How did World War I turn into a global war?

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There were a number of catalysts, political realities, nation-state alliances, and series of cause and effect events that resulted in the enormous size, scope, and scale of World War I . Decades of historical context is important to understand when looking at how so many countries became involved in fighting...

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There were a number of catalysts, political realities, nation-state alliances, and series of cause and effect events that resulted in the enormous size, scope, and scale of World War I. Decades of historical context is important to understand when looking at how so many countries became involved in fighting in World War I. Since the year 1871, Germany had been growing in power and influence in Central Europe.

As the emerging nation-state began forming strategic alliances with Austria-Hungary and Italy, many Western European nations, as well as Russia, became concerned with Germany's growing consolidation of power and political alliances. As such, France and Russia entered into political alliance, and while France and Britain were consistently on the verge of aggression, the two nations entered in a political agreement to protect themselves from the growing power of the German bloc.

By 1904, these political alliances between countries were firmly in place. In the midst of these ever-increasing brewing tensions in Central- and Western Europe, South-Eastern European countries were also experiencing political upheaval and chaos, particularly as the Serbian state became more and more powerful. Austria-Hungary was particularly threatened by the rising power of the Serbian state, considering its similar political and military goals of consolidating power within the boundaries of central/south-eastern Europe.

On June 28th, 1914, when the archduke of Austria was assassinated by a young Bosnian-Serbian man, Austria-Hungary immediately moved to crush the rise of the Serbian state. Germany saw a chance to continue consolidating power by backing Austria-Hungary and encouraged a war against Serbia. This move was a particularly important catalyst for events that followed as countries allied against the rise of Germany in Central Europe began preparing to resist German military involvement in the conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary.

Russia, in particular, became quickly involved in the war as it moved to protect its Serbian ally. The French knew they would be attacked by Germany and, as such, also began immediate preparations along with its Russian ally. Britain attempted to stay out of the war preparations, but as the German state made it clear it would seize power over waterways that would threaten British security, the British state also began preparing for war by late July of 1914.

When Germany invaded the neutral state of Belgium on August 2nd, Britain demanded that Germany withdraw its troops, and when this demand was not met, Britain declared war on August 4th, 1914. In 1917, after almost 3 years of attempting neutrality, the United States entered into the war alongside the Allied powers after German submarines continued to attack non-combatant ships as well as attempted to make political alliance with Mexico.

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World War I (1914–1918) developed into a global war for a number of reasons.

First, the system of alliances quickly brought other nations into the war. The Triple Alliance consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The Triple Entente was composed of France, Russia, and Britain. When Austria-Hungary threatened Serbia, Russia promised to support the Serbs. This quickly led to a war between the two alliance systems. But Italy switched sides and entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente in 1915. Britain also had an alliance with Japan, so Tokyo joined the war against Germany.

Second, battles occurred throughout the globe. Japan attacked German possessions in Asia. Both sides had colonies in Africa, and their colonial forces fought each other in that vast continent. German and British naval forces clashed throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Germany used submarines in its naval war, and this ultimately led to American intervention.

Third, the war was unexpectedly long. As the conflict dragged on, other countries entered. Bulgaria joined the German side in 1915. Romania and America entered on the side of the British and French in 1916 and 1917, respectively.

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World War I became a global conflict for several reasons. One reason was that many countries around the war were involved in some way with the war. The alliance system helped spread the war quickly. The two main alliances during the war were the Allied Powers and the Central Powers. While the emphasis is given to the main powers in each alliance, there were smaller countries allied with each side. For example, the Allied Powers included France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Italy, and the United States. Because Serbia was a long-standing ally of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union felt it had to help Serbia when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This started a domino effect where allies of each nation joined the war to support their alliance members. Thus, a dispute that should have involved only two countries, quickly escalated because of the alliances that existed.

Many of the main countries in each alliance had empires that extended beyond their borders. This also helped expand the outreach of the war around the world. The places these countries controlled helped them fight in the war.

The stage was set prior to World War I for a small dispute between two countries to become one that involved many nations.

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The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Bosnia by a Yugoslav national is an event in history that points to the start of the 1st World War.

The reason the war became a global war is because as stated by Pohnpei397 the countries involved had developed alliances. These alliances were used to maintain the global balance of power. The nations were linked by politics, trade among other factors making it difficult for a nation to ignore the plight of its ally.

Austria provoked a war with serbia after the assassination of the Archduke through a list of demands that were impossible to fulfill. This succeeded and ended up in Austria declaring war on Serbia. This in turn forced Serbia's allies to marshal up military support against Austria while the same was done by Austria's allies. This led to the involvement of countries such as France, Russia, Germany, Britain and their allies to get actively involved in the war.

Opportunists were not left behind and this is because this war created prospects for access to resources, forging of stronger alliances and to establish authority with regards to global operations and relations.

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There are three ways in which this happened.  

First, it happened because of the fact that there were far-reaching alliances on both sides.  That meant that a dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia could draw in Russia and Germany and France and Britain.

Second, it happened because of the fact that many of these combatants had empires.  The fact that the French had an African empire, for example, meant that many soldiers were brought from Africa to participate in the war.  This is also why Australians and New Zealanders ended up fighting in Turkey.

Finally, it happened because various countries hoped to benefit from fighting.  This is, for example, why a country as far removed from Europe as Japan got into the war on the side of the Allies. 

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