World War I

Start Free Trial

How did the Alliance System contribute to the cause of World War I?

Quick answer:

The alliance system caused the World War I to escalate from a regional conflict into a global war. Two major alliances existed in Europe prior to World War I. The Triple Alliance included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, while the Triple Entente included the Soviet Union, Britain, and France. After the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria and Serbia came into conflict. Austria and Serbia were allied with Germany and Russia respectively, leading Germany and Russia to declare war on each other. The conflict then spread across the globe as a complex web of alliances forced more countries into the conflict.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The other answers here do a good job of explaining how the alliance system made a major conflict all but avoidable. One detail that made the alliance system between the European powers particularly dangerous was that some of it was conducted in secret. In particular, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had a secret treaty in place that assured Germany would come to the aid of its southern neighbor in case of an attack by Russia and vice-versa. This arrangement had been made in 1879 but was not tested until Russia attacked the Austro-Hungarians in 1914.

While the existence of this alliance was leaked in 1883, the details of it remained secret. This might explain why Russia did not consider the Germans to be much of a threat when they began their attacks on the Austro-Hungarians.

In retrospect, keeping the details of such military alliances a secret was a bad idea. Alliances of these kinds are best utilized when they are meant to prevent aggression from non-treaty members. We will never know for sure, but it is possible that the Russians would not have been so quick to attack Austria-Hungary if they knew what the full extent of Germany's response would be.

All in all, the many military alliances between the various European powers all but assured a major war. It made it nearly impossible for WWI to have been prevented once fighting initially broke out. Considering that each alliance had little idea of exactly how the alliances of their potential foes functioned, they ended up rushing into a situation that would consume the entire continent in war.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Alliance system was a key factor in the causation of WWI.  Germany was on alert because it was surrounded by two opposing allied powers, France and Russia.  Russia allied itself with Serbia because Czar Nicholas II viewed himself as the protector of the Eastern Orthodox faith and all of the Slavs.  Britain joined forces with France and Russia because it feared a strong Germany, especially German naval improvements.  Germany allied itself with the Ottoman Empire in order to potentially threaten British interests in India.  Germany also allied itself with the Austro-Hungarian Empire because that empire had many German-speaking people.  

These alliances, while somewhat complex, made what should have been a regional war explode into a war that would engulf Europe and the world.  A Serbian nationalist, whose ties to the government are still debated to this day, shot the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand.  Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia which it knew it would not accept.  Serbia looked to Russia for protection, and Russia soon started to mobilize.  Germany, fearing an attack from Russia, declared war on Russia—this pulled France into the war.  Britain was not obligated to help France or Russia fight its wars, but when Belgium was invaded by Germany, Britain issued an ultimatum to Germany to leave the tiny country.  Germany refused and this pulled Britain into the war.  The Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia (and thus the rest of the alliance) in an attempt to regain land lost to Russia in the Russo-Turkish War of 1878.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Before World War I, many of the major European powers were involved in two strategic alliances. The first of these two was the "Triple Alliance" or "Triplice." Formed in May of 1882, it consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The second opposing alliance was the Triple Entente, originating in bilateral treaties between France and Britain (the "Entente cordiale") and Britain and Russia. 

In World War I, these alliances became the cores of the two opposing sides, with the Triple Alliance becoming the Central Powers and the Triple Entente becoming the Allied Powers. 

The reason that the alliance system contributed to the First World War was that it meant that local conflicts, even minor border disputes, rather than remaining local in nature would draw in all members of both alliances. Thus conflicts between Austria-Hungary over Serbia drew in not only Russia, which had territorial ambitions in the area, but also their western European allies. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Alliance system was one of the causes of World War I. Prior to the war there were two alliances. One was the Triple Alliance. This included Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy. The other alliance was the Triple Entente. This included Soviet Union (Russia), Great Britain, and France. The danger of these alliances is that if a member from one alliance declared war on a member from the other alliance, the conflict would quickly escalate. That is what happened in World War I.

When the next king of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by a group of Serbian nationals, Austria-Hungary made a series of demands on the government of Serbia. When the government couldn’t meet all of these demands, Austria-Hungary, with the support and approval of Germany, declared war on Serbia. Since Serbia and Russia were very close friends and allies, Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. Germany then declared war on Russia. France and Germany then declared war on each other. Eventually, Britain declared war on Germany when Germany invaded the neutral country of Belgium. Thus, what was originally a conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia quickly escalated into World War I, involving many countries throughout the world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did the system of alliances lead to World War I?

There were several causes of World War I. One cause was the system of alliances that existed before the war began. There were two alliance systems before the start of World War I. The Triple Alliance included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The Triple Entente included France, Great Britain, and Russia. In an alliance, countries agree to help each other if they are attacked.

The danger of the alliance system is that if a member of one alliance declares war on a member of the other alliance, the conflict could quickly escalate if other members of each alliance join the war. A two-country conflict can quickly involve many nations as a result of the alliances that had been formed. This is what happened in World War I.

In World War I, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Serbia and Russia were allies. Russia came to Serbia’s defense and declared war on Austria-Hungary. Thus, a member of each alliance had declared war on each other. After Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany declared war on Russia. France declared war on Germany, and Germany declared war on France. Eventually, Great Britain joined the conflict. Thus, the system of alliances placed a significant role in the start of World War I.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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

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 entered the conflict in support of the Austrians.

From there, the alliance system caused the conflict in eastern Europe to widen, with catastrophic consequences. France, allied with Russia in an attempt to encircle Germany, declared war, and when Germany responded by invading France through neutral Belgium, Belgium's ally Great Britain entered the war. Only Italy, which was allied with Austria-Hungary and Germany in the so-called Triple Alliance, did not initially enter the fray.

In this way, the alliance system designed to stop continent-wide war actually contributed to its outbreak.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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

There were two main alliance systems: the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance. These were the primary political relationships leading to the war's early escalation.

The Triple Alliance was formed first, between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. This was one of Otto von Bismarck's early efforts to establish the newly-unified Germany as a strong political entity with clear political avenues, and maximizing its alliances and minimizing the chances of a multi-front war was one of his priorities. The Alliance was drafted as a defensive measure, and this later caused a schism with Italy that led to its failure to abide by the terms of the alliance during the war.

The Triple Entente was the corresponding alliance between Britain, France and Russia, created at least partially in response to the Triple Alliance, and strongly encouraged by the end of hostilities in Asia between Russia and Britain, leading to a renewed focus on European politics. 

While it is sometimes argued that the two alliances "dragged" multiple nations into the war, as if they were forced to do so against their will, when in fact the reasons were more complicated. For example, Britain was more strongly motivated by direct negotiations with Germany over the latter's invasion of Belgium, and to a sense of commitment to France.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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

The alliance system helped to cause the war because it made sure that a small conflict could spread and turn into a bigger war.  This is exactly what happened with this war.

Had it not been for the alliance system, a conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary would have been relatively small and insignificant.  But the problem was that A-H was allied with Germany and Serbia was allied with Russia.  So when the first two countries started fighting, their bigger allies jumped in.

When Germany jumped in, that brought the French in as well because they were allied with Russia against Germany.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on