The Armed Peace in Europe (1870-1914)

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Between 1870 and 1914, Europe experienced a period known as the "Armed Peace." Despite the absence of major wars, tensions simmered among European nations, leading to a significant arms race. Countries dedicated a substantial portion of their resources to military production, creating an atmosphere of unease and anticipation.

The Importance of the German Empire

Following its unification in 1871, Germany emerged as the dominant power in Europe, driven by its robust economic and military development. German foreign policy during this period can be divided into two distinct phases:

The Bismarckian System (1871-1890)

Under Emperor Wilhelm I and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Germany pursued a diplomatic strategy aimed at maintaining the balance of power in Europe. Bismarck established a network of alliances with Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Italy, known as the Bismarckian Alliance System. The objectives of this system were twofold:

  • Maintain German hegemony by ensuring that other European countries prioritized friendly relations with Germany.
  • Prevent France from seeking revenge and attempting to reclaim the territories of Alsace-Lorraine, which it had lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War.

Bismarck's skillful diplomacy successfully averted major conflicts in Europe for two decades. However, the system also fueled an arms race as other nations felt compelled to strengthen their militaries to keep pace with Germany.

Evolution of the Bismarckian System
  • **First System:** An alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, which ultimately failed due to rivalry between Austria-Hungary and Russia over control of the Balkans.
  • **Second System (1879-1882):**
    • 1879: The secret Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary.
    • 1881: The Alliance of the Three Emperors was re-established, but tensions between Austria and Russia persisted.
    • 1882: The Triple Alliance was formed, uniting Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.
  • **Third System:** In 1887, the Triple Alliance was renewed. Additionally, Germany and Russia signed the Reinsurance Treaty, a secret agreement in which both countries pledged neutrality if either became involved in a war with another nation.

The Expansionist Foreign Policy of Wilhelm II (1890-1914)

Kaiser Wilhelm II, who ascended to the throne in 1888, abandoned Bismarck's system of alliances in favor of an expansionist policy. He sought to establish a colonial empire that reflected Germany's growing power and influence. Wilhelm II's decision not to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, based on his belief that Russia would not ally with France, proved to be a miscalculation. The increasingly assertive foreign policy of Germany under Wilhelm II alarmed France and Great Britain, leading them to form the Triple Entente with Russia in 1907 as a counterbalance to German expansionism.

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