Was World War I Avoidable?
Could any Major Power in 1914 Have Made a Credible Commitment Capable of Preventing Systemic War?
When one speaks the topic of World War I, it is easy to assume that if England had failed to get closer to France and through France to engage Russia in the Anglo-French combination, there probably would not be war at all. However, it does not mean that it was not necessary to create the Entente. The growth of the army of Germany, its aggressiveness and arrogance were so high that the Entente already suggested its opposition to the Triple Alliance that was not going to give up. The balance of power was supposed to be a factor in preventing the upcoming war, as it seemed frightening to create a deadly battle between two powerful coalitions of the world. This essay will try to answer whether any major power in 1914 could have made a credible commitment capable of preventing systemic war.
Main Reasons to Start the War
By creating the Entente, England, the initiator of it, pursued the goal of not preventing the war, but on the contrary, starting it at the first suitable occasion. For England, the war with the Triple Alliance was needed as soon as possible. At the same time, the premise for the creation of the Entente led to the war in 1914. In fact, if there were no Entente, there would be no such a powerful unit to stimulate the commitment of its members not to be involved in the conflict out of fear of Germany since this conflict would turn into a war with the Triple Alliance (Fromkin 12).
The presence of such a unit and belonging to it made its participants determine the exact position. England, with its very skillful diplomacy, left the respective control over the spirit of its allies at a critical moment. However, maybe, if there were no Entente and no real opportunity of England appearing on the side of France and Russia, France would probably not start its military preparations that had caused Germany’s attack on the country.
Moreover, it was obvious that Russia’s face off against the Triple Alliance seemed to be obviously hopeless. In the conflict with Austria-Hungary, Serbia, as it was established, was to blame. Therefore, Russia’s refrain from mobilization would probably prevent the war at that point. However, the Entente still existed, and someone needed a war for the first resulting matter. The Austro-Serbian conflict seemed to be that matter. Moreover, England needed the war. As the creator of the Entente, England aimed at remaining silent for France and Russia. It was threatened by the commercial and industrial competition with Germany (Fromkin 14).
Reasons to Continue and Spread the War
In the economic field, Germany beat England everywhere, even on the domestic British market. Overall, by conquering the world’s market and by its colonial expansion, Germany created a situation that the only way for Britain to defend its world domination was the military defeat of Germany. However, England never dared to attack Germany one on one, especially when the latter was backed by an alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy (Fromkin 15).
It was necessary to oppose the Triple Alliance with a greater real force, the use of which would make it possible to defeat Germany with minimal effort and the smallest number of casualties for England. Hence, England initiated a rapprochement with France, but it was not enough, prompting the former seek a rapprochement with Russia. France sought revenge for the war of 1870-1871. However, having no confidence in the future because of the constant aggression from Germany, France went to the rapprochement with England, expecting to find a powerful ally against a common enemy. By doing that, France only strengthened its security guarantees and protection against attacks that it already had from the alliance with Russia.
After a successful annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria-Hungary wanted to progress further in the Balkans by conquering Serbia and Montenegro. However, it was Russia’s duty to guard the independence of these countries since it considered them the stronghold of its influence among the Balkan nations. Nevertheless, Russia had to consider the overly active policy of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans.
For its own protection from any accidents regarding this issue and other possible problems afterwards due to a break of Germany after Biorke, Russia decided to strengthen its guarantee of security and the protection from attack by the same Germany. It was done by the acquisition of a second, after France, solid ally. Therefore, Russia decided to enter the Anglo-French Entente as the third member. This Triple Entente created a significant contrast to the Triple Alliance (“Lecture Note #1 The Paradox of Domestic Commitment”).
From the above mentioned, one could see that the conditions that made, for a given political situation, the opportunity to start a World War were created. Russia had a passive role in creating these conditions. It received an offer to join the already establish alliance of its old friend France with a new friend, England. Russia was forced to accept this proposal by circumstances. Therefore, these circumstances were such that one of the Russian ships had no other way of going to the English coast than through the friendly French waters. Overall, by entering the Entente and relying on it, Russia risked entering the suddenly arisen Austro-Serbian conflict. This circumstance was the beginning of World War I that started in the summer of 1914. The fact that Russia got involved in this conflict was the undeniable fault of the Russian imperial government of that time (“Lecture Note #1 The Paradox of Domestic Commitment”).
