Nationalism: A Cause for International War Essay

At eleven o’clock on August 4th 1914, Europe found herself at war, a war that was unexpectedly disastrous and destructive in scale.1 Over the next four years, World War I halted customary political, economic and social interaction within the international community, and claimed the lives of millions. Nonetheless, this tragedy did not begin out of thin air, the ‘war to end all wars,’ was the explosion of a powder keg that was Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Between the beginning of the 19th century and 1914, a population explosion, as a result of increased birth rates and decreasing death rates occurred, in which Europe’s population more than quadrupled itself.

2 These new population figures, in addition to by Malthusian theory, brought about fears of lacking resources, in accordance with a swell of technology via the international spread of the Industrial Revolution.3 The fear of over population, combined with the dramatic increase of industry had huge social ramifications. People were being over worked and under paid and felt exploited. Liberalism, as the popular theory, decreased and the negative opinions of rationalism and realism spread rampant. Despite huge rifts between social classes, for the first time in history, resulting from the French Revolution and the introduction of mass education and literacy, citizens no longer felt loyal to their class.

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Rather, ‘the nation’ was the centre of pride and devotion.4 Internationally, nationalism, the belief that acting independently is more beneficial than acting collectively, emphasizing state instead of international goals5, became the new slogan of the day. This series of profound social changes, which resulted in the new importance of patriotism led to dangerous imbalances in the political environment of Europe. A competitive alliance system, colonial rivalries and an increase in militarism, all resulting from the new nationalism, combined to produce the spark for the Great War.

While an intricate system of alliances amongst the European powers seems to signify international co-operation, the actual motive for these collaborations began with the attempt to increase each country’s power by isolating enemies. After Otto Von Bismarck’s, the German Chancellor from 1871-1890, attempt to create a unified German Empire was complete in 1871 with the Franco-Prussian war, it was held that Germany was a “satiated state” that would give up any attempts at further conquest.6 To protect Germany’s hegemony in Europe, Bismarck strived to create an alliance system which would befriend Austria, Russia, Italy and Britain, while isolating France, a country determined to dissolve Germany’s supremacy due to the loss of French provinces Alsace and Lorraine in 1871.7

Over the next decade, Bismarck produced and maintained alliances with Austria, whom Germany had recently defeated, and Russia, who disliked Austria, leaving France with no major power to latch themselves to. Nonetheless, Austria’s and Russia’s dislike for one another came to a peak after Germany signed the Dual Alliance with Austria in 1882, which later turned into the Triple Alliance with Italy.8 With the dismissal of Bismarck and the accession of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1888, Russia was set free of their ties with Germany.9 Through economic and social relations, a political relationship slowly formed between France and Russia, which led to an alliance between the two by 1892.10

Throughout these years of alliance making, Britain attempted to maintain a stance of “splendid isolation”.11 Nonetheless, by 1900, Britain acknowledged their loneliness and lack of support during the Boer War and began a search for allies. Britain decided it was necessary to produce an alliance with a foreign international power, and a European power. While the United States would have been their initial choice, in 1902, the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance was signed, recognizing Japan as an ally of Great Britian.

12 Understandably, finding Germany the bigger threat to Europe’s peace and ever increasing alike interests with France highlighted an obvious connection between Britain and France, which led to alliance in 1904 with the Entente Cordiale.13 As a result, Britain even formed an alliance with Russia, which they in the past had generally always disliked, under the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907.14 These two ententes connected to become the Triple Entente.15 Therefore, despite historic rivalries, after decades of secret discussions and pacts, the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Italy) and the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France and Russia) were born.

The alliances which spread as a result of nationalism were very influential to the spark of World War I. To begin, every alliance was made in secret, which produced much distrust and suspicion throughout the political leaders of Europe, preventing political leaders from devising reasonable solutions to the crises preceding war. Secondly, all of the alliances were produced on the basis that there would eventually be war, setting the stage for battle, leading to an increase in military production.

16 Thirdly, since all of the European powers had made alliances with one another, a small dispute with one nation would lead to widespread international conflict. Fourthly, after the formation of the Triple Entente, Germany felt a threat to her security, due to her placement on the continent, leading to a more aggressive foreign policy which resulted in a series of international crises between 1905 and 1914. Finally, the second decade of the 20th century, the alliances had changed their positions from defensive to offensive.17 Formed by the fear of nationalism’s damaging effects, the alliance system set a deadly foundation of the Great War’s origin.

The turn of the 20th century can be marked as an age filled with international conquests and relationships surrounding the attempts to produce and solidify Empires and Unions.18 The most powerful nations, according to leaders of the time, were often considered those was often denoted as the one with the most land and largest access to important resources. After 1870, the European powers began to acquire colonies in Asia, Africa and the Pacific. Their imperialistic activities increased and reached their peak between 1895 and 1905.

