In 1914, when war did erupt, Germany and Austria-Hungary fought on the same side. They became known as the Central Powers.

The Triple Entente

A rival bloc took shape in 1893, when France and Russia signed a secret treaty. France was eager to end its isolation and balance the growing power of Germany. In 1904, France and Britain signed an entente (ahn TAHNT), a nonbinding agreement to follow common policies. Though not as formal as a treaty, the entente led to close military and diplomatic ties. Britain later signed a similar agreement with Russia, creating the Triple Entente. When war began, these powers became known as the Allies.

Britain and France had been rivals for hundreds of years, and France had invaded Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. Still, these three powers joined together in the Triple Entente because they feared Germany wanted to dominate Europe.

Photo of two men in a carriage, a younger man on the left and an older man on the right, both in feathered hats and coats.

Germany, led by Kaiser William II (left), and Austria-Hungary, led by Emperor Francis Joseph (right), became close allies in the years before World War I.

Other Alliances

Other states were drawn into alliances. Germany signed a treaty with the Ottoman empire. As early as 1867, Britain had signed a treaty to protect Belgium's right to remain neutral in any European conflict. Italy had a secret treaty with France not to attack it. And Russia had agreed to protect Serbia. Britain forged ties with Japan.

Rather than easing tensions, the growth of rival alliance systems made governments increasingly nervous. A local conflict could mushroom into a general war. In 1914, that threat became a reality.

Major Causes of World War I

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, tensions were increasing among the great powers of Europe. Aggressive nationalism, economic competition, imperialism, militarism, and an arms race all helped fuel an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust.

Economic and Imperial Rivalry

Economic rivalries helped sour the international atmosphere. Germany, the newest of the great powers, was growing into an economic and military powerhouse. Britain felt threatened by Germany's rapid growth. Germany, in turn, thought the other great powers did not give it enough respect. It also worried about future economic competition from Russia, which had a huge population and vast natural resources.

Cover of a magazine titled le petit journal with a woman with a halo holding a horn filled with gold, with African people suffering at her feet while a military officer in the background points to the horizon.

A Parisian newspaper presented this view of imperialism. The caption says “France freely gives Morocco civilization, peace, and wealth.”


Who might have opposed this viewpoint? Why?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments