Historians have disagreed about the extent to which German Diplomacy was the major cause of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 ever since the war began.
However, it is clear that although multiple factors escalated the scale of which the war proceeded, the diplomacy of the German nation was the most significant cause of the war as a whole. Initially, it is possible to trace the causes back over a period of at least 100 years. It is clear that the race for superiority between the great European powers, alongside the weakening control of the Ottoman Empire, created an atmosphere of overwhelming tension with an unmissable potential for war. Combined with the rise of nationalism in areas such as the Balkans, the possibility of conflict between the Great Powers of Europe escalated.The unification of Germany in the early 19th century epitomised the overwhelming public desire for stability after the decline of the Ottomans – separate German states of the confederacy began to develop a sense that they were not just citizens of their own individual states but part of a wider German community, making them stronger in the face of their enemies. The Prussian chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, led the attempts to unify Germany under Prussian control, as he wanted to strengthen their position in Europe by making the king more prominent and building up the army. Bismarck intended to give the newly created throne to the Prussian prince, Frederick William IV, and eventually he utilised the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 to persuade the southern states to join with the Prussian-dominant northern states. As countries began to build up their militaries, other countries followed suit to match the rising sense of paranoia building in Europe.
This was partially due to influence of Otto von Bismarck and the Prussian prince, both of whom were intent on conflict in order to unify the states under Prussian control. According to the esteemed historian J. Llewellyn, ”Prussia’s crushing military defeat of France in 1871 revealed its army as the most dangerous and effective military force in Europe. This victory also secured German unification, allowing Prussian militarism and German nationalism to become closely intertwined”. 1 It can be argued that the rise of German Nationalism was a primary influence for the rise of belligerent German Diplomacy, and thus a secondary cause for the war itself.One potential long-term cause of the First World War is the gathering of the European powers at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. According to historian Stella Ghervas (History Today Volume 64 Issue 9 September 2014) ‘The victorious Great Powers (Russia, Great Britain, Austria and Prussia) invited the other states of Europe to send plenipotentiaries to Vienna for a peace conference’ after over 20 years of war and upheaval lead to the end of French domination over many parts of Europe.
The Congress of Vienna can be seen as a success as it established a balance of power in Europe and formed order after the chaos of the Napoleonic era, however in many ways it can be recognised as a failure. After ignoring rising liberalism, the Congress of Vienna was frequently criticised in the 19th century, and played out an integral part in what because known as ‘Conservative Order’. This was a principle of legitimacy to justify the dynasties in Spain, Italy, France and Germany which inevitably prolonged revolutions which took place 1815-1848, the period known as ‘The Age of Revolutions’. The Congress of Vienna also failed to tackle the issue of rising nationalism. Historians argue that if the Congress had confronted rising nationalist feelings in 1815 Europe, many wars and upheavals engendered by nationalism could have been spared. It can be argued that German Unification in 1870 arose because of ignorance of German Nationalism, which destroyed the balance of power settled in Europe.
In regards to shorter-term causes, events in Morocco can be considered a stimulatory cause of the First World War. From the mid nineteenth century, the Great Powers of Europe became increasingly interested in Morocco due to its position of strategic importance in the Mediterranean sea. At this time, Kaiser Wilhem II desired to expand newfound Germany’s power in Africa, however in 1904 France and Great Britain concluded that Morocco fell into French territory.
In an attempt to test the newly adhered friendship between Britain and France, Wilhelm promised the people of Morocco his full support for the country remaining independant in 1905,. As a result of his actions, the relationship with Britain and France was strengthened after the Algeciras agreement of 1906 stating that Germany should have no say in Morocco’s affairs – shortly after, Britain and Russia eradicated any withstanding colonial conflicts between either country, with the three consenting states forming the Triple Entente as a consequence.