World History Notes for UPSC Examination, World War 1, World History Notes, UPSC Examination, World War Changed the World, Balkan Problem
WORLD WAR – I
World War Changed the World
The theatre of war in World War I was mostly Europe. But the rest of the world was forced to contribute as colonies, or others like the USA entered the war for their own reasons. They were total wars (fought not merely by professional armies, but as much by civilian populations engaged in war efforts and being targeted as combatants). Mobilization of resources was colossal, and the level of destruction left observers speechless.
The capacity and nature of destruction now acquired new features. The first was genocide, or the killing of an entire group of people. This was first attempted between 1915 and 1923 on the Armenians by Turkish nationalists, and then by the Nazis on Jews and Gypsies (Roma) during World War II. Never before in history had killing on this scale been attempted. More significantly, it was not carried out in bursts of anger, as in communal riots, nor even by small organizations, but by the modern state. The genocides were modern, and belonged entirely to the modern world. That was a singular aspect of the crisis of modernity in the twentieth century.
The other notable feature is that modern civilization had, during the war, acquired the capacity for the annihilation of the human species. This was revealed when atomic bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Modern class society, built around the central drama of the struggle between capital and labour, became obsolete in Europe and America, as new technologies and organization systems led to new social relations, collectively called the postindustrial.
The wars put an end to the nation-state system, with supra-national agglomerations taking shape. The sovereignty of the nation-states of Europe was now subordinated in the Cold War to the power blocs of East and West, led respectively by the USSR and USA.
Imperial and colonial rule came to an end with the expulsion of the British from India, the French from Indo-China and finally the Ameri- cans from Vietnam, besides numerous decolo- nization processes in Africa and the Middle East.
The Wars were in every sense a struggle for the mastery of the planet. At the beginning of the century, the world saw six contenders for domination of the earth, the USA, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan. The two Wars reduced the six to two; USA and USSR.
It is still not yet clear what form the power structure will assume in the twenty-first century, whether the USA will retain its supremacy, whether the European Union and China would become challengers, whether Russia would revive and in what form, and whether India would play a leading role at all. But one thing can be said for sure is ‘World wars changed the World for ever’.
The world economy of capitalism from mid 19th century onwards was a conglomeration of national blocs or national economies which had emerged with the growing number of nation states. These states protected their industrializing economies against competition from other nations. Thus these nations also became rival economies.
The period inevitably saw the hunt for more profitable investment and more markets. This led to the clamor for colonies outside the areas traditionally dominated by Britain. Economic competition and economic rivalry between nation states led to imperialism of the 20th century and to the genesis of the 1st World War.
Germany’s strength was increasing more so after the unification. France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Under the subsequent Peace of Frankfurt in 1871 France had to pay an indemnity of 200 million pounds and agreed that thirty thousand German troops would remain in Paris until the amount had been paid. Bismarck evolved the “system of the great European alliances.”
Apart from the growing strength of Germany, another important development in this period was the expansionism of Russia. As the Ottoman Empire weakened and the nationalist aspirations of the Balkan peoples became stronger, the Russians could not restrain themselves. Many of the subject nationalities of the Ottoman Empire were Slav and therefore had a strong ethnic affinity with the Russians. Hence Russia gave support to the secessionist moves of these various Balkan peoples, especially the Rumanians and Serbians. This went against the interests of Britain which did not want a dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.
France was also unhappy. From as early as the time of the Crusades, France had been regarded as the protector of Christian rights in the East. But now the Russian Tsar, by posing as the champion of Orthodox or Eastern Christianity, which was the version of Christianity largely followed in the Balkans region, was challenging the French claim.
French imperialism in Africa made rapid strides in the 1880s. Tunis was occupied in 1881. Madagascar was brought under control in 1884. It desired to advance into the Sahara region for which it would have to control Morocco. But Germany and Spain were also interested in the Morocco region. French expansion into the Sudan region led to conflict with Britain and confrontation on the Niger and at Fashoda. Moreover, by 1882 France had to forego its control over Egypt to Britain.
The Treaty of San Stefano (which concluded the Russo-Turkish war) was placed before a Congress of all the major European powers— Britain, France, Turkey, Russia, Italy and Germany—in June 1878 at Berlin. Russia’s gains were reduced while Austria stood to gain by being allowed to occupy and administer Bosnia and Herzegovina. Britain got Cyprus and France was promised a free hand in Turkey’s North African territory of Tunisia. However, Italy and Germany did not gain any territories as a result of this Congress.
