Why was there an alliance system before WWI in the early 1900s?  Such as Britain and Belgium, France and Russia etc... why did they all choose allies before the war

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The system of alliances developed largely because of the sudden rise of the German Empire which had been born on the heels of a humiliating defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck knew better than to enlarge Germany's empire in Europe, and constantly commented that Germany was "satisfied" by its present territorial holdings; however he also knew that much of Europe did not share his sentiments. France was quite upset over losing Alsace-Lorraine; the Ottoman Empire was near collapse, (in fact it was known as the "sick old man of Europe;") plus Austria-Hungary and Russia had conflicting interests in eastern Europe. Bismarck could easily see that Germany might become entangled in a conflict between the two and at the same time wanted to keep France isolated; so he set about to create a set of alliances.

As a result of Bismarck's influence:

  • The Three Emperors League allied Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia against "radical interests.
  • Bismarck allowed Austria to "occupy and administer Bosnia and Herzegovina, which upset Russia; so Bismarck signed an alliance with Austria (which Italy later joined) to defend against Russian aggression. This was the famous Triple Alliance.
  • The Alliance of Three Emperors between Austria, Russia and Germany provided for division of Ottoman Empire Territory in the event of its collapse

Only a diplomat with Bismarck's shrewd skills to maintain this delicate and at times entangling balance; however Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck because he opposed the treaty with Russia, and refused to renew a treaty between the two countries. As a result, France stepped into the void and allied with Russia. Their agreement was that the alliance of the two countries would remain in effect as long as the Triple Alliance was in effect. Great Britain later joined the alliance because of threats to its naval superiority posed by the new German navy. Thus was born the Triple Entente.

Confusing and entangled as it was, this complicated series of alliances set the groundwork for World War I.