19 These conquests were not only exploitive to the new colonies, but they were also the root of many problems for the European powers. Firstly, colonial rivalry led to much hostility and strained relationships between the European powers. Secondly, this rivalry indirectly led in part to the formation and to the strengthening of the deadly alliances and ententes. Finally, it had a large impact on the increase of militarism worldwide. While this colonial rivalry decreased after 1905, the tensions it had produced led to four international crises in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, which were a very important contributing factor to the escalation of World War I, all of which resulted from European nationalism.

The first peak of European tension came in 1905 with the First Moroccan crisis. Morocco, a country on the northern coast of Africa was coveted by both France and Germany because of the nation’s abundance of mineral and agricultural wealth. France, due to her entente with Great Britain, was given a free hand to Morocco. In retaliation, the German Kaiser, William II, landed at Tangier and attempted to initiate a relationship with the country’s Sultan with promises of sovereignty. The conflict was resolved with the Algeciras Conference in 1906, naming Morocco an independent state; however, awarding France special privileges with the country’s police and customs policies. The Crisis heightened tension between Germany, who was upset that France benefited more from it’s conclusion and France, who recognized Germany’s attempt to browbeat a win of Morocco’s resources through threats of war.20

The second international crisis, Bosnian Crisis of 1908, heightened tensions between Russia, Austria-Hungary and Serbia. The Balkan area of Europe had always been a hot-bed of turmoil, led by the despotic Turks. By the late 19th century, many of the nationalities under the Turks had broken away and formed their own nations. Nonetheless, these nations were relatively small and many of their fellow nationalities still remained under the Turkish Empire, and were willing to ignite a series of struggles against Austria-Hungary and Turkey to assist in the gaining of their independence. The intervention of the great powers in this area was mostly for economic and military purposes, especially the desire for warm water ports.

Austria wanted to suppress the nationalist movements of these Slavic nations, while Russia and Serbia wanted to help exonerate them. The Austrian Foreign Minister at the time wanted to extend Austrian political control over the Serbs in the Balkans, due to his fear of a spread of liberalism and a new anti-Austrian Serbian King. On October 6th, Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, without compensating either Germany or Russia. While Russia and Serbia were prepared to declare war on Austria, they lacked support from Britain and France, so chose to back down. Nonetheless, Russian and Serbian relations with their Eastern European brother, Austria, would be forever torn and became a soft spot during the on sight of war.21

1911 demonstrated the continued rivalry between France and Germany with the Second Moroccan crisis. France was not satisfied with her partial control over Morocco after 1906, which led to an increase of France’s influence over the next 5 years. In 1911, Germany responded to an uproar at Fez (the nation’s capital) against a pro-French Sultan by sending a naval ship to Agadir, a strategic port on the Atlantic coast. Nonetheless, Britain feared the installation of a permanent naval base and protested Germany’s involvement. Due to British support, Germany backed down, settling for a strip of the French Congo, donating the majority of Morocco to France, and the remainder to Spain. Nonetheless, before Britain’s involvement, war seemed almost inevitable.22

The fourth and final international crisis prior to the spark of World War I came with the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. After a revolution against the Turkish Empire, Italy was rewarded Tripoli in 1912 by the Treaty of Lausanne. In 1912, the Balkan states chose to exploit Turkey’s chaotic political situation, forming the Balkan League, with the aim of partitioning the Turkish Empire. With the powers’ intervention, the Treaty of London was signed, due to Austria’s fear that Serbia would be granted a seaport on the Adriatic.

Austria was awarded a new state, Albania, blocking any chance of Serbia’s attainment of an Adriatic port, and Serbia was awarded a large part of Macedonia. Nonetheless, tension did not end there. In 1913, Bulgaria, a country that had long regarded Macedonia as partly her possession chose to take on the Balkan League. The war was quickly won, and little changed from the results of the First Balkan War. As a result of these wars, Serbia had gained a lot of land and power, while Austria’s decreased, which not only heightened tension between these two rival nations, but also amongst their closest allies, Russia and Germany.23

As a result of the nationalist wants of widespread domination as a way of becoming the single major power, tensions increased. Each succeeding international crisis between 1905 and 1913 threatened the security of all the powers and thus increased the hostility between the rival camps. If a war broke out in Europe, it would naturally become an international war, involving all of the powers.

Dating back to theorists like Machiavelli, it has always been believed that the state with the largest military is the strongest nation. The incorporation of beliefs of this sort can not be denied in the origins of World War I. All European powers in the early 20th century, outfitted with excessive nationalism, looked to militarism to gain control. Militarism denoted an increase in military expenditure, military and naval forces, and the preference of force as a problem solving device.

