Causes of world war one

World War I or the First World War was a war fought by many countries, which is why it is called a “world” war. It started in 1914 and ended in 1918. 135 countries took part in World War I, and more than 15,000,000 people died in the war.

The following were the causes of world war one

The First World War, which began in August 1914, was directly triggered by the assassination of the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, on 28 June 1914 by Bosnian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip. This event was, however, simply the trigger that set off declarations of war.

The actual causes of the war were;

The system of Alliances

An alliance is an agreement made between two or more countries to give each other help if it is needed. A number of alliances had been signed by countries between the
years 1879 and 1914.

For example, the Dual Alliance signed by Germany with Austria Hungary in 1879 and later joined by Italy in 1882 to become the triple Alliance.

This system led to the division of Europe into two antagonistic power blocs. It led to fear and suspicion between nations. It transformed local disputes into a general conflict.

The Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy were directly opposed by the Entente powers of France and Russia and later included Great Britain to form the Triple
Entente in 1907.


Imperialism is when a country takes over new lands or countries and makes them subject to their rule. By 1900, the British Empire extended over five continents and France had control of large areas of Africa. With the rise of industrialism, countries needed new markets.

The amount of lands ‘owned’ by Britain and France increased their rivalry with Germany who had entered the scramble to acquire colonies late and only had small areas of Africa.

Economic rivalry.

According to Marxism, the highest form of capitalism would ultimately lead to an inevitable war through economic rivalry. In the late 19th century, all European powers had industrialized or had started.

Therefore, to match the needs of economy and industry, nations sought to expand their territory through imperialism in order to gain raw materials and markets.

This then led to the clash of imperial interest between nations and ultimately led to conflict and war.


Militarism means that the army and military forces are given a high profile by the government.

The growing European divide had led to an arms race between the main countries. The armies of both France and Germany had more than doubled between 1870 and 1914 and there was fierce competition between Britain and Germany for mastery of the seas.

The British had introduced the ‘Dreadnought’, an effective battleship,  in 1906.  The  Germans  soon  followed  suit  introducing  their  own battleships. The German, Von Schlieffen also drew up a plan of action that involved attacking France through Belgium if Russia made an attack on Germany.


Nationalism means being a strong supporter of the rights and interests of one’s country. The Congress of Vienna, held after Napoleon’s exile to Elba, aimed to sort out problems in Europe. Delegates from Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia decided upon a new Europe that left both Germany and Italy as divided states.

Strong nationalist elements led to the re-unification of Italy in 1861 and Germany in 1871. The settlement at the end of the Franco-Prussian war left France angry at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and keen to regain their lost territory.

Large areas of both Austria-Hungary and Serbia were home to differing nationalist groups, all of whom wanted freedom from the states in which they lived.

Moroccan Crisis

In 1904 Morocco had been given to France by Britain, but the Moroccans wanted their independence.  In 1905,  Germany  announced  her  support  for  Moroccan independence.

War was narrowly avoided by a conference which allowed France to retain possession of Morocco. However, in 1911, the Germans were again protesting against French possession of Morocco.

Britain supported France and Germany was persuaded to back down for part of French Congo.

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