The Balance of Power
The First World War can be explained in many origins. After the murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by an assassin backed by Serbia, the European countries made political, military, and diplomatic decisions. These decisions are what turned a conflict into a global war. European countries took sides between the two countries leading to a global war. The balance of power therefore had adverse effects on the peace of Europe. Most of the countries in Europe long before the assassination of the Archduke had decided to equip their military so as to tip the balance of power in Europe in their favor. Each country fed on its fear and equipped the military. This paper uses the balance of power to explain the World War I.
Various definitions can be given to explain the balance of power. In general terms, the balance of power can be described as the international position and policy made by any country so as to protect itself against another country by matching its power with the power of the other country. If the position of a specific state within the anarchical system becomes a threat to the survival of others, then the others counter to prevent that state from rising thus preventing a single power from being too powerful. In most cases, the balance of power is achieved through military action. Countries equip their military regarding soldiers and other resources needed by the military such as the aircraft for the air force and fleets for the navy to match that of another country which they might be in conflict with. Another way that the balance of power can be achieved is by adding to the existing power of a country, other countries hence multiplying the balance of power for that country. This balance of power is achieved through alliances with other countries that are keen on supporting a specific country, or those that are in conflict with the protagonist of that said country following the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ principle. Before the World War I, countries had begun getting the balance of power through alliances and purchase of weapons. These alliances are what caused the eruption of the global war since countries took sides with the sides that they were allied to. Additionally, countries had started acquiring newer weapons for their military. Combining the newly acquired weapons with old military tactics are among what magnified the effects of the war. This combination led to the horrors observed by the trench warfare.
Before 1914, most of the European nations had alliances which they would use to assure their security. Before Germany united in 1871, the balance of power in Europe was stable. The unification is what grew Germany to be powerful and altered the balance of power. Again, an alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879 made Germany a powerful bloc in Europe. Italy joining this alliance made Germany stronger. The fear that Germany was growing too strong drove the alliance between Russia and France in 1893. Again, Germany was keen on building a naval fleet that saw Germany and Britain enter into a naval arms competition with the United Kingdom and eventually caused the relations between the two countries to worsen. The United Kingdom that had long seen Russia and France as potential foes entered into agreements with the two countries. The agreements were aimed at protecting UK’s empire by settling any colonial conflicts that existed between the two countries. The alliance between the United Kingdom, France, and Russia increased the fears of Germany that it was being circled by these powers. The alliance also caused a deeper rift as far as the balance of power in Europe was concerned. In an example of how alliances supported each other when Germany tried to stop a takeover of Morocco by France, Britain intervened, supporting France. Such alliances are among the reasons why World War I was so devastating. As mentioned above, alliances are strategies used to balance power by countries. Therefore, the separation of Europe into two main alliances is what triggered the First World War.
Alliances as part of the guarantees of the balance of power played a huge role in staging the First World Wat. The assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary is what broke the ice and resulted in the world war. The relationship between Serbia and Austria-Hungary tense before this. Austria saw Serbia as a threat to how stable the country would have been with its empire made up of different ethnic groups. Austria’s invasion of Bosnia and the ambitions of Serbia to unite the Slavic people of South-east Europe strained the relations in Southeast Europe which were considered a volatile. After the Balkan Wars that happened between 1912 and 1913, Serbia came out as a force to reckon with in South-east Europe. The assassin of the Archduke was a Bosnian-Serb who was keen on using violence to destroy the empire of Austria-Hungary. Again, Austria-Hungary needed a reason by which to destroy Serbia which had asserted its presence in this part of Europe. This assassination was the door they’d been waiting for. After this conflict, the alliances came into action with most of the powerful countries taking sides, choosing between any of the two countries. Russia protected Serbia hence entering into a conflict with Serbia would mean a conflict with Russia. The alliance with Germany backed Austria-Hungary. On 5th July of 1914 Germany declared its support for Austria-Hungary which caused a severe reaction from Serbia. The main reason why Russia supported Serbia and the aggression of Austria-Hungary towards Serbia was that if either backed down, then they would no longer enjoy the credibility of being great powers in Europe. On Germany’s part, the country feared being surrounded by would-be threats. Therefore, as part of its foreign policy, Germany preserved Austria-Hungary as the only reliable ally. It is after Austria-Hungary being guaranteed support by Germany that they decided to issue an ultimatum to Serbia. This is after which the war was begun. From the above description of how the war started, it is clear that alliances made each country not back down. The alliances made by each of the countries made them feel that they had power on their side, and as a result, none was willing to back down from the fight. Therefore, the balance of power in Europe had a huge role in ultimately deciding the direction which Europe took in regards to the war. With such alliances guaranteed, then none of the two countries wanted to back off.
The nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, most leaders in Europe saw having a strong military as the most crucial part of being powerful. An example of the prestige that was seen with having a strong army can be seen by The United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. The UK saw its navy as its ‘sword and shield.’ Most of Europe’s powers had large armies through huge compulsory military service and the development of programs to create large-scale weapons. Each country devised plans in case of any war with other countries. Germany had altered the balance of power to their side. Germany had already devised a plan: to knock France out of the war, and then turn to Russia. Germany saw the Balkan crisis as an opportunity to inject a diplomatic step back on both France and Russia. However, the leaders of Germany feared that Russia’s military base was growing at an alarming rate. They were, therefore, ready to take on Russia before Russia had grown to be too powerful. The military was, therefore, a stronghold for all countries in Europe to ensure power in the continent. Russia prepared its military as a precaution in case a war broke out. Germany wanted Russia to demobilize without any reply. This was when war was declared on Russia. This shows that each country in Europe was equipped so as to ensure its own security and that of its allies. Without this, then the country would not be safe from other countries that had already equipped their military.
For no war to be experienced, the balance of power must appear stable. This means that there should be no state with a first dominant preference for war. In Europe, most countries held the view that at one time, they might be forced to use force against another state, and therefore, they needed to resources to do so. This is what prompted most of the powers in Europe to militarize their power. The fear that a country might at one time be attacked is what created the rush into getting more sophisticated weapons for the military, and the formation of alliances with other states. It also led to the open conflicts between nations whose relations had been in a bad place. Countries lived in constant fear of being attacked by other countries. According to Booty, the nature of the politics in Europe is what is what made the alliances and military action possible. This means that in Europe, there was no higher authority other than the leaders of specific countries. Therefore, each country was a sovereign state. This means that to improve their security. The lack of a single uniting authority meant that each country had to help its security situation by itself. This was achieved through alliances and militarization by each country. all countries had the idea that war was as a result of the balance of power. The balance of power was therefore turned to as the answer to any threats in the balance of the international system in Europe. It is from here that we can deduce that the balance of power caused the First World War.
In conclusion, the balance of power was a crucial ingredient in the political situation that was observed in Europe in the nineteenth century. Each country considered the balance of power and made a decision to respond to military action, or searching for allies, or both. Without the fear brought by the tipping of the scale as far as the balance of power was concerned, countries had to align with countries considered to be continental powers for the said country’s security. Each country feared for its own security and as a result made a move to enter into an alliance with a country that was considered powerful, equip its military, or both. Germany’s unification, its alliances, and the development of arms is what made Germany a power bloc in Europe. It is here that other countries decided to start equipping the military and enter into alliances. These alliances and military equipment was to ensure that Germany did not become the a force to reckon with in Europe. Therefore, the balance of power can be agreed to be one of the major causes of the First World War.