In the peace settlement Germany was forced to accept sole responsibility for causing World War I. This was a totally justifiable demand on the part of the victorious powers.
The Treaty of Versailles was enacted into history in June 1919 with Germany forced to accept sole responsibility for causing World War I. Since then there has been considerable debate concerning the war but even today historians still cannot fully agree upon the causes. Some support has been given to the theory that Germany was totally responsible for the war however substantial evidence does not support that view. Therefore the insistence by the victorious powers to include in the Treaty that Germany accept total blame cannot be justified. This essay examines certain events and actions prior to the July crisis. These caused tension and hostility among nations but did not have a direct bearing upon the war. Also it has been determined that there were decisions and courses of action taken by several nations following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne which did have a direct bearing upon World War I.
Development of political and military alliances caused tension and hostility among nations leading up to World War I. Two major alliance systems developed due to conflicting national interests which had been evident during the past two decades throughout Europe. These were the “Triple Alliance” of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy and the “Triple Entente” of Britain, France and Russia. Also several smaller countries became indirectly involved in the alliances which effectively divided Europe into two “Armed Camps”. Russia pledged to support Serbia in order to prevent further Austrian-Hungarian expansion into the Balkans. Germany stated its support for Austria-Hungary and Britain had given its support for Belgium’s neutrality in 1839. However while these political and military alliances existed there is no direct evidence to indicate that any nation declared war on that basis. There had been several ‘crisis’ during the period 1905-1913. First the Moroccan crisis involving France and Germany during 1905 and 1911. No wars eventuated only tensions and fears regarding Germanys aggressive expansionist policies. Britain supported France being involved in Morocco and France conceded some territory in the Congo to Germany. Second the 1908 Balkans crisis eventuated because of the collapse of the Ottoman [Turkish] Empire. Austria-Hungary annexed the provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbia was insensed and sought Russian assistance. Germany became involved and Russia backed down. Finally two wars developed in the Balkans. The first Balkan war  was between Turkey and the Balkan League [Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece] with Turkey being driven out of the Balkans. The second Balkan war !  occurred between Bulgaria and Serbia/Greece. Winning this war strengthened Serbs position and this gave Austria-Hungary concern regarding its influence in the Balkans. The main significance of the Balkan wars was the position of Britain and France placing restraint on Russia and Germany restraining Austria-Hungary. This did not happen with the July crisis of 1914 which resulted in World War I. [Condron – The Making of the Modern World] Also the two Balkan wars resulted in renewed antagonism between Bulgaria and the other Balkan states especially Serbia and caused general dissatisfaction because of the interference of the great powers in Balkan politics.[Grolier – World War I]. Evidence does support that while the various events discussed did not contribute directly to World War I they did indeed contribute to extreme tensions and suspicions between the great powers and certainly fueled the arms race which in effect prepared nations for the total disaster that w! as to follow the July crisis.
The arms race which mainly involved Britain and Germany began in 1896 when Germany took the decision to significantly expand its navy. This intense competition which developed created significant tensions between nations. The intensity to expand was further fueled following each major crisis which developed during the period 1905-1913. Britain hardened its position towards Germany. The arms race also extended to other areas such as the expansion and modernization of armies. Evidence suggests that due to the large increase in expenditure on navies and armies together with transport and equipment Britain and the European nations were in fact preparing for a war that they knew would eventuate at some stage. Germany ignited the arms race with its aim to develop a navy two thirds the size of Britain’s to protect the vulnerable North Sea and possibly through the fear of “encirclement” but evidence supports that Britain led the arms race and thus this action contributed significantly towards the carnage and destruction that resulted from World War I.
The assassination of Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary occurred on the 28 June, 1914. This crisis was seen as the key event that started World War I. Austria-Hungary were presented with an opportunity to move against Serbia and resolve it’s Balkan problems. Germany agreed to support Austria-Hungary and presented them with the infamous “Blank Cheque” resulting in unconditional support. Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum containing impossible demands in effect provoking war with Serbia. However Serbia agreed to most of the demands. Germany advised Austria-Hungary to negotiate but instead they declared war on Serbia (28 July 1914). Russia immediately mobilised its troops and Germany supported Austria-Hungary. By August 1914 all major European powers except Italy, had become involved. Britain delayed its entry until German troops moved through Belgium in order to attack France.
The alliance system failed to prevent war as previously but perhaps nations did not expect it to escalate outside the Austria-Hungary and Serbian borders. Russian mobilisation may have been a show of strength for Serbia or perhaps it was in relation to the Schlieffen Plan. However the speed with which the mobilisation of European armies occurred would not have given time for negotiation. The Schlieffen plan was put into action by Germany and controlled by the Generals rather than the German government. It was apparently very rigid in nature and it was the Schlieffen Plan or nothing even though Germany at that point had no specific quarrel with France.
However what really contributed to the commencement of World War I. Historians today still cannot agree upon the causes. Nevertheless it is suggested that the events leading up to the July crisis such as imperial rivalry, arms race, alliances and the Balkan wars though not directly related must share some blame. This view can be supported due to the immense tensions and hostility that was generated among Britain and the European nations.
Evidence suggests that there was no single major cause for World War I but in effect there was several major events associated with its commencement. For instance the assassination of the Austrian-Hungarian heir Franz Ferdinand while an important event because it triggered off a series of events did not have any direct bearing on the war. However the Austrian-Hungary declaration of war upon Serbia did and this hatred for Serbia had been building up over many years. Also blame can be shared by Russia, Germany and France over their mobilisation plans-particularly Russia who commenced action first. Germany was further to blame for its totally unconditional support for Austrlia-Hungary who was the aggressor in the war with Serbia. It seems their thinking was that the war would be contained within the Balkans. Finally Britain must share some blame because had they been more decisive in supporting France then Germany would most certainly have had second thoughts about invading! France under the Schlieffen Plan.
Military alliances resulting in Germany’s encirclement, diplomatic mistakes, the arms race, imperial rivalries and immediate causes combined to cause World War I eg/ July Crisis. Each was a signficant factor, no one cause was the sole cause. It is clear that the Articals of the Treaty of Versailles, claiming sole German responsibility for causeing World War I was unjust, thus it was a shared responsibility for the cause of World War I.