacts of mutual support crystallized the emergence of the Central Powers as opposed to the Allied Nations. Italy, however, fought against the Central Powers in World War I.

The Rise of Nationalism
In the early 1900s, Europe witnessed the rise of nationalist groups, creating much political dissent. The unification of Italy in 1861 defied the terms of the Congress of Vienna. Germany united as a strong nation in 1871. Moroccans protested French dominion and embarked on a quest for independence and were actively supported by the Germans. Austria-Hungary’s acquisition of Bosnia in 1908 was also backed by Germany but opposed by Russia. War was avoided but the dissent between Bosnia and Austria-Hungary ran high. The rise of such nationalistic tendencies was a predominant factor in the eventual outbreak of war in 1914.

Imperial Conquests Leading up to World War I
By early 1900, Britain and France had set up a number of colonies across the world. The British Empire had established profitable colonies on every continent, and France's African colonies contributed to its wealth and prosperity. Germany’s colonial conquest threatened the two nations and was the cause of a bitter rivalry. Germany, on the other hand, looked forward to invading neighboring European countries and parts of Africa. The rise of imperialism was a potent cause leading to the outbreak of World War I.

The July Crisis of 1914
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, on June 28, 1914, triggered a diplomatic crisis in Europe. Austria-Hungary retaliated by serving Bosnia an ultimatum on July 23, 1914. Serbia failed to comply with all the terms. Austria-Hungary, assured of Germany's support, declared war on July 28. This was the start of the Great War. The series of events through July that precipitated the onset of World War I is referred to as the July Crisis of 1914.

The outbreak of World War I was a shock to most European nations, since Europe had counted upon a lasting peace. The War brought to the forefront the need for international cooperation and a forum for the upkeep of peace and security.

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