(PATH to WORLD WAR ONE – continued)

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PATH to WORLD WAR ONE (2 of 2)

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Germany Seeks Alliances

Following the unification of Germany, Bismarck tried to allay fears among other European powers by claiming that Germany was a "satiated" power with no appetite for additional territory. Germany, he said, had no quarrel or claims against anyone and desired only self-defense and peace. But the British remained disturbed, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli seeing Europe's balance of power as having been destroyed.

Interested in peace among Europe's powers, in 1879 Bismarck joined Germany in a defensive alliance with what was now called Austria-Hungary. He maintained friendly relations with Russia, and he pushed Austria-Hungary into a diplomatic partnership with Russia, recreating in 1881 the Three Emperor's Alliance while hoping that Russia and Austria-Hungary would manage their rivalry in the Balkans. France, meanwhile, was competing with Britain for empire and remained isolated diplomatically. Italy was at odds with France and in 1882 joined the alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary, creating the Triple Alliance.

Bismarck was trying to keep Europe peaceful, and he tried to improve Germany's relations with Britain. In 1887, Britain, wishing to restrain the French, made an agreement with Italy for maintaining the status quo in the Mediterranean, an agreement that Austria-Hungary also joined. And in 1887 Bismarck concluded another treaty with Russia – the Reinsurance Treaty. This was to reassure the Russians that Germany would remain friendly. It promised Germany's neutrality should Austria-Hungary attack Russia. It promised Germany's support for Russian aims and interests in Bulgaria and for Russia's concerns regarding the straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

Wilhelm (William) II

In 1888, Germany's monarch, Wilhelm I, died. His son the Crown Prince was dying of throat cancer and ruled for only ninety days as Friederich III. Friederich's rule was followed by that of his 29-year-old son, Wilhelm II. Bismarck had been trying to create stability in Europe but there was little he could do about the inherent instability of monarchical successions. Young Wilhelm II didn't want to be overshadowed by his chancellor, Bismarck. He saw Bismarck as too influential, and he forced Bismarck to resign.

Wilhelm refused to renew Bismarck's Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. He believed his own personal relationship and blood ties with the Russian Royal family would be sufficient to ensure a further genial tie between the two countries.

The Russians had their own way of looking at their security. In 1892 Russia signed a defensive alliance with France – a surprise to some because tsarist Russia was a conservative power and France was toward the left and a republic. Russia, however, had been receiving loans from France, and for France it was an opportunity to overcome its diplomatic isolation. Moreover, Russia was on the opposite side of Germany, each country in the best position to aid the other against German aggression.

Wilhelm II was the son of a liberal English mother and the grandson of Queen Victoria, for whom he remained fond. Often he was to visit his relatives in Britain. But Wilhelm distanced himself from the liberalism of his mother and joined the nationalistic support for grandeur that was a part of Germany's political life.

There were those in Germany who believed that If German interests abroad were to be protected without relying on the good will of the British navy, Germany had to have a great navy of its own. King Wilhelm supported the creation of such a navy – a navy that the British were to see as a threat to its security. The British believed that their navy had to be overwhelmingly superior. A naval arms race was in the making.


"The Great Eastern Crisis," Chapter 11, Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918, by A J P Taylor,1971

Twilight of the Habsburgs: the Life and Times of Emperor Francis Joseph, by Alan Palmer, 1997

Bismarck, by Edgar Feuchtwanger, Routledge Historical Biographies, 2002

The Nineteenth Century: Europe, 1789-1914, edited by T C W Banning, Oxford University Press, 2000

1900, by Rebecca West, 1996

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.