Explain how the European alliance system contributed to the escalation of war following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914.

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Military alliances are a double-edged sword.  They exist to strengthen the security of each member of the alliance -- a process that works to the benefit of smaller, weaker countries confronted by the threat of attack or invasion by a neighboring larger country.  The theory is that, by legally binding themselves together and presenting a united front to would-be aggressors, they deter aggression from occurring in the first place.  Assuming the broader outline of such an alliance is known to all, including to potential adversaries, then the alliance can play a pivotal role in maintaining the peace.  If the facts of the alliance commitments are a secret, however, and a potential adversary is ignorant of the commitments to come to each others' defense in the event of an attack, then the probability of a miscalculation resulting in a chain of events is greatly increased.  Such was the case in Europe in the years leading up to the outbreak of full-scale war.

The flip-side to the...

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