Throughout the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, Great Britain held a position as the great power of the Europe, and ultimately, the great power of the world. Britain’s imperial expansion allowed for prosperous economy, and helped to improve its naval supremacy. As a result, Britain’s main goal was to try and preserve order within Europe and preserve their position of dominance. However, as Germany began to expand as an empire, Britain’s position of power was contested. It was Britain’s ambition to maintain the status quo, as well as internal political factors that, when paired with the rising threat in Germany, caused the First World War. Maintaining the status quo was of immense importance in Britain throughout the imperial 19th Century, and this idea contributed largely to the arms race between Britain and Germany. According to Christopher Ray, “…as a consequence of the humiliation it felt, all attempts to forge a closer relationship with Britain were abandoned in favour of concentrating on a naval building programme designed to give it more diplomatic room for manoeuvre.”1 This naval building programme that Germany established conflicted with Britain’s supremacy over the seas. As William Keylor argued, “…Britain’s very survival seemed to depend on her ability to keep open the sea lanes…”2 and therefore, expansion of the German navy would be problematic for Britain. As a result, Britain proceeded to increase naval production in order to develop ships that were superior to those of the German fleet, and also to keep the royal navy larger than the German navy. This competition of naval expansion caused hostilities between the two empires to increase as the intensity of the naval race developed. The tension that developed between the two countries was a factor, amongst others, that contributed to the onset of Britain entering the war, and establishes Britain’s part in causing the First World War.
Furthermore, as German power and expansion increased Europe, the British developed a fear of German hegemony in Europe. With Germany’s growing military and navy in a mix with the conflict between empires, the result was a recipe that would likely result in a war in Europe. Britain’s fear was that Germany would conquer the European powers and take hold over central Europe, ultimately posing a threat to British power. In Lloyd George’s Mansion House Speech, he revealed “… I believe it is essential in the highest interests, not merely of this country, but of the world, that Britain should hazards maintain her place and her prestige among the Great Powers of the world.”3 George’s words reveal Britain’s national interest in maintaining the status quo, which provides reason for the fear of Germany rising up to contend with this position held by Britain. As a result, Britain made the decision to go war because of the belief that, “… a victorious Germany would inevitably dominate the continent.” In the words of the Quarterly Review, “What the Spanish danger was to the Elizabethans, that is the German danger to this generation”4 This fear of German hegemony, outlined in the previous quotation, prevented Britain from remaining isolated from the conflict in Europe, and, as a result, caused Britain to be a main cause for the onset of war.
As well as Britain’s need to maintain the status quo, there was also the responsibility of upholding of the Treaty of London (1839) that solidified Belgian neutrality and maintained that Britain would defend this neutrality. However in July and August of 1914, as the crisis in Europe began, fear of a German invasion through Belgium arose. When Germany did invade Belgium in August 1914, it was clear that Britain’s terms of the 1839 Treaty were ignored. As Niall Fergusson believes, “At the time, the government claimed that intervention was a matter of legal obligation because the Germans had flouted the