World History 2 169 - 11.1.2 Treaties and Alliances

Since he first rose to power in 1862, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck had pursued conservative policies that strengthened first Prussia and then Germany itself. In particular, Bismarck hoped to check the power of Russia and France by developing a series of alliances that would keep them from growing more dominant and presenting a threat to German leadership in the region. A military alliance with Austria-Hungary was created to stand up to Russia. This alliance later grew to include Italy and became formalized as the Triple Alliance. In 1894, Russia and France signed a treaty pledging military support for one another if attacked and requiring each to mobilize its armies if the other did so. In 1907, the Triple Entente was created between Russia, France, and Britain, growing out of a shared distrust of German aims.

By the early twentieth century, then, a series of alliances had effectively divided Europe into two blocs of power. A bloc is a group of countries united for a common purpose. One bloc included Russia, France, and Britain, and the other Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. While these two groups stood opposed to one another, there were nuances in the arrangements. Britain, for example, had not promised any mutual aid in times of war when it signed its initial agreement with France, nor had it done so in its agreement with Russia, while France was bound to provide military support for Russia if Russia were attacked and not the aggressor.

What these new alliances also did was provide fuel for the German emperor Wilhelm II’s growing concern that he was surrounded by hostile nations (Figure 11.4). Some of this preoccupation was undoubtedly justified. Germany faced a hostile France to its west and Russia to its east. But Wilhelm’s fixation on it drove him and Germany to adopt even more aggressive stances toward their “enemies” that helped create the cataclysm of World War I.

This is satirical map of Europe in 1914. Each nation is shown in a different color and is decorated with cartoon style drawings of people and animals representing each nation. Germany includes two soldiers. One soldier has a gun pointed at Russia’s nose. His foot also pushes Russia’s nose. The other soldier faces the other way and his gun and foot are in France. Austria-Hungary is a soldier with a gun pointed toward Russia. Other countries look on at the encounter. Text, in German, is written on the margins of the map.
Figure 11.4 This satirical German map from 1914 reflects Kaiser Wilhelm II’s growing concern that Germany was encircled by its enemies. (credit: “Cartoon Map of Europe in 1914” by Berlin State Library/The Public Domain Review, Public Domain)

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax