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World War I - The Pre-War Treaties

World War 1 Articles


Many treaties existed between the major European nations dating back to the mid-1800s. Some of these treaties actually contradicted each other. The contradictions in these treaties would cause great increases in the nations involved with the conflict.

England, Belgium and Luxembourg

In 1839 England entered into an agreement with Belgium that guaranteed Belgium’s neutrality in any and all continental European conflicts. Any attack on Belgium neutrality would cause England to come to Belgium’s aid. In order to protect Luxembourg from invasion, a similar agreement of neutrality was signed by England and Luxembourg in 1867.

Germany initially requested free transport through Belgium in order to attack France. When the request was denied, Germany invaded Belgium and continued to march through Luxembourg. These invasions invoked the two treaties between England and Belgium and Luxembourg.

Three Kings League

In 1879 Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia entered an alliance known as the Three Kings League, or ‚ÄúDrikaiserbund‚ÄĚ in German. This came about because of strained relations in the Middle East between England and Russia. The treaty was ratified again in 1881 and 1884.

The Franco-Russian Alliance

In 1882 the Triple Alliance was signed between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. Basically, Italy would remain neutral unless Germany and Russia were involved. Since Russia was involved, Italy was drawn in.

The Dual Alliance

The Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary was first agreed upon in 1879. It was an agreement of ‚Äúbenevolent neutrality‚ÄĚ. If either nation were attacked by anyone other than Russia, the other nation would remain neutral. However, if Russia attacked either Germany or Austria-Hungary, the other country would come to the aid of the attacked country. This, in effect, contradicted the Three Kings League agreement.

Russia and Serbia

An agreement between Russia and Serbia was made in 1903. Serbia was to annex Bosnia to the Russians. In return Russia would come to Serbia’s aide if they were attacked. Evidenced by the annexation of Bosnia, Russia had and expansionist policy in south-east Europe. Austria-Hungary also sought to expand their empire in the same area. Obviously, these policies conflicted and caused tensions between the two nations. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia was drawn into the fray. The Three Kings League had not been abolished, yet Russia, came to Serbia’s aid against Austria-Hungary, breaking the alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia and ending the Three Kings League.

Austria and Germany

When Russia became involved with the Serbian situation, it invoked the 1879 treaty between Germany and Austria-Hungary. This treaty stated that both nations agreed to mutual support if either were to enter hostilities with any other power. If Russia entered hostilities against Austria-Hungary, Germany would support Austria-Hungary. Had the situation been different, had Russia attacked Germany, Austria-Hungary would then support Germany. Germany’s involvement invoked the Dual Alliance of 1894 drawing France into the conflict.

The Entente Cordiale

France’s entry invoked the 1904 Entente Cordiale between England and France. Initially designed to settle disagreements between England and France, the Entente Cordiale established diplomatic relations between the two nations. This treaty ultimately ensured England and France would mutually support each other in hostilities against Germany.

The Triple Alliance

In 1882 the Triple Alliance was signed between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. This treaty guaranteed that Germany and Austria-Hungary would back each other should one of them become involved in a war. Basically, Italy would remain neutral unless Russia was involved. Since Russia was involved via her agreement with Serbia, Italy was drawn in.

Germany and the Ottoman Empire

On Sunday, 2 August 1914 Germany entered a secret agreement with the Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor. The Empire was to join Germany and Austria-Hungary right after Germany declared war with Russia. This created an additional front in the Balkans and North Africa. The Turkish army’s offensives in North Africa, particularly the in Saini Desert, were largely unsuccessful. Even so, they were supportive of the Germans because they held British and Russian troops in that area rather than being freed to transfer to the combat zones of Western Front in Europe.

England and Japan

In 1901 the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was one of the first alliance between a European nation and a western Pacific nation. It guaranteed mutual assistance if either nation entered a war with two other nations. England was now at war with both Germany and Austria-Hungary drawing Japan into the war.

The Japanese were drawn in because of their treaty with England. Germany had a small naval base on the China coast at Jiaozhou Bay In the port of Qingdao. In September 1914, the Japanese attacked the base and forced the German fleet to leave the area.

The Japanese did not stop at Qingdao, but continued to attack other German colonies in the North Pacific, specifically the Marianas, Caroline Islands and Marshal Islands. These colonies had been left defenseless when the German fleet left.

Even South America got involved, though not directly. Having been forced out of their base in China by the Japanese, the German fleet headed south-east. Communication between the fleet and the German High Command giving the location of the German fleet was intercepted by the British and several British ships were sent to cut off the fleet. Contact was made between the two forces off the coast of Chile, South America, where the Germans soundly destroyed the British fleet. The Battle of Coronel was one of the first naval battles of the war. The British Admiralty had planned to reinforce its fleet with the new armored cruiser HMS Defence, but instead diverted the ship to patrol the western Atlantic against German submarine activity. A serious mistake on their part.

Colonization Expands the Participants

In all, there were one hundred countries involved in the war. Thirteen major nations were initially involved: Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Serbia and the United Kingdom (England), Australia and New Zealand. The United States entered the war later than the others, bringing the total major nations to fourteen.

Because of extensive colonization by the major nations and the conscripting of colonial men and materials, there were 100 countries involved with the war: the major fourteen and eighty-six colonies. Colonies belonging to both sides of the conflict existed in Africa, Asia, South Pacific, South America and the Caribbean. In Africa alone there were forty-two colonies. Another twenty-five came from South America and the Caribbean. The remaining nineteen colonies were in Asia and the South Pacific.

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