29.3: Events of World War I
29.3.1: The Alliances
During the 19th century, the major European powers went to great lengths to maintain a balance of power throughout Europe, resulting in the existence of a complex network of political and military alliances throughout the continent leading up to World War I. According to some historians, this caused a localized conflict to escalate into a global war.
Name the members of the two alliances that clashed in WWI
- Starting directly after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Great Powers of Europe began to forge complex alliances to maintain a balance of power and peace.
- This process began with the Holy Alliance between Prussia, Russia, and Austria and the Quadruple Alliance signed by United Kingdom, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, both formed in 1815 and aimed at maintaining a stable and conservative vision for Europe.
- Throughout the rest of the 19th century, various treaties and alliances were formed, including the German-Austrian treaty (1879) or Dual Alliance; the addition of Italy to the Germany and Austrian alliance in 1882, forming the “Triple Alliance”; the Franco-Russian Alliance (1894); and the “Entente Cordiale” between Britain and France (1904), which eventually included Russia and formed the Triple Entente.
- The Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, which were renewed several times leading up to World War I, formed the two opposing sides of the war, with Italy moving over to ally with the Triple Entente after the start of the war and other nations pulled in over time.
- Historians debate how much these complex alliances contributed to the outbreak of the World War I, as the crisis between Austria-Hungary and Serbia could have been localized but quickly escalated into a global conflict despite the fact that some of the alliances, notably the Triple Entente, did not stipulate mutual defense in the case of an attack.
- Central Powers
- Consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria, this was one of the two main factions during World War I (1914–18). It faced and was defeated by the Allied Powers that formed around the Triple Entente, after which it was dissolved.
- Triple Entente
- The informal understanding linking the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland after the signing of the Anglo-Russian Entente on August 31, 1907. The understanding between the three powers, supplemented by agreements with Japan and Portugal, constituted a powerful counterweight to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Kingdom of Italy.
- Triple Alliance
- A secret agreement between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy formed on May 20, 1882, and renewed periodically until World War I. Germany and Austria-Hungary had been closely allied since 1879. Italy sought support against France shortly after it lost North African ambitions to the French. Each member promised mutual support in the event of an attack by any other great power.
During the 19th century, the major European powers went to great lengths to maintain a balance of power throughout Europe, resulting in the existence of a complex network of political and military alliances throughout the continent by 1900. These began in 1815 with the Holy Alliance between Prussia, Russia, and Austria. When Germany was united in 1871, Prussia became part of the new German nation. In October 1873, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck negotiated the League of the Three Emperors between the monarchs of Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany. This agreement failed because Austria-Hungary and Russia could not agree over Balkan policy, leaving Germany and Austria-Hungary in an alliance formed in 1879 called the Dual Alliance. This was a method of countering Russian influence in the Balkans as the Ottoman Empire continued to weaken. This alliance expanded in 1882 to include Italy, in what became the Triple Alliance.
Bismarck held Russia at Germany’s side to avoid a two-front war with France and Russia. When Wilhelm II ascended to the throne as German Emperor (Kaiser), Bismarck was compelled to retire and his system of alliances was gradually de-emphasized. For example, the Kaiser refused in 1890 to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. Two years later, the Franco-Russian Alliance was signed to counteract the force of the Triple Alliance. In 1904, Britain signed a series of agreements with France, the Entente Cordiale, and in 1907, Britain and Russia signed the Anglo-Russian Convention. While these agreements did not formally ally Britain with France or Russia, they made British entry into any future conflict involving France or Russia a possibility, and the system of interlocking bilateral agreements became known as the Triple Entente.
Interestingly, family connections pervaded these alliances, some crossing the boundaries of opposition. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of England, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia were cousins.
The Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria – hence also known as the Quadruple Alliance – was one of the two main factions during World War I (1914–18). It faced and was defeated by the Allied Powers that formed around the Triple Entente, after which it was dissolved.
The Central Powers consisted of the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the war. The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers later in 1914. In 1915, the Kingdom of Bulgaria joined the alliance. The name “Central Powers” is derived from the location of these countries; all four (including the other groups that supported them except for Finland and Lithuania) were located between the Russian Empire in the east and France and the United Kingdom in the west. Finland, Azerbaijan, and Lithuania joined them in 1918 before the war ended and after the Russian Empire collapsed.
The Central Powers’ origin was the Triple Alliance. Also known as the Triplice, this was a secret agreement between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy formed on May 20, 1882, and renewed periodically until World War I. Germany and Austria-Hungary had been closely allied since 1879. Italy sought support against France shortly after it lost North African ambitions to the French. Each member promised mutual support in the event of an attack by any other great power. The treaty provided that Germany and Austria-Hungary would assist Italy if it was attacked by France without provocation. In turn, Italy would assist Germany if attacked by France. In the event of a war between Austria-Hungary and Russia, Italy promised to remain neutral.
Shortly after renewing the Alliance in June 1902, Italy secretly extended a similar guarantee to France. By a particular agreement, neither Austria-Hungary nor Italy would change the status quo in the Balkans without previous consultation. On November 1, 1902, five months after the Triple Alliance was renewed, Italy reached an understanding with France that each would remain neutral in the event of an attack on the other.
When Austria-Hungary found itself at war in August 1914 with the rival Triple Entente, Italy proclaimed its neutrality, considering Austria-Hungary the aggressor and defaulting on the obligation to consult and agree compensations before changing the status quo in the Balkans as agreed in 1912 renewal of the Triple Alliance. Following parallel negotiation with both Triple Alliance, aimed to keep Italy neutral, and the Triple Entente, aimed to make Italy enter the conflict, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. Carol I of Romania, through his Prime Minister Ion I. C. Brătianu, also secretly pledged to support the Triple Alliance, but he remained neutral since Austria-Hungary started the war.
Allies of WWI
The Allies of World War I were the countries that opposed the Central Powers in the First World War.
The members of the original Entente Alliance of 1907 were the French Republic, the British Empire, and the Russian Empire. Italy ended its alliance with the Central Powers, arguing that Germany and Austria-Hungary started the war and that the alliance was only defensive in nature; it entered the war on the side of the Entente in 1915. Japan was another important member. Belgium, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Romania were affiliated members of the Entente.
The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres defines the Principal Allied Powers as the British Empire, French Republic, Italy, and Japan. The Allied Powers comprised, together with the Principal Allied Powers, Armenia, Belgium, Greece, Hejaz, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serb-Croat-Slovene state, and Czechoslovakia.
The U.S. declaration of war on Germany in April 1917 was on the grounds that Germany had violated its neutrality by attacking international shipping and the Zimmermann Telegram sent to Mexico. It declared war on Austria-Hungary in December 1917. The U.S. entered the war as an “associated power,” rather than as a formal ally of France and the United Kingdom to avoid “foreign entanglements.” Although the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria severed relations with the United States, neither declared war.
- The Alliances
“Causes of World War I.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_World_War_I. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Allies of World War I.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allies_of_World_War_I. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Triple Alliance (1882).” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_Alliance_(1882). Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“1397px-WWIchartX.svg.png.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_World_War_I#/media/File:WWIchartX.svg. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.