Causes of World War I
The Balkan Peninsula has long been known as the “tinderbox of Europe” because it has been an area of conflict and political unrest for centuries. The countries and people that occupy the peninsula are constantly in chaos and at war with each other. This trend continues today with the problems in Bosnia and the recent international crisis in Kosovo. Throughout history, small local incidents in the Balkan Peninsula have escalated into large international crises. World War I is a perfect example of what started as a regional conflict and grew into an all-out European war. A small local European struggle between Austria-Hungary and Serbia over the territory of Bosnia erupted into a full-blown worldwide conflict after the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand.
However, in addition to the struggle over Bosnia, there were several underlying causes of World War I sweeping across Europe on the eve of World War I which contributed to the start of the war. These conflicts had plagued Europe for years and made a large-scale European war unavoidable. Although the direct cause of World War I was the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, long term causes such as the political instability of Europe, rivalries and alliances between countries, and the conflict between large empires and nationalism brought Europe into a situation in which a large-scale war was inevitable. By 1914, these factors made the major European powers on the verge of war and a small spark in the “tinderbox of Europe” was all that was necessary to cause World War I.
In 1815, the Congress of Vienna set forth a political plan for Europe which would create stability among the European nations after Napoleon suffered defeat (Ross 74). However, this balance of power was upset by the unification of Germany in 1871. With the emergence of Germany as a strong European power, the other nations of Europe had to alter their foreign relations in order to attain political stability. For instance, by 1891, France and Russia, two nations traditionally opposed to each other and had gone to war twice in the 19th century, allied with one another for protection against the alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary (Ross 13). The emergence of Germany as a European power caused other political changes in Europe and offset the balance that had existed in Europe since 1815. Several nations were unclear on how to react to Germany and others disagreed on whether to accept Germany as a dominant power in continental Europe (Ross 29). The other major effect of the unification of Germany was that after the humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, France was fearful of Germany. France also feared that the Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary would form a huge German-speaking empire in Europe. This fear of Germany led to France’s alliance with Russia and its rivalry with Germany, two factors which helped bring about World War I. In addition, the...