IGNOU HISTORY Study Notes for IAS, UPSC Exams

 Modern India 1857-1964



13.0 Objectives
13.1 Introduction
13.2 Causes of The World War
13.2.1 The System of Secret Alliances
13.2.2 Militarism
13.2.3 Nationalism
13.2.4 Urge to Imperialism
13.2.5 Newspapers, Press and the Pub~c Opinion
13.2.6 The Immediate Cause
I 13.3 Consequences of the War I
13.3.1 Loss of Human L~ves
13.3.2 Social and Economic Changes
13.3.3 Democratic Ideals
13.3.4 The Conference of Paris, 1919
13.3.5 The New Balance of Power
13.3.6 The New International Machinery
13.4 World War and India
13.5 Let Us Sum Up
13.6 Key Words
13.7 Answers to Check Your Progress Exercises


After reading this unit you would :

  • get acquainted with the first World War as a major event in history of the world,
  • have an idea about the main causes which led to the conflagration of 1914.
  • understand its consequences both in the countries involved as well as at the international plane, and
  • see in specific terms what the war meant to India.


The first world war, you should remember, was the outcome of a chain of events taking place in Europe, as well as in other parts of the world during the last two or three decades of the nineteenth century. You will find out in these pages that it was not merely a war but an event which made a tremendous impact on the world scene. It dismantled quite a number of the existing socio-economic and political structures. Our main objective here is to farniliarise you both with the main causes of the war and its more important consequences.


The causes of the first world war are so complex that any attempt to describe them adequately would involve nothing less than the writing of the diplomatic history of Europe since 1870. In fact we may have to go back to 1789 or even to the age of Louis XIV. The causes of this war are to be sought in the conjunction of various forces and tendencies which had been operating for a long time among the nations of Europe. However, let us look into some of the important factors which led to the first world war.

13.2.1 The System of Secret Alliances

The most significant cause of the war was the system of secret alliances. This was, as a matter of fact, the handiwork of Bismarck, who tried to build a network of such alliances

Radical Trends, Nationalism against germ any:^ enemies after the Franco-hssian War of 1870. This move slowly and Mahatma Gandhi divided Europe into rival armed camps which confronted each other. The system of alliances, as you can guess, helped on some occasions in preserving peace, in as much as the members within one group often held their friends or allies in restraint from provoking war. But it also made it inevitable that if a war did come, it would involve all the great powers of

From 187 1 to 1890 Bismarck was the arbiter of European politics. As the Chancellor of the new German Empire he wanted peace and declared that Germany was a "satiated" country. He knew that war, which had brought to Germany power and international prominence, would, if risked again, bring her only destruction. Bismarck thus stood for the maintenance of status quo and the preservation of the new Balance of Power which he had created by his system of alliances. He knew that France was Germany's irreconcilable enemy, particularly after the ignominy of 1870. So Bismarck's diplomatic skill and political insight were employed in building up alliances for the protection of Germany. The enemy of Germany was France, and Bismarck's achievement was the diplomatic isolation of the country. In pursuit of this policy, Germany entered into an alliance with Aushia in 1879 with a commitment of reciprocal protection in case Russia should attack either Power. Three years later in 1882, Bismarck fomented the Franco-Italian rivalary over Tunis and persuaded Italy to forget her hereditary enmity towards Austria. A secret Triple Alliance was forged in 1882 between Germany, Italy and Austria, explicitly defensive, in part against France, in part against Russia. 

France, rendered powerless since the Franco-Prussian War, looked upon this formidable alliance with grave concern. So long as Bismarck was at the helm he maintained the system of Balance of Power which he had completed by his Re-Insurance Treaty with Russia in 1887. The nightmare of isolation haunted France. But after Bismarck ceased to be German Chancellor in 1890, his successors abandoned his skillful diplomacy. Some bitterness arose between Russia and Germany at the Berlin Congress over the settlement of the Eastern Question. France took advantage of this situation and proceeding cautiously, was successfuk in forming an alliance with Russia in 1891. Thus was formed the Dual Alliance which ended the period of isolation of France and served as a counterweight to the Triple Alliance. The abandonment of Bismarckian diplomacy by Germany led to some rethinking in the British diplomatic circles. The German Emperor did not believe that Germany was a "satiated Power" and called for an ambitious policy of a World Empire. He also declared that the future of Germany lay upon the sea. This change in German policy was alarming enough for England and forced her to come out of the state of "splendid Isolation". It drew Britain closer to the Dual Alliance. In 1904, she made an agreement of Entente Cordiale with France resolving all mutual differences. This was followed by a similar agreement with Russia in 1907. Thus France, Russia and England formed a separate political group called Triple Entente. As the Triple Alliance confronted the Triple Entente, the condition of Europe became one of "armed peace". The continental powers of Europe, though at peace with the another, kept a jealous watch upon their neighbours and so atmosphere of fear and suspicion prevailed in Europe.

There being apprehensions about the coming catastrophe, all the Powers busied themselves with making feverish military preparations. This was the result of the split of Europe into two rival camps. This division of Europe into two rival armed camp has to be seen in the context of growth and expansion of Imperialism when European countries, seized with lust for trade and territories, were acquiring new colonies and contending against each other. Naturally to make a mark in international politics by their material strength, it was necessary to build up militarily and politically.

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