Why did Italy get involved in World War I?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A really large problem across Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved the dynamics inherent in what was called "the balance of power" politics that dominated European diplomacy. The world's major empires were still alive and independent. Smaller political entities, like individual countries, were constantly having to maneuver among these empires to survive. Italy was considered one of the major powers of Europe, as it is today, but it was wary of becoming engaged in a major conflict courtesy of its relationships with those empires. Compounding the problem was the secretiveness that cloaked these diplomatic maneuvers and that contributed to the atmosphere of distrust that permeated diplomacy. In 1882, Italy had joined with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to form the Triple Alliance, but this alliance was directed primarily against Russia, where Italy had little at stake (save whatever mischief the czar could make in the Balkans, which could be considerable).

Despite its secretive alliance with Germany and Austro-Hungary, Italy was loathe to become involved in the Great War that was started due in no small part to the fractious and highly flammable Balkans region. When it did decide to become an active combatant, it was on the side not of the Triple Alliance but of the Triple Entente. On May 23, 1915, Italy formally entered the war on the side of Great Britain and France and Russia against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. Why would it do this? Territory. Under the terms of the 1915 Treaty of London (not to be confused with the previous Treaties of London), Italy would receive guarantees of sizable chunks of territory should the Entente prevail, which it eventually did. The Treaty of London (1915) included the following provisions favorable to Italy:

ARTICLE 4. Under the Treaty of Peace, Italy shall obtain the Trentino, Cisalpine Tyrol with its geographical and natural frontier, as well as Trieste, the counties of Gorizia and Gradisca, all Istria as far as the Quarnero and including Volosca and the Istrian islands of Cherso and Lussin, as well as the small islands of Plavnik, Unie, Canidole, Palazzuoli, San Pietro di Nembi, Asinello, Gruica, and the neighbouring islets....

ARTICLE 5. Italy shall also be given the province of Dalmatia within its present administrative boundaries....

ARTICLE 6. Italy shall receive full sovereignty over Valona, the island of Saseno and surrounding territory....

ARTICLE 7. Should Italy obtain the Trentino and Istria in accordance with the provisions of Article 4, together with Dalmatia and the Adriatic islands within the limits specified in Article 5, and the Bay of Valona (Article 6), and if the central portion of Albania is reserved for the establishment of a small autonomous neutralised State, Italy shall not oppose the division of Northern and Southern Albania between Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece....

Read Article 7 above carefully: "Italy shall not oppose the division of Northern and Southern Albania...." This was precisely the type of arrangement that undermined the nation-state system that was intended to prevent this type of conflict. Parceling out chunks of land to victors was the modus operandi of the times, but it created more problems than it solved, as nationalism was hardly eliminated from the diplomatic lexicon. In short, then, Italy entered World War I because it determined that it, per the terms of the London Treaty, would benefit. Great Britain and France enlisted Italy into the war on their side with these promises of territorial spoils.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The alliances Italy made before the war should have caused it to enter the war on the side of the Triple Alliance with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Italy, however, didn't honor its original agreements and waited for the war to progress in hopes of ensuring that it joined the victorious side.

Italy finally joined the war after England offered up the opportunity to join the Triple Entente with the promise of Italy securing territory around the Adriatic Sea.  The purpose of Italy's entrance was to create a new front in the war and to divide the troops of the enemy, thus weakening them.