Europe’s Day Out: Treaties and World War I

Built on a Foundation of Revolution

The state of the world on the eve of World War I was a culmination of events that had spiraled out of control over the previous several centuries.  The most important components begin during the age of revolution from the late 1770s through the 1850s.  From this point, much of the world's boundaries had been re-established.  The creation of numerous new nations marked the collapse of old world kingdoms, empires, and colonial assets the world over.  With the establishment of new nations that were previously under the thumb of political and military oversight from larger superpowers, a new set of agreements and treaties were established between nations to reinforce their own national security from outside threats.  Such alliances and treaties included the Triple Alliance (among the Germans, Austrians, and Italians), the Triple Entente (among the British, French, and the Russians), and the Slavic Alliance (among the Serbians and Russians).  Agreements were also in place in the Pacific and the Americas where the Americans and the Japanese co-policed the Pacific against existential threats.  Lastly, the collapse of the Roman Empire in the previous generations had left the old Ottoman Empire largely unopposed, but inner turmoil resulted in a fragmented and shaky relationship with its own citizenry.

Instability was not limited to the Ottoman Empire, however.  Further west, in the Balkans, the region had been destabilized due to conflict similar to the uprisings in the Middle East.  Minoritized sects, mostly religious, were being suppressed and silenced in favor of ruling majority - a trend that would continue until the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1992.  Austria-Hungary had annexed portions of the Balkans previously in the late nineteenth century, and was recognized as a foreign power.  The presence of this power led to an increase in terrorist activity against western and central European entities in the Balkan states.  In particular, Serbia took great issue with the Austro-Hungarian presence in Bosnia.  The Balkans marked a location where the east met the west.  The Austro-Hungarians aided Ottoman resistance within Bosnia during the war of 1878.  However, by the early 1900s, the Slavic states of the Balkan territories had established an alliance with its Slavic parent, Russia - who was also angered by the annexing of Bosnia.

On a June day in 1914, the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Ferdinand, was in the former Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.  Six assassins from the Black Hand terrorist cell gathered in Sarajevo in a conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke with the intention of reuniting all of the Slavic states.  The assassins were all Serbian nationals.  The first attempt failed, but by coincidence a second opening presented itself.  Gavrilo Princip was the assassin that killed both Franz Ferdinand and his wife.  Despite weak public outcry in Austria-Hungary at his assassination, the Emperor was outraged at this violent outburst.  By July, it was determined that Serbia was officially behind the attacks and that diplomatic communication and apologies were necessary.  When Serbia refused, Germany's agreement with Austria-Hungary was activated.  This in turn activated a partial mobilization of Russian forces to support the Serbs.

By August, Germany had decried both the Russians and the French to stand down to prevent escalation of the war.  However, Germany itself was not drawing down any of its own forces and deploying them on national borders with both countries.  When the requests were denied and responded to with continued mobilization, Germany subsequently declared war on both nations.  This in turn activated the Triple Entente agreement with Britain by September.  By the middle of the war, and the interception of the Zimmerman Telegram, the United States entered the war after a perceived German threat from Mexico and continued unrestricted submarine warfare.  This in turn activated the agreement with Japan in the Pacific.  Little did the United States know at the time that this would play into the hands of the Japanese later in World War II.  Two modifiers to the treaties occurred during the war: the first was the withdrawal of Italy from the Triple Alliance, the second was the withdrawal of Russia from the Triple Entente.

Truly, World War I is a clusterpluck of treaties that sat upon a pedestal built on an unstable world full of outrage.

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Author: The Kid

A junior Military Historian. In 2018 I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History. I'm also a professional student, specializing in Cold War era military history and American aviation history. I have composed several publications over the last four years, and continue to publish writings and photos to various journals, publishers, and blogs - including this one.

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