Meanwhile, after the end of the war, the attempts to place another fault on the ill-fated Russian government were still present. It was suggested that since 1914, not only had Russia ignited the approach to the localization of the Austro-Serbian conflict, but it also created the occasion for most of the Austro-Serbian conflict. This opinion could be certainly attributed to the murder of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that was organized by the Serbs.
In fact, the Serbs had already solidly proven themselves as specialists on the part of systematic political assassinations that were conspiratorial at home and on the Austrian territory. The Serbs acquired this reputation for the organization of a number of attacks on the officials of Austrian administration. As for the murder of Franz Ferdinand, the Serbs could not rely on the fact that it would pass by the experienced Austrian authorities who were hiding the murderers – the Austrian nationals, working from the initiative of the Serbs. Hence, there emerged a conflict with Serbia. It seemed like everything had gone according to the plan, including a war (“Lecture Note #2 (Day 6) War and Bargaining”).
The overall situation in the several months before the war was also tense. Without a doubt, it was going to come to a denouement. In the spring of 1914, Sukhomlinov’s article “We are Ready” was published as a response to the German press campaign. However, it was done to prevent the fight, not to start it. The author thought it would make the enemies fear the upcoming war. Therefore, it was not done as an indication that Russia was prepared for the real war. It was better prepared than a year ago, but nothing more. However, in his memoirs, Sukhomlinov claimed that in 1914 the country was prepared for the war more than ever.
First, this information does not say much. Russia was not prepared for either the Crimean War or the Japanese one. The war with Turkey was won, but this ware was with a relatively weak enemy. Secondly, it cannot be said that for such a huge country as Russia at that time, it was possible to go to the prepared state in 1914 in just one year from the state of the lack of preparation in 1913. There was a relatively insignificant cost of weapons due to the state treasurer Kokovtsov’ persistent and systematic cutting down of military loans without him being aware of what he was doing. Of course, for the war against Germany, it was not nearly enough, as Germany was also backed by the military forces of Austria-Hungary and Italy (Lecture Note #3 (Day 7) Nationalism).
That is why, with sufficient certainty, it can be claimed that until the crisis caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Russian government or the Russian diplomatic service did not think about the war and especially, they did not think to start it or create a reason for it. Despite that, such a sin by modern historians is laid on the former Russian imperial government. However, there is no real data that would support such an accusation.
Furthermore, an important fact is that every war, which Germany takes part in, is always used by Britain to address the central issue of its global rivalry with Germany. However, Germans had not counted on the active entry of Britain into the war against the Central Powers. On the contrary, it was expected that England would regulate the war, support its opponents, help them in the war, finance, and supply them with what they needed, but it not fight with them. Such an expectation was strengthened by the German ambassador in London, Prince Lichnowsky. However, in addition to the participation of troops in England and its colonies in the hostilities against the Central Powers on the land front, the crushing factor for them was the entry into the war of the British fleet. Thus, as the result of the first encounter with the German fleet, the British fleet drove that of Germany in its strongholds and paralyzed it for the full duration of the war (“Lecture Note #2 (Day 6) War and Bargaining”).
An interesting position was taken in the war by a member of the Triple Alliance, Italy. At first, it claimed neutrality during the outbreak of World War I, but then, it entered the war against its former allies. For the Central Powers, the entry Turkey and then Bulgaria into the war on their side of did not compensate Italy’s switch of sides, as their enemies had Russia, France, Britain, Italy, Serbia, then Belgium, Montenegro, Japan, Romania, and later, the North American United States as their allies. Overall, the military destruction of the Central Powers acquired for their opponents a well-established character of a widely delivered but well equipped and systematically functioning enterprise with multi-millions of workers and high technology with advanced machines for destruction of humanity.
Consequently, when trying to answer the question about the possibility to prevent the systemic war, it can be seen that instead of taking any action to stop the conflict from growing, all major European powers just accelerated the process of their militarization and improved the nature of their mobilization systems. In all participating countries, nationalist propaganda was used very widely because without the proper ideological reinforcement, it was simply impossible to imagine the combat operations of such scale and for such a long time. That is why, one could say that the war was coming long before it started, and there was no real way to stop its growth when it finally started. The countries were not capable of staying out of it and they had to find new and new allies to fight back. Naturally, it only fueled the war, not ended it.