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The Cause of the Great War

2458 words (10 pages) Essay in History

08/02/20 History Reference this

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The summer of 1914, led to the beginning of the First World War, which resulted in several conflicts and issues around the world for decades. The First World War led to the decrease of the world population by twenty five percent. This war brought change in Europe that affected every great power known at the time. The First World War, also known as the Great War was an international issue that started in the summer of 1914 to the fall of 1918. These four year led to most countries in Europe to intervene. Central powers included Germany, Austria-Hungry and Turkey while the Allies included Great Britain, France, and Russia. More countries got involved closer to the end to bring a stop to the war. Through this, many other issue were raised.  This war brought down four super power countries of the time which included Turkey, Austria-Hungry, Russia and Germany (1). World War also brought in many revolution which included the end of imperialism and colonialism. More counties like India stood up and portrayed nationalism for their country. The war brought one of the most major changes which was the economic shift, leaving European countries like Great Britain and France in debt, allowing a new superpower nation to arise; United States of America. The war led to the increase in development of technology which was mostly involved in the military structure. With the end of First World War, the Treaty of Versailles caused a countries like Germany to be denationalized, and brought up factors that led to the Second World War. This war was one of the most significant part of history, and the reasons leading up to became important as there was 4 decades of peace amongst the super nations.   The causes that lead to the First World War included many series of events. These events included the Balkan Wars, the Morocco Crisis and much more. Tensions caused by these events led to the outbreak of the war.  Nationalism, Imperialism and Militarism are the major factors that led to the outbreak of the First World War.

One if the most significant factors that led to the First World War was Nationalism. “Nationalism, as an idea of creating a new society and polity, presuppose the homogenization of society (Source 2). Nationalism led to many growing tensions between many super power nations. This began with the First Balkan War which took place before the Great War. The Balkan Wars was a military conflict that was split into two parts. The first part included the formation of the Balkan League which consisted of Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro for the fight against the Ottoman Empire who controlled the areas. The fight ended with victoriously for the league but continued after a peace conference in 1913. After the Ottoman Empire lost most of their European territory, there were many conflicts between Serbia, Greece and Romanian with Bulgaria over the land of Macedonia which was previously ruled by the Ottoman Empire. This caused more division which lead Serbia and Greece to form an alliance against Bulgaria where the second part of the Balkan War started. Through the declaration of war by Bulgaria against its allies, allowed “Ottoman Empire to regain some of its lost territory (Source 3).” The second part of the Balkan War led to the Bulgarian defeat where the peace treaty of Bucharest was signed. These events led to the “undermined the bonds of peace in significant ways. First, the limits of great power control over events within Europe were exposed. Owning to rivalry between Russia and Austria in the Balkans… lost faith in diplomacy (pg. 33, Source 3)”. These events led to many great powers like Austria-Hungry, Russia and Germany to rethink strategies. Fear of other countries becoming more powerful led to war. Austria-Hungry declared war on Serbia to because of its increasing power. All of these crisis and events led to the much tension in every great power nation as Serbia and Austria-Hungry has many allies. Through these tensions of war, as people began to create allies and further their power, came the assassination of “Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria” which was known as the spark that caused World War I. He was assassinated by a Serbian Nationalist and Austria-Hungry declared war on Serbia. While this lead to many tensions to allies, “in the Balkans we find that the dominant patterns is the state led nationalism” (pg. 34, Source 4). This quote informs readers on how the war enforced the idea of nationalism in all the countries involved as it showed that they stand up and fight against those who cloud their interest. Nations wanted to hold the title of being the most powerful country in the world which led to the start. This lead tension too many allies. German, an alley to Austria got involved and supported the attack against Serbia, but Serbia was allied by Russia, who supported them through the war. There was a peace conference and an ultimatum from Austria to Serbia which went against the Serbian Sovereignty and the rejection lead to the beginning of the war. Within months, almost every country in Europe became a part of the war. These events showed nationalism to be the major cause of the war, as every country tried to defend its interest and show patriotism to their country as being better than others. “The war was, in large part, both caused by the Great Powers and fought for their ends…..Their capacity to influence the international system, and particularly the international systems in the past, demands that they be the focus of attention” (Source 5). Soon it was a war fought between Britain and France against Germany who were considered the superpowers. Nationalism caused these countries to get involved as they wanted to be seen superior to one another and the best way to show this superiority and power was war.

