(Sample Material) IAS Mains GS Online Coaching : Paper 1 - "History Of World (Part-3)"

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Subject: General Studies (Paper 1 - Indian Heritage and Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society)

Topic: History Of World (Part-3)


World War I: Causes and Consequences

Extreme Nationalism

The rising tide of nationalism swept across the European continent throughout the nineteenth century affecting almost all parts. The work of the Congress of Vienna was set at nought, and many monarchies perished by this sweeping gale. Every subject-nation liberated herself from the shackles of alien rule, most notably, Belgium, Italy and Germany. Similarly in the Balkans, many Christian countries became free from the tyranny of the Ottoman empire. It looked as though Europe went through a blaze, the incendiary material being nationalism. Everywhere, there was a pause after this holocaust, but not in Germany. There were still some subject nationalities, such as the Poles, Finns, Letts, Czechs, Yugoslavs and so on who struggled hard to become free. Thus it may be seen that on the eve of the Great War, aggressive nationalism continued to be a disturbing phenomenon. Born out of war, Germany pursued an aggressive career to fulfil her imperial ambitions. “Strong nations, rigidly and patriotically pursuing their own national desires, have inevitably clashed with one another.” It was unfortunate that, in the absence of an international peacekeeping machinery, these strong nations violated international laws with impunity. They vitiated the international atmosphere to such an extent that the last twenty-five years preceding the Great War came to be known as the era of armed peace.

Hostile Military Alliances

One of the fundamental causes which brought about the Great War was the formation of two hostile alliances—the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. The former was established by Bismarck mainly to isolate France from the rest of Europe with a view to protect the newly born German empire (1871). While keeping France isolated, Bismarck was careful not to alienate the sympathies of the other great powers—Russia and Britain. However, his policy of relative restraint was thrown to the winds by the new German emperor. Kaiser William III, after 1890. After the old Chancellor’s exit (1890), the German emperor began to entertain a grandiose plan for world conquest. He designed a new policy—the Weltpolitik—which was to dominate the rest of his career. The new policy implied that Germany should no longer remain happy with her present position, but aim at world domination through means of conquests as well as expansion of trade and commerce. Already, Germany had progressed rapidly in the industrial field and looked forward to capturing world markets. Similarly, she hoped to establish a chain of colonies in Asia and Africa. Her entry into a race for colonies made the other powers jealous and heightened tensions. Germany allowed the Reinsurance treaty to lapse, and Russia was not keen to renew it.

Dual Alliance

It was not long before a new alliance was formed and it was directed against the Triple Alliance. While Russia was annoyed by Austro-German influence in the Near East, France too was not feeling safe. As the interests of both coincided, they came closer. France was prepared to supply armaments and offer loans to Russia to build her railways. In return, Russia was to help France to counteract the influence of Austria and Germany in Central Europe. The Franco-Russian friendship between 1891 and 1895, culminated in an alliance—the Dual Alliance—directed against Germany. When published in 1895, it declared each would come to the other’s rescue if Germany attacked any one of them. This defence treaty provided, among other things, mutual consultations by commanders from time to time if there was any threat from any one of the members of the Triple Alliance. The agreement mentioned even the strength of forces they should muster to fight Germany.

The next logical step of including Britain into their fold was delayed on account of Franco-British rivalry. Both these countries were on bad terms because France regarded the British occupation of Egypt as an extremely hostile move. Similarly, England did not like French control of Tunis as well as her plans to take over Morocco. The ‘Fashoda’ incident in 1898 nearly brought these two countries to the brink of war. However, it was averted by Declasse, the French foreign minister, who shrewdly “calculated that Knglish friendship might be more valuable to Fashoda or half a million miles of the Sudan” (sic). Again Britain could not be brought into the fold of the alliance because Lord Salisbury had kept her in “splendid isolation”. In the meantime, Britain made overtures of friendship to Germany (the German emperor being a grandson of Queen Victoria) but it was spurned. With the death of Salisbury, Britain broke off her splendid isolationism and moved towards establishing a close link with France (the new British king, Edward Vll developed a contempt for his nephew, the German emperor). Britain signed a treaty with Japan, an Asiatic power, in 1902. She took the next step of arriving at an understanding with France (called the Entente Cordial) in 1904, over mutual spheres of influence in the African continent. While France permitted Britain to have a ‘free hand’ in Egypt and the Sudan, the latter recognised French claims over Morocco. The relations between these two countries became cordial and their respective generals discussed even the military and naval strategy to be adopted in the event of a German attack. Germany did not like Declasse’s role in forming this alliance and promptly threatened France. The French foreign minister was forced to resign to pacify Germany. At that time, Russia was busy fighting Japan.

Triple Entente

The next logical step followed. Britain and Russia began to have parleys to end their quarrels, particularly in the Near East and South Asia. They came to an agreement over their mutual spheres of influence in Persia. Britain was to dominate over the northern part and Russia, the southern part, with a buffer zone in between. Thus, Russia no longer posed a threat to Afghanistan or India. Another broad agreement was reached over the Balkans between the two. It may be noted that Britain ceased to attach importance to this region because nationalism had reached its peak there, a clear indication that Russian influence would henceforth be minimal. With all obstacles removed, France, Britain and Russia established the Triple Entente in 1907, to meet the threat posed by the Triple Alliance. Thus Europe was divided into two military camps ready to fight.

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