The Broken Balance of the Great European Powers Lead to the Great War
One hundred years ago, on July 28th, 1914, World War I began. Four years, three months and one week later, roughly 16 million deaths later, there seemed to be nothing grand about the so called Great War except the amount of causalities and damage left behind. World War I set the stage for the 20th Century. World War II, the Cold War, post-colonialism and the decline of Europe all followed after it. The question of the root cause has been tackled by many historians and is still unanswered and will most likely remain unanswered. What happened to disturb the relative peace and balance of power in Europe (1871-1914) and lead to the beginnings of World War I?
In order to begin to answer the question, there are numerous factors to put into account including the hundreds of years history leading up to the summer of 1914. Although, there is one constant force that drives nations against each other and that is power. One of David Fromikin’s theories is that WWI was really two wars that were intertwined and started by rival empires that joined forces out of mutual need. He states, “The wars were about power. Specifically, they were about the great European powers that at the time ruled the world. Both Germany and Austria believed to be on the way down. Each started a war to stay where it was” (Europe's Last Summer). Attempts to maintain a balance between the great powers of Europe (Britain, France, Prussia/Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia) seemed to be a never ending struggle which led to many wars. For example, The Seven Years' War (1754-1763) took place between the great powers of Europe, The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) lead the French Empire to gain too much power and this sowed the seeds of nationalism because Europe feared that anyone to gain as much power as Napoleon again, the Crimean War (1853 -1856) between France and Britain against Russia occurred to prevent abuse of power. War was a means of gaining territory and annexing new lands, gaining capital and natural recourses but whenever one European nation seemed to be gaining too much control, other nations went to war to preventing one nations from disturbing the balance. After Napoleon’s near complete domination sent shock waves throughout the world in the 19th century, Europe was very aware of the damage a Empire could spread when it got out of hand. Because of this history, nations may have paranoid to the rise of a newly unified nation of Germany. “The creation of Germany and its annexation of French territory in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)” (Fromkin) made another war between them seem inevitable because France would want their land back. Germany also made an “attempt to rival Britain as a naval power” (Fromkin) and this was seen as threat. All in all, new formed Germany was not very quick to make friends with other European nations and the old balance of power involving France, Prussia, Austria-Hungary, and Russia was replaced by a new system. The formation of alliances between nations replaced the broken balance of power principles after Germany rose to power. Europe’s complicated history of conflicts and wars along with their newly formed issues right before 1914, broke their short lived vulnerable peace.
The struggle for power over Europe in the 19th century lead to the growth of competition, an increase in nationalism and heated up rivalries. Most countries and leaders are guilty of greed and thirst for power and this is evident in European nations in the practice of imperialism and colonization. Competition is evident during the period of intense colonization of Africa known as “new imperialism” after 1875. The “scramble for Africa” showed that even when it had been proven that acquiring colonies did not benefit a nation economically as much as trade, nations jumped on the band wagon to prevent other nations from acquiring too much and also to…