The First World War was a war of chaos and destruction, and the human cost was greater than anyone could have predicted. The prolonged effects of the war resulted in catastrophic repercussions, one being the rise of the Nazi Party and the outbreak of World War Two. The debate over who was responsible for the outbreak of World War One has greatly evolved over time. Many believe that Germany had plans in place to fight an aggressive war, others believe that Germany felt the need to fight a defensive war and an alternative theory is that the outbreak of the war was a tragedy of miscalculations. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the contrasting viewpoints of different historians on the responsibility debate, analyse the effectiveness of their arguments and come to a conclusion based on this evidence.
There were several underlying issues between the great powers prior to the outbreak of the war. In 1897 a new foreign policy was developed by the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, named ‘Weltpolitik’ (world policy). The goal of this new foreign policy was ambitious, to acquire a vast amount of overseas colonies and establish an empire. Furthermore, between 1906 and 1914, Britain and Germany participated in what is commonly known as the ‘Naval Race’. This involved Britain launching a ship in 1906 named HMS Dreadnought. The HMS Dreadnought was so colossal in size and gun power it made all other battleships essentially useless.
Consequently, the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, launched a large naval development programme. This programme obligated Germany to build a fleet to challenge Britain’s, this fleet was unneeded as Germany was almost completely landlocked and had very little coastline to guard. The goal of Wilhelm’s policy was to elevate Germany’s position on the world stage and to unify the population through the power it accumulated. He completely supported the concept of nationalism and aimed to be the driving force behind it. This feeling of nationalism also made people more willing to fight for their country. The Naval Race is evidence of early signs of tension between Britain and Germany and is widely regarded as one of the most significant factors in the outbreak of war. Another example of the weak nature of international relations is the Agadir Crisis.
In May 1911, the Moroccan city of Fez becomes occupied by French military which ignites German rage and creates a second Moroccan crisis. In March of the same year, according to French authorities, rebel troops put the major city of Fez in danger by staging an uprising. On May 21st, France sent their troops into the city as a result of the Sultan’s plea to help reinforce order in Fez. Germany believed that France had instigated the rebellion to gain control over Morocco and supported the rebels in their defiance against the French. Much to Germany’s dismay, France was supported by Russia and Britain, her ally in the Entente Cordiale. With Germany lacking support from Austria-Hungary, she was forced to retreat. This shows early signs of strength between the Triple Entente and weakness in the Triple Alliance.