Institutional Explanation of the Causes of the World War I

This paper seeks to provide an explanation of the reasons behind the World War I from the point of view of institutionalism. Over a hundred of years have passed since the War started; nevertheless, the processes that led to it had been taking place even earlier. However, it is still very important to pay close attention to the reasons, which resulted in such a tragic event in the modern history. This analysis will not only satisfy the purely theoretical interest but also help the humankind make the necessary conclusions crucial for avoiding such unfortunate scenarios in the future. With the development of technologies and globalization processes becoming more and more active, the likelihood of new worldwide conflicts is growing. Therefore, it is becoming even more important to take measures for preventing them. Nevertheless, such measures may only be worked out with the experience of the past in mind. Consequently, it is important to not only familiarize oneself with the bare facts but also analyze them precisely. A holistic analysis needs to be conducted taking into consideration various approaches. Within this short paper, it is entirely impossible to analyze the causes of the War in their diversity by applying different approaches to the problem. Thus, institutionalism was chosen as the approach to be in the focus of the analysis.

Prior to beginning the discussion within the framework of institutionalism, it is critically important to decide on specific terms, which require definition. Obviously, there is no need to explain any other notions but institutionalism. Historical institutionalism is the theoretical approach to history, which seeks to establish a certain order and sequence of events and explain them through studying and analyzing different human organizations or institutions of the time. One of the most heavily employed methods of institutionalism is a case study. Basically, by many accounts, historical institutionalism is one of the best methods for explaining the causes of significant historical events. This approach allows seeing significant changes on the big geopolitical stages within a wide historical context. Among others, Tilly (1984) emphasizes that this approach explains “large processes” and makes “huge comparisons.” Pierson and Skocpol (2002) lay particular stress on the idea that historical institutionalism is definitely one of the most important and effective methods in the modern political science. It allows not only drawing conclusions from the lessons of the past but also applying the experience for understanding the current processes and making attempts to forecast the future ones. Finally, it is important to understand that institutions have always been in the focus of all social sciences; however, their role was seen differently by the representatives of various theoretical methods and schools.

When speaking of historical institutionalism, scientists and researchers define so-called old and new institutionalism. In their studies, the representatives of the former one focused on chosen institutions in order to develop certain recommendations for the change under consideration and describe various paths, which the social development could take. However, this paper rather considers the new institutionalism as the main approach that can provide explanations of the causes, which led to the First World War.

New institutionalism sees institutions as a much broader term. An institution is not just some sort of a bureaucratic formation while the state is not the only agent influencing crucial processes. New institutionalism delegates all the agents the power to shape the global picture. Thus, looking at the causes of the World War I from the perspective of institutional approach will mean observing the other reasons besides the will of big political players that cause the beginning of these significant historical events. All such factors are named institutions and include all social groups into the analysis. Historical institutionalism claims that all social groups play important roles in determining the historical path. Besides, they not only determine it but also are shaped by it. Looking at this particular example, we would say, that Germany was not only the starter of the war but also the war country, in the sense that its existence and everyday life was largely determined by the war. In other words, the country was changed by the war. One can say the same about Russia, however, and its lower class citizens, in particular. These populations were taking an active part and, thus, were determining the events; meanwhile, they themselves were influenced by the World War. Not only their lives but also the way they looked at the military conflict changed.

Historical institutionalism also sees social habits as institutions. In such a manner, a certain order of life and particular custom present in the society are considered institutions; thus, they are the agents of history. It is also important to understand that, for an institutional scholar, it is not only important to explain the reasons behind an event, in this case the World War I, but also to see what other forms the history could have taken and what other paths the societies could have gone. It is important to understand why other possible scenarios were not actualized and, instead, a military conflict began and developed to the World War with its actual participants, victims, and outcomes.

However, the goal of this paper is not to focus on the outcomes and any possible scenarios. It only seeks to analyze the reasons, which caused the beginning of the World War I by means of institutionalism.

It has been a popular way of seeing the causes of the war as all being related to Germany. The majority of scholars, particularly in the first part of XX century, would solely blame Germans for having started the war. However, it is not correct to speak of the Empire as of the one and the only war starter. It needs to be considered a country, which was heavily influenced by the military actions. As a rule, all the participants of any confrontation share collective responsibility for its initiation. Officially, Germany began the War, but it was begun as an attempt to protect the country’s territory before the enemy would get strong enough to defeat it. Quick actions were undertaken as a response or, rather say, the reaction to the military reform, undertaken in Russia. This thought is shared by numerous scholars (Mulligan, 2014). However, the preparations and reforms of the Russian military were also caused by the complicated geopolitical situation, in which the country found itself.

Another important factor was the expectations of the sides regarding the complexity and the length of the conflict in terms of time. Both sides expected the war to be over within just a few weeks, those who believed it would last as long as a few months were thought to be pessimistic. It was the case both with Germans, as well as the French and Russian troops (Goldberg, 2013). If there had been no such expectations, the war would not have been that easy to start. If not the belief in a very soon victory, the actual participants of the War, rather to say, the executors – the troops from both sides would have been much harder to be inspired for the battles. Thus, the expectation of the war’s quick end was one of the main contributing factors, which resulted in the beginning of the World War I at the time and the place.

One more important reason behind the initiation of the World War I was the absence of international institutions, which would target the prevention of the global military conflicts. It marked a new era in the history of humankind as the World had not been facing any similar problems to the one it experienced at the beginning of XX century. Global military conflicts had never been an issue before, and their likelihood was not expected and, thus, any preventive measures were not undertaken. Thus, the absence of international organizations, which aimed at the global conflicts prevention turned out to be one of the most significant factors, which, in the final score, led to the beginning of the World War I.

However, among other scholars, Ferguson (1999) argues that the authorities of the involved countries did not believe in the fast ending of the war. They did have to consider serious data, which indicated the fact that the military confrontation would be exhausting and would last long, taking away millions of lives. However, the parties managed to employ very effective mechanisms of propaganda, through which by means of hiding the real state of affairs from the actual executors of the war, they managed to convince their citizens that the war was going to take little time, and few people would die while the victory was quite certain and would take place very swiftly. Basically, this fact suggests that propaganda from both sides was one of the main war starters. The effectiveness of propaganda was caused by the newly invented means of communication and fast transportation. If it had not been for telegraph, radio, telephone, and a number of other developments, propaganda could not have been as effective as it was. Besides, the authorities were able to convince their citizens in their fast victory partially by means of referring to their modernized military capacities. It would not have been so easy to persuade numerous military troops to go to war if it had not been for aviation, other newly invented weapon, and completely new ways of conducting the war, which became possible entirely due to the technical progress. Thus, no matter how wild it may sound at first, the technical progress was one of the most significant factors, which contributed to the beginning of the World War I.

However, it is very important to understand that there have been numerous other factors, particularly the issues related to domestic affairs of all the concerned parties, which heavily speeded up the initiation of the World War I. However, analyzing all of the reasons and factors within the limits of such a short paper appears to be entirely impossible. Therefore, summarizing the present attempt to look at the causes of the World War I from the institutional viewpoint, one needs to mention the following factors as the most significant ones: the expectation of aggression from the opposing side, the belief in the war’s fast end and victory, the absence of international institutions, responsible for preventing global conflicts, active and effective propaganda, conducted by all parties to the conflict, and, lastly, the technical progress, which made it possible for propaganda to be so effective and for the war to cause so many victims. These factors do not make up a full list; therefore, for a deeper understanding of the World War I, it is necessary to undertake a more profound research than the current paper. However, this analysis provides a basic understanding of the primary causes of this global military conflict from the point of view of institutionalism.

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