Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Why was WWI considered “inevitable”?

Things were looking up for Germany…but then then they weren’t. The conference was totally a disaster and there is no way of twisting it any other way. Nobody supported Germany outright. Russia obviously supported France as did Spain but the real shockers was first Britain and secondly Italy. Wait what? Britain makes sense — they maintained the integrity of their agreement but Italy was the true shocker. Germany’s public defensive ally defied it in the congress and while Austria-Hungary tentatively supported Germany it was with an asterisk basically begging them to please stop being so aggressive and be more conciliatory. Germany, and more specifically the Kaiser, could have taken this as a note of the failure of Weltpolitik as a foreign policy but instead the Kaiser became more solidified in his belief in it. He would not again let himself back down and instead viewed more aggressive diplomacy necessary for it to work.

France and Britain had grown closer and at the very least Germany hoped this would drive at wedge between France and Russia. Well…it didn’t. All 3 powers supported the same decision in this conference and recognized the threat of Germany. Britain and Russia who just one year prior were actively fucking each other over began to make nice now and by 1907 would sign a series of agreements which would solidify the boundaries in Central Asia, the fate of Persia, and basically begin their friendship.

This was by all accounts the logical choice for both parties. Britain wanted to support France but to support France they would need to accommodate Russia. Also by extension of this agreement Britain would free up swathes of manpower stationed in India which were there for a significant purpose of keeping Russia in check and contesting said Central Asian territories. Although Russia herself could still go back into Germany’s arms any time she wished in this period and really did not need the French and British as much as they needed Russia, Russia felt alliance with the two powers was more beneficial than with Germany and A-H. The catastrophe in Manchuria against the Japanese and the failed revolution in 1905 as well showed the Tsar that the frontiers needed to be handled once and for all and the efforts concentrated and by dealing with Manchuria with Japan via losing and by dealing with Central Asia with Britain via diplomacy Russia could exert all of her efforts toward the West.

There can not be a greater indictment of Weltpolitik than when you consider the deep seated and long lasting (at times hundreds of years long) hostilities between France, Britain, and Russia being resolved so rapidly. In January 1904 Russia and Britain were irreconcilable, Britain and France were on uneasy terms, and France and Russia were friends but it was nothing really solid — it was really a one way agreement if you think about it. By December 31st 1907 though we can truly say the Triple Entente was formed in at least a proto state. But it was all tentative. It would be the 1911 Crisis that really set all of this into stone and really set the divisions in place that you talk about.

France, using riots as an excuse to send troops into Morocco would be quite slow to leave and were clearly making a power grab. A grab which was in clear violation of the treaty agreed upon by the congress just a few years prior. Now, this legitimately did drive a wedge between Britain and France for just a moment and Germany had an opportunity to shine if it acted diplomatically. It did not. Remember what I said about the Kaiser not backing down? Instead of operating in a peaceful, diplomatic fashion Germany would escalate the situation in true Weltpolitik fashion; she would send warships to intervene. Britain, who again held naval hegemony despite the race, was stunned. With the extension of actually not even knowing where the rest of the German fleet was the crisis immediately shifted from the French mucking up the treaty and more with maintaining the integrity of the Triple Entente in the face of German aggression. Germany would seize a sizable amount of French territory in sub-equatorial Africa to integrate into the colony of Kamerun and would in return recognize French control over Morocco. Weltpolitik would in the short sight work but in the grand scheme completely fail.

Charles Maurras, a contemporary, wrote “The solution of the Moroccan crisis is not to be found in Fez but among the pines of the Vosges. What is afoot in Morocco makes sense only if we are prepared to fight in the Vosges.”[1] What the Second Crisis made explicit was what should have been made implicit in the first — that colonial disputes were now for the first time ever being directly projected back onto Europe and European rivalries and not treated in vacuums. This is only exacerbated by the fact that Morocco’s geographic position directly influences control of the Mediterranean which makes it harder to separate than some sub-equatorial African colony.

The Triple Entente was by all accounts solidified at this point in a mutual fear of Germany and even though by 1912 the naval arms race had almost entirely cooled down (Britain, for instance, reducing to a one-power standard in the Mediterranean) it was far too late. Britain was now in favor of continental intervention with regards to assisting France and would use her naval might to contest the German navy in the Baltics to protect the Russians. Russia who was just a few years prior in this strange land where it could still choose which power bloc to support was now fully behind France and Britain and France, despite having an abysmally low birth rate and a low population would now be able to stand up to Germany with two big friends. Italy had shown in these two crisis’ that her allegiance was only tentatively with Germany which explains their backing out of the war and even joining on the side of the Entente in 1915. Germany’s position was one of isolation with but one friend, Austria-Hungary; a nation which was imploding domestically (and that’s a whole big post for another time) and had a military which would perform embarrassingly in the war.

In the process of the past 25 years Weltpolitik had effectively isolated Germany from the rest of the world and driven former enemies into allegiance together for the sole purpose of containing Germany. It had created clear political boundaries in the formation of two major power blocs — the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. That is why, ultimately, people say the war was “inevitable”. When you create two power blocs like that where one is created for the sole purpose of aggressive expansion (Germany colonially and A-H with respect to Serbia and the rest of the Balkans) and the other with the sole purpose of containing the other, war is nearly inevitable. Some may point to the Warsaw Pact vs NATO and say that never evolved to war and I’d say that’s not a fair comparison because nukes completely changes the formula. This is the Cold War without M.A.D. and nuclear bombs. Even with nuclear deterrent that is an incredibly dicey situation but when we’re just talking about the risk of conventional warfare that becomes a ticking time bomb. It was by no means inevitable and I wouldn’t say that but the conditions were set in such a perfect way that most people in Europe by the end of 1911 viewed a general continental European war as a reality and began preparing for one in a very serious manner.


Notes:

[1] Scaremongers: Advocacy of War and Rearmament, 1896-1914, Anthony Morris.

The First World War: Volume I: To Arms, Hew Strachan

The Opening of World War I, Holger Herwig

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