How did the alliance system that developed in the early 1900s help cause WWI?

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The complex system of alliances between European powers in the early 1900s contributed to the outbreak of World War I by causing a relatively small conflict originating in the Balkans to become a massive war that spanned the continent. This was because, first, the alliance system encouraged some nations to act more aggressively and, second, mandated that nations step up to defend their allies.

When the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo, the Serbian government was deemed responsible by Austria-Hungary. It was taking a risk, since Serbia had an alliance with Russia. They were encouraged to take a hard line, though, by the assurances of their own ally Germany, whose generals were spoiling for a fight with Russia. When Serbia failed to heed an ultimatum issued by Austria-Hungary, the latter country went to war with Serbia, and Russia responded by mobilizing its army. This led to war between Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany, which...

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