But what was even more alarming for Britain was Russia’s expansion in the Central Asian region prospect of a Russian takeover of Afghanistan, which was a buffer state within the Britain sphere of influence. In 1885, Russian forces occupied a part of Afghan territory. The British Prime Minister asked Parliament to vote him eleven million pounds for resisting the Russians. But once again the Tsar, Alexander III, realizing that it was better to exercise discretion, decided to withdraw and to turn his energies instead towards expansion in China.
Austria-Hungary was steadily losing its importance during this period. However, for Germany it was a natural ally, especially against Russia. Though the alliance of the Three Emperors (Russia, Germany and Austria- Hungary) known as the Dreikaiserbund had been forged in June 1881 and renewed in 1884, it finally broke down in 1887. As differences between Russia and Germany increased, Austria- Hungary as well as Italy drew closer to Germany. This process culminated in the formation of the Triple Alliance in 1882. By the 1890s Russia was experiencing great isolation. So was France. This brought the two together in a Dual Alliance in 1893. Thus, in the 1890s, two sets of European alliances existed.
In 1904 the Entente Cordiale or Anglo-French agreement was signed. It settled all their main differences over colonies. France recognized British interests in Egypt while Britain in turn endorsed French interests in Morocco. This agreement was only a “friendly understanding”, not an alliance. But Germany’s aggressive postures, especially in Morocco, brought the French and the British closer to each other. It also brought Germany and France very close to war in 1906 and it was only an international conference at Algericas, in which the independence of Morocco was reaffirmed, which defused the issue.
In 1905 Russia suffered an ignominious defeat at the hands of Japan. This humbled Russian aspirations and the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 settled the long-standing rivalries between the two powers over Afghanistan, Persia and Tibet. Thus a Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia, to rival the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, had materialized.
The outbreak of a revolution in Turkey in 1908 by a group of liberal patriots, who called themselves the “Young Turks”, overthrew the Sultan’s rule. As fallout of these developments, Austria decided to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, which it had been administering since 1878. This brought protests from Russia. It demanded that Austria’s action be brought before an international conference. The Serbians, who had nurtured hopes of acquiring Bosnia- Herzegovina some day, joined the Russians in their protest.
But Germany and Austria held that they would not agree to a conference unless the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was recognized beforehand. Ultimately, they had their way largely because Russia, after its defeat at the hands of Japan, was in no position to go to war against Austria-Hungary and Germany at this juncture. This incident revealed the might of Germany and its growing ability to strongly assert itself, though on this occasion on behalf of Austria. This tendency had ominous forebodings for the future. Italy entered into a secret understanding with Russia in 1909 whereby it promised to support Russia’s interests in the Straits of Dardanelles in return for Russia’s support for Italian designs in Tripoli (Libya).
Run Up to the War
In 1889 England had adopted a “two-power standard” whereby the British would have a naval fleet 10% stronger than the combined navies of the two next-strongest powers. Germany had in 1898 embarked on a course of naval expansion which made it the second- strongest naval power in the world by 1914. This was galling for England which felt that Germany did not really require a navy, especially since it already had such a powerful army. A naval build-up could only mean that it wished to challenge Britain’s naval supremacy sometime in the future. The naval rivalry worsened relations between Germany and Britain considerably.
1912, Italy suddenly decided to take the plunge and annexed Tripoli. It had secured the consent of all the major powers in this campaign and hence there was no major Moroccan-type crisis this time. In October 1912 Greece and Serbia invaded the Ottoman Empire and decisively defeated it. By the Treaty of London of May 1913, the Ottoman Empire lost all its European possessions except the region adjacent to the Straits of Dardanelles.
In the immediate run-up to the First World War the growing strength and aggressive designs of Serbia were an important contributory factor. This small country was determined to add to its territories. Immediate cause of the First World War was the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne at the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. A secret society of Serbian nationalists called the “Black Hand” was responsible for the killing. Even though the Serbian government did not have any hand in the assassination, Austria was determined to punish Serbia for the murder. On 28 August 1914, it broke off diplomatic relations with Serbia and declared war on it. Russia, anxious about Serbia’s fate, also prepared for war against Austria.
Germany, on seeing this, sent an ultimatum to Russia demanding that it cease its preparations for war. On receiving a reply from the Tsar that this was impossible, Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914. It followed it up with a declaration of war on France two days later. The idea was to strike France at its most vulnerable spot, at the border between France and Belgium. It was Germany’s invasion of Belgium which brought Britain into the war. Behind Serbia was the long-standing conflict between the Russians and the Austrians. Austria had Germany as a strong ally and Russia had France. If France was threatened with invasion, Britain felt vulnerable and was therefore compelled to come to the rescue of France.