Did Germany Cause World War I?
One of the most controversial terms of the Versailles Treaty was the “War Guilt” Clause (Article 231).
Under this particular Article, Germany and her Allies were forced to accept total responsibility:
a) for causing World War I
b) for the damages inflicted upon Allied nations as the result of German aggression
While the victorious Allies determined that German actions were solely responsible for causing World War I, this explanation ignores other contributing factors.
Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
The assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914
did not have to lead to war.
However, Austria was determined to keep Serbia within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quell any nationalist fervour in the Balkans.
She decided to punish Serbia for the assassination.
The Alliance System
Russia then decided to support its ally Serbia in its dispute with Austria-Hungary.
Once Russia entered this dispute, the existing system of European alliances made it very difficult to keep the Serbian issue from escalating into a much larger conflict.
After Russia entered the conflict its ally, France, is drawn into the conflict because of its alliance with Russia.
Great Britain then became involved through its Entente with France.
Austria and Germany
Austria did not expect Russia to go to war over Serbia. It did, however,
seek German military assistance in the event Russia honored its alliance with Serbia.
Austria’s misreading of Russian intentions was compounded by the warlike posture taken by Germany.
Instead of counseling a negotiated and peaceful approach, Germany declared her steadfast support for Austria and encouraged her ally to take an aggressive approach towards Serbia.
- Given the elaborate alliance system that existed in 1914, it is not surprising that the regional conflict in the Balkans became the spark for a much wider war.
- The alliance system was, however, not the only factor that led to war.
- Germany bears some responsibility for not restraining the actions of her ally Austria.
- In fact, Germany’s encouragement of Austria’s harsh approach to Serbia made a wider European conflict much more likely.
- At the same time, Austrian foreign policy was reckless in not seriously considering the possibility that Russia would come to Serbia’s aid.