Why did the European alliance system develop before World War I?

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European alliance systems formed as nations began to fear attacks from one another. The formation of Germany and its successful war against France was a major catalyst in this fear. Another catalyst was the extreme nationalism of the period, especially the nationalism felt in the Balkans as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated and new nations formed. Germany sought to isolate France and it would form alliances with Austria-Hungary and Italy. France united with Russia in order to pressure Germany. Russia supported Slavic nationalism in the Balkans, and Austria-Hungary would view this as a threat by 1914. By 1907, Britain would join the Entente due to a resentment of German naval buildup. The new sets of allies pressured one another through loans and promises of assistance in order to promote military spending and taking a hard line against the alliance's enemies. As 1914 approached, many of the leaders of Europe saw the alliance system as normal and as a way to prevent war. The two sets of alliances, the Central Powers and the Entente, promised to support their allies in times of war but most of the countries traded willingly with countries in the opposing alliance. No one predicted a full-scale war in the summer of 1914, but it was partially fueled by the alliance system.

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In the late 1800's, there was a lot of distrust between the major powers of Europe.  A lot of the tension was caused because of competition for colonies in Africa.  Nations formed alliances as a result of this distrust and to protect themselves from aggression.  Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Triple Alliance (1882) because of their dislike of France and Russia.  Germany, in particular, was surrounded on both sides by these powers and felt the need to expand its military power through the alliance.  France and Russia responded by forming an alliance twelve years later.  These alliances also were formed to forge economic ties through trade agreements but were mostly aimed at military protection.   By 1907, Britain, France, and Russia formed a formal alliance that would endure until the beginning of World War I.  Germany and Austria-Hungary were committed to their Alliance for the duration of World War I, but Italy would join the side of Britain and France.  So while the Alliances were initially created to forge a sense of security, they actually led to a very large conflict in Europe.  

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