Describe the alliance system that existed in Europe in 1914. 6 marks.
By 1914, two main alliance systems existed: The Triple Alliance, consisting of Austria Hungary, Italy and Germany, and The Triple Entente which consisted of France, Britain and Russia. These alliances were designed to keep the status quo, and as a deterrent to countries that were considering war. The alliances were supposed to ensure collective security and prevent war; however, this was obviously counterproductive.
The Franco-Prussian war, in 1870, was fought over Alsace and Lorraine, an industrial area that originally belonged to France, before the war. Alsace and Lorraine was a province in Eastern France. Its industries included oil refining, brewing, printing, mining and food processing. Germany won this war, and so, won Alsace and Lorraine. This was the start of a long-standing rivalry between France and Germany, including the desire in France to reclaim Alsace and Lorraine and take revenge on Germany. After this, Germany united, and was ambitious for imperialism. Nevertheless, Germany was still vulnerable and threatened, being a newly industrialized and unified country. Meanwhile, Austria-Hungary was under threat from nationalism (and separatism). Seeing the advantages of becoming allied nations, in 1879, the Dual Alliance was created between Austria-Hungary and Germany as part of Bismarck’s system of alliances to prevent or limit war. The two countries promised to support each other with benevolent neutrality in case of attack by Russia.
Three years later, in 1882, Italy joined the Dual Alliance, making the Triple Alliance. Italy wanted the support of Germany and Austria-Hungary against France. This treaty was renewed in February 1887. This alliance was not very strong, because although the alliance was renewed again in 1907 and 1912, Italy joined World War I in 1915 in opposition to Austria-Hungary and Germany.
Whilst the Triple Alliance was being created, so was the Triple Entente. In 1893, France joined with Russia. France still wanted revenge from Germany for the lost Franco-Prussian war, and the rivalries that resided there, and France hoped to later reclaim Alsace and Lorraine. The Franco-Russian Alliance was also called the Dual Alliance, which included a political and military pact that developed between France and Russia which included friendly contacts, as well as a secret treaty in 1894. France and Russia both had borders with Germany which later became known as the Eastern and Western Fronts. It was a poor idea to fight on two different fronts which gave the advantage to Russia and France. It also led to the development of Schlieffen Plan.
Eleven years later, in 1904, France and Britain reach an agreement, which was called the Entente Cordial. France and Britain were both powerful countries and an alliance between them promoted the balance of power. This is unusual because as England is an island, they usually enjoyed Splendid Isolation, like America, and had a ‘laissez-faire’ foreign policy. The Anglo-French agreement settled some controversial matters and ended the antagonisms between Great Britain and France. However, the Entente Cordial didn’t mean that Britain had an alliance with Russia.
It wasn’t until 1907 that Britain and Russia became allies, creating the second three country alliance: The Triple Entente. The alliance between only Britain and Russia was called the Anglo-Russian Convention. This created the original two sides of World War One. After the ally acts, it created a chain reaction or domino effect. After Austria declared war on Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia. Germany also declared war on France and invaded Belgium. Britain declared war on Germany and Turkey entered the war on the side of the Triple Alliance. Later, Italy declared war on Germany and Austria.
Ironically, the alliance system was designed to maintain the peace, however it made a potentially small and local war a widescale war that involved 32 countries in total. It caused one of the deadliest conflicts ever, in which over 16 million people died. That’s 5,000 people a day dying, 365 days a year, for four years, 3 months and a week.