As nationalism rose, and each of the powers attempted to exercise a stabilized control over one another, the amount of money specified toward military use increased dramatically. Despite inflation, between the years of 1870 and 1914, the military expenditure of the major European powers more than quadrupled. In 1870, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Italy, France and Russia combined spent 94 million � on their militaries. By 1900, this expenditure had risen to 268 million �, and at the turn of war, in 1914, the combined spending had reached 398 million �. It is also important to note that while France only increased its’ expenditure by 10% and Britain by 13%, Russia increased its’ military spending by 39% and Germany by an overwhelming 73%.24

The increased military budget of the major European powers allowed for an overwhelming increase in both the armies and navies of each state. Since 1870, with exception to Great Britain, all of the major continental European nations had adopted a system of conscription; France had conscription since the early 19th century Revolutionary Wars, Austria-Hungary since 1868, Germany since 1870, Italy since 1873, and Russia since 1874. Even still, as the war years approached, each state increased its’ armies by employing civilian armies and lengthening the terms of their soldiers. Between 1870 and 1914, every major power on the European continent at least doubled the size of their army.

25 In addition to larger man-power, an increase in military technology leading up to the Great War amplified the ability of destruction. With the spread of the Industrial Revolution, roads and railways were able to move troops faster. New forms of communication increased enlistment and improved contact. Both of these seemingly simple evolutions made a large impact on the speed of mobilization, and in turn the possible impact of an army. Additionally, the invention, production and use of machine guns, barbed wire and poisonous gasses heightened the impact of military combat.26

While these many inventions changed the face of land warfare, militarism of the seas was an equally extensive and nationalism-driven effort. In 1890, Alfred Thayer Mahan published The Influence of Sea Power upon History, showing how Britain’s naval supremacy made the nation so powerful. Mahan’s writings influenced European governments and political thinkers. As a result of his writings, a naval race between the great powers began.27 In 1897, under Admiral Tirpitz, Germany’s State Secretary of the Imperial Naval Office, launched a long-term shipbuilding process in attempt to challenge Britain’s supremacy.

28 As of 1903, Great Britain had 63 battleships, France 19 and Germany 12.29 Nonetheless, in 1906, as the naval race continued, Britain began producing the Dreadnought, which was the largest, fastest, and most heavily armed battleship, rendering all previous battleships obsolete. Germany, Austria-Hungary and France chose to retaliate with their own Dreadnought programs. Between 1909 and 1911, Germany built nine Dreadnoughts and Britain eighteen. In 1913, the naval race was finally controlled with an agreement between Great Britain and Germany that Britain would maintain a 60% larger navy than Germany. Germany agreed due to high costs.30

The increased military expenditure, man-power and the new technological advances all played a part in raising the heat of the boiling pot Europe was sitting in. The desire for rivalry due to nationalism brought upon a new deadly “ism”: militarism. Nationalism, once again, spoiled political leaders from being able to settle issues without force. Not only did this militarism mean that by 1914, every European power was prepared for war, it produced the widespread belief that war was inevitable and coming soon.

World War I was a war unlike any that had been seen in history. Due to its’ historical influence scholars, theorists, students and more have spent almost a century dissecting its’ origins. Since it is possible to place the blame for the distressing events on so many frontiers, it is important to distinguish which political level is most influential in the origin of the war. Since then, John David Singer and S.J. Andriole have both developed approaches to understanding the outbreak of international issues. Despite slightly competing theories on the paradigms for developing understanding of world politics, one similarity between these two theorists is the split between the state and international levels of analysis.

While Andriole described the necessity for at least five conceptual levels of analysis, both him and Singer agreed that the state level described world politics as a result of conflict created within the nation-state, and the international system was the result of numerous social groups of individuals (called states) all competing based on each’s relative size, role and influence.31 Arguably, both played roles in the origins of World War I, but it is without dispute that the Great War needs to be analyzed from the level of an International system. It was the interaction of these social groups of individuals which set the framework for conflict.

While every nation on the European continent experienced likewise social, political, economic and military evolutions at the turn of the 20th century, it was not without the conjunction on an international spectrum that these state-level issues produced conflict. Without debate, this level of analysis does not describe the cause of all wars, since conflicts such as civil wars are more state-based; however, international wars with the magnitude of World War I must be analyzed on this level. Every analysis of war must take into account the causes. As argued in this essay, nationalism was the main cause of the Great War. And while nationalism is produced within a state, it was the tension and conflict that resulted from the deadly “ism” that led to the alliance system, colonial rivalry and militarism. Therefore, Singer’s and Andriole’s analysis of the international system must be examined in explaining the origin of World War I.

After years of change at the turn of the 20th century, the world was a new place. As the level of nationalism rose, it led to secretive pacts between the major European powers. Not only did this increase suspicion and angst between these nations, it led to new conflict within existing colonial rivalries and a huge surge of money to support new military goals, including an abundance of new soldiers and deadlier weaponry than the world had seen to that point.

The fear of losing power and control within the European continent blurred political leaders’ ability to rationalize and led to the setting for inevitable international conflict. Due to huge social, economic and political changes, by 1914 the new nationalism had not only created a perfect theater for international war, but had also increased national rivalry through a deadly alliance system; exhausted any ability to settle disputes without force after years of Eastern European and Balkan conflict and had given birth to an age of militarism, the extent of which was underestimated until the Great War had begun. Nationalism and its resulting obsession with self priority, as opposed to collective support was the most influential origin of World War I.

1 A;E Television Networks. The History Channel. 2004. Online. 13 November. 2004. ;www.history.com; “World War I”

2 Stokesbury, James L. A Short History Of World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper Collins Publishers, 1981. pg. 12

3 Stokesbury, James L. A Short History Of World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper Collins Publishers, 1981. pg 14

4 Koch, H.W. The Origins of the First World War – Great Power Rivalry and Germany War Aims. London, England: The Macmillan Press, 1972. pg. 36

5 Sykes, J.B. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English. Oxford, England: Claredon Press, 1976. “nationalism” pg. 592

6 Hamilton, Richard F. ; Holger H. Herwig. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 2003. pg. 76

7 Mombauer, Annika. The Origins of the First World War. London, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2002. pg. 126

8 Lafore, Laurence. The Long Fuse – An Interpretation of the Origins of the World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 1971. pg. 97-98

9 Hamilton, Richard F. ; Holger H. Herwig. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 2003. pg. 80

10 Stokesbury, James L. A Short History Of World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper Collins Publishers, 1981. pg.17

11 Stokesbury, James L. A Short History Of World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper Collins Publishers, 1981. pg. 18

12 Lafore, Laurence. The Long Fuse – An Interpretation of the Origins of the World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 1971. pg. 129

13 Koch, H.W. The Origins of the First World War – Great Power Rivalry and Germany War Aims. London, England: The Macmillan Press, 1972. pg. 46

14 Koch, H.W. The Origins of the First World War – Great Power Rivalry and Germany War Aims. London, England: The Macmillan Press, 1972. pg. 152

15 Lafore, Laurence. The Long Fuse – An Interpretation of the Origins of the World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 1971. pg. 133

16 Schmitt, Bernadotte E. The Origins of the First World War. London, England: The Historical Association, 1958. pg. 1

17 Schmitt, Bernadotte E. The Origins of the First World War. London, England: The Historical Association, 1958. pg. 8

18 Hamilton, Richard F. ; Holger H. Herwig. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 2003. pg 83-85

19 Lafore, Laurence. The Long Fuse – An Interpretation of the Origins of the World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 1971. pg. 105

20 Lafore, Laurence. The Long Fuse – An Interpretation of the Origins of the World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 1971. pg. 127-131

21 Koch, H.W. The Origins of the First World War – Great Power Rivalry and Germany War Aims. London, England: The Macmillan Press, 1972. pg. 57

22 Lafore, Laurence. The Long Fuse – An Interpretation of the Origins of the World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 1971. pg. 127-131

23 A;E Television Networks. The History Channel. 2004. Online. 13 November. 2004. ;www.history.com; “Balkan wars”

24 Yahoo! Inc. World Factbook. 2000. Online. 15 November. 2004. ;http://education.yahoo.com/reference/factbook/;

25 Hamilton, Richard F. ; Holger H. Herwig. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 2003. pg 25

26 Stokesbury, James L. A Short History Of World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper Collins Publishers, 1981. pg. 15

27 Hamilton, Richard F. ; Holger H. Herwig. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 2003. pg 299

28Gilbert, Martin. The European Powers 1900-1945. New York, United States of America: Plume, 1970. pg. 36

29 Stokesbury, James L. A Short History Of World War I. New York, United States of America: Harper Collins Publishers, 1981. pg. 16

30 Jones, Archer ; Andrew J. Keogh. “The Dreadnought Revolution: Another Look.” Military Affairs. 49.3 (1985) 124-131. JSTOR. Journal Storage. Western Libraries, London ON. 15 November. 2004. ;http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.uwo.ca:2048/search?S=cc993341.11009010823; pg. 124

31 Professor Paul Rowe. Class: Political Science 231E. September 20 2004.

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