The Road to War
in Europe, 1870 - 1907
The Franco-Prussian War
• 1870. After two wars against Denmark and Austria, all of N.
Germany is united, with Prussia as the dominant nation. But Prussia
wants Entire German Unification. Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia,
knows that Napoleon III of France will oppose the unification of all
German states. So Bismarck has to humiliate or defeat France
before completing unification…
• He provokes France (telegraph) into declaring war on Prussia and
then defeats her at the Battle of Sedan. The Prussian troops are
better organised, equipped and more numerous. Napoleon III is
captured. Total defeat for France.
• Forced abdication of Napoleon III, 5,000,000,000 franc fine for
France, German army of occupation, proclamation of new German
Empire at Versailles, and loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany.
France is humiliated. All of France wants revenge (“Revanche!”)
Alliance Systems
Humiliated and
weakened, but
desperate for revenge
on Germany.
Suddenly the most
powerful state in
Europe. Industrial and
military power. Other
countries are worried,
especially GB.
Bismarck’s policy
In order to isolate France, because he was worried about
‘revanche’, Bismarck created the DreiKaiserBund, an
alliance between the emperors of Austria, Russia and
Germany. By doing this, he hoped he would be isolating
his main enemy, France, but also reassuring the other
countries in Europe of his peaceful intentions and
avoiding his worse fear: a war on two fronts (against
Russia and France).
Alliance Systems
Isolated, no allies.
Still most powerful state, Bismarck
was satisfied by status quo
Strongly allied to Germany by
culture and language
Her army was considered the
most powerful in Europe, but she
was more concerned with
domestic reforms than foreign
The Balkans to Berlin
1878, Russia declares war on the Ottoman Empire (the sick old man of
Europe) to defend fellow Slav people in the Balkans. Russia wins, and
creates ‘Big Bulgaria’ at the Treaty of San Stephano, a large independent
Balkan state over which she would have much influence. However, Austria
too has an interest in the Balkans, notably in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and so
conflict looms between the two allies…
In order to preserve the peace between his two vital friends, Bismarck steps
in (‘honest broker’), and holds the Congress of Berlin, at which he divides
Bulgaria into three: a third is given back to Turkey, the middle third becomes
independent Rumania and the last section goes to Russia. Austria gets to
keep control over Bosnia-Herzegovina, although doesn’t directly own it.
The Russians feel cheated by this treaty, and relations between the Tsar
and the other two Emperors cool.
Germany and Austria sign the Dual Alliance to strengthen their cooperation
and prepare for an eventual war with Russia.
Reinsurance treaty
To make up for the decision at Berlin, Bismarck signed the second
DreiKaiserBund (1879) and then the Reinsurance treaty with Russia
(1887). This agreement guaranteed that Russia would not become
allied with France in any way, leaving Bismarck satisfied that he
would not be faced with a war on two fronts.
Bismarck also signed the Mediterranean treaties with GB, Austria
and Italy which again were aimed at the isolation of France. Despite
the mistake of Berlin, it seemed Bismarck was back in control of
European affairs.
The Dual Alliance was extended to the Triple Alliance with the
inclusion of Italy in 1882.
Alliance Systems
Still alone on the continent, still bent
on revenge.
Worried about Russia’s reaction
after Berlin. Strong allies with
Strong allies with Germany.
Newest member of Alliance, a
young country with a small army and
little political weight.
Very frustrated by the treaty of
Berlin, but kept in alliance by
reinsurance treaty.
Dropping the Pilot
In 1888, William II became Kaiser of Germany. He was
an ambitious and military man, who wanted an empire
for Germany and was very happy to fight for it.
- In 1890 Bismarck was fired, and this meant that the
reinsurance treaty was not updated (it had to be resigned every three years). Russia was also cautious of
William II’s aggressive foreign policy, and therefore
drifted away from the two members of the Dual Alliance.
- A state visit to Russia by the French President in 1892
quickly secured a military agreement between the two
countries, which then evolved into a full alliance, the
Dual Entente, in 1894.
Alliance Systems
No longer in isolation, France now has
a powerful ally in Russia, and can
threaten Germany with a war on two
She has lost her eastern ally at a great
cost: she must now fight on two fronts
in the event of a war. The effects of
William II’s policy are starting to be felt.
Her erstwhile allies are now her
enemies, and indeed there is much
reason for conflict, notably in the
Balkans. France is her new ally, and
the bond will stay strong.
The Dual Entente
Still united with Germany, Austria is
possibly the weakest of the Great
Powers of Europe. She has to deal
with many internal difficulties
(uprisings…) because she is
composed of so many nationalities.
The Triple Alliance
Britain joins in
• Since 1815, Britain had been in ‘glorious isolation’, pre-occupied by
her Empire and not by the state of affairs in Europe, her fleet in
complete control of the high seas. However, following Germany’s
support for the Boers in South Africa (1889-1902) and William’s
expansionist attitude of ‘Weltpolitik’ in Africa (the ‘Scramble for
Africa’ had opposed several European states), Britain felt she
needed an ally in Europe. In 1904 she signed the Entente Cordiale
with France, and following this the Triple Entente was agreed
between the members of the two ‘Ententes’: GB, Russia and
France. This alliance would become gradually stronger as
Germany’s aggressive policies continued in Africa and Europe,
notably the Moroccan crises and the naval arms race.
The Alliance Systems
The Triple Entente
The Triple Alliance
Great Britain
France was driven by a desperate
desire for revenge, Britain was
increasingly enraged by ‘Weltpolitik’
and especially by the German naval
laws and Russia was still frustrated
by Berlin and wanted to help the
Slavs of the Balkans to increase
here authority there.
Germany and Austria were tied by
a common heritage and culture.
Germany was driven by an
emperor who couldn’t get enough
land for his country, Austria relied
on Germany’s power and support,
and Italy wanted more land and
influence for herself, although she
would change sides in 1915.
These alliances would now last until the outbreak of war in August 1914.
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