Another major cause to World War I was considered to be militarism. The idea that a strong military is necessary was due to the several historical events before the First World War. The Bosnian Crisis, followed by the second Moroccan Crisis, along with the Balkan Wars where countries like Britain, France, Germany began to increase their military capabilities. From these events began an arms race to improve their military. The “three ‘Ms’ of military preparedness: mobilization schedules, manpower and material” (Module), were important and the way to expand their military capabilities. A particular part of this includes the “Dreadnought Scare” which was a time in 1909, where the British people became worried about the German empire and their increase in arms. Germany invented a battleship known as the “Dreadnought” in the sole purpose of protection and defense from the Britain. This caused Britain to start expanding their navy, and military to the next level. According to Howard, “Dreadnought Scare of 1909 had as its almost constant theme the total unpreparedness of Britain to deal with the probable eventuality of German invasion (Howard, 11)”. This caused people to be afraid and led Britain to invest in their navy. The idea of Germany able to take down Britain itself was seen as a possibility by most. Britain was a country that had many colonies, and majority of people that left Great Britain to establish these colonies included military and navy men. “No one was now going to attack India or Egypt, let alone Canada, Australia or South Africa. Germany could not get at them. But Germany could get at Britain herself, if she defeated France on land and the Royal navy at sea (pg. 11, Source 6). The thought of another country being able to enter Great Britain, led people to feel insecure and increase their own military. After leading to the “Dreadnought Scare”, Great Britain realized a powerful country is only made through a powerful army. A powerful army is need to defend the country’s interest and defend it home front. The reason why Britain improved their military significantly was in fear of Germany’s advances on their part. “Wilhelm decided to construct a navy that would match the British Royal Navy, which was the world’s largest. The head of this project, Alfred von Tirpitz, hoped that the threat posed by a powerful German Imperial Navy would pressure Britain to follow Germany’s demands in foreign affairs. (Module)” Through this quote, readers are able to see and understand how military an important part of any countries status was. Having a bigger military, resulted in more power which led to more changes in favour for the nation. Even a century after military is still known to be the decider of who has more power in foreign relations. Today, America is the most powerful country because it has the most powerful military in the world (Source 7). The greed of being the most powerful nation led to the military expansion which led to the test, World War I to see who was considered the most powerful. “In proving this, the article also demonstrates that British intelligence-gathering activities in the era before the foundation of the Secret Service Bureau were more extensive and more successful than had previously been believed (Source 8)”. This quote also informs readers about the countries began to spy on each to see what type of military each other consisted of further making decisions as it was necessary. Militarism included finding out what the other country had is its arsenal, and this led to the expansion of spies. The arms race was a major factor that caused the war, which caused nations to expand navies, military capabilities for their security.

Imperialism is another important factor which led to the outbreak of the First World War. Imperialism is a system in where powerful countries rule more than one country. This was the case for many super powers. Imperialism was necessary for all great powers to stay great powers as they needed raw materials and other resources to operate. Imperialism was seen an important part of receiving a “Great Power Status”, as it showed people in the nation and others that they were able to have more colonies, and with that more power over resources. Britain was on top when it came to colonizing other countries. They had many colonies like India, Australia, parts of Africa and more. With this came many situations and wars. Great Britain took part in two Boers Wars against the Orange Free State and Transvaal Republic in southern Africa to maintain their status. Britain was able to win both wars, but became more aware of their weaknesses which included military issues. With this, they began to create allies. A major example of super powers fight over imperialism was the “Scrambles of Africa” which was divided amongst many empires. Britain and France were victors in the fight for colonies in Africa while other countries like Italy and Germany struggled. This led to many tensions as super powers wanted to have more control over land. Germany who wanted to be the biggest superpower began to colonize more. The rivalry amongst countries was the major reason behind the First World War. This is seen through the Franco German rivalry over Morocco and the Russo-Austrian Competition and the Balkans which pushed for the war. The First Morocco Crisis, “France and Germany are once again the primary Belligerents. This case not only allows for another test of Russian and British support for France, and Italian and Austro-Hungarian support for Germany, but since this crisis occurred just three years before the outbreak of the First World War, it is a particularly difficult test or reputation”  (pg. 34, Source 9). This quote informs readers about how being known as a superpower was the most important part and imperialism was just one way of showing it. This crisis was an opportunity for Germany to show its power by provoking France and Britain by going against them in the power struggle between France, Britain and the Sultan of Morocco. Germany had no interest in Morocco but came forward to disrupt the Anglo-French Entente which was an alliance of Britain, France in Northern Africa. German Leader, Kaiser intent was to create problems for the alliance but made the alliance strong and the Germany was let down again. France was awarded controlling interests in the Moroccan affairs. Another instance where imperialism took place was the Balkan wars as Serbia and Greece fought Bulgaria for Macedonia. Imperialism began in history, as to create a bigger empire, but resulted in the Great War.

The outbreak of the First World War was due to the events relating with nationalism, imperialism, and militarism. Nationalism questioned the identity of people in relation to their country which led to arguments and crises. The First World War changed the world completely through many ways related with nationalism, militarism and imperialism. It led to the end of colonialism and imperialism which encouraged many colonies to create their own great nation where militarism took into effect. Nationalism was the major factor that led to the outbreak of the war as it reminded people that their nation was great and to protect their interests, war is necessary. Along with nationalism, having resources were necessary which was provided through imperialism. The Austria-Hungry and Serbia went to war over land division of the fallen Ottoman Empire. Militarism became a huge factor as Germany began to gear up its military forces in preparation, which led other super powers to fear for their safety, which was seen through the “dreadnought scare”, which made the nation of Great Britain realize to ensure safety and avoid fear of the nation, militarism is important. This led to the arms race, and the insecurity of fear. Nationalism, militarism and imperialism were the major factors that caused the war.


  1.  ”Effects of World War 1.” History. November 15, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2018.
  2. Yavuz, M. Hakan, and Blumi, Isa, eds. 2013. War and Nationalism : The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913, and Their Sociopolitical Implications. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. Accessed November 21, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.
  3. Mulligan, William. The Origins of the First World War. 2011.
  4. MacGinty, Roger. “War Cause and Peace Aim? Small Sates and the First World War.” January 1, 1997. Accessed November 20, 2018.
  5. Howard, Michael. “Empire, Race & War.” Empire, Race and War, December 01, 1981. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u8230.
  6.  ”Top 10 Most Powerful Countries in the World 2018.” Improb. July 23, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2018.
  7. Seligmann, Mathew. “Intelligence Information and the 1909 Naval Scare: The Secret Foundations of a Public Panic.” January 07, 2010.
  8. Miller, Gregory D.. 2011. The Shadow of the Past : Reputation and Military Alliances Before the First World War. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Accessed November 21, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.
  9. Module
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