In this essay, I will analyse the reasons why World War I broke out due to fear and motives of gain, and I will evaluate which reason was more of a cause for this global outbreak. Fear was a feeling experienced by all countries in both the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. Fear ultimately causes war between countries due to tension as each states question what will happen in the near future and try to avoid this outcome. On the other hand, motives of gain also create tension as one nations gain may conflict with another’s gain. An example being Germany and France as both of these countries had an interest in Morocco. The reason of tension was that only one country could colonise Morocco and these two countries had a violent history. An example such as this shows how fear brought two rival nations together and created further hatred towards them.

Historians often believe that the Alliance system was a result of fear. After France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871, France feared the constantly increasing power of Germany, as did Britain. After the humiliating defeat, France was made diplomatically isolated and needed an alliance. Russia had a key position in Europe which France wished to utilise. By creating this alliance, Germany was en-circled by both France and Russia and this created great fear towards the powerful nation. This fear had Germany in a problem, they knew that if war broke out, they would have no other country to help assist them.

Their only option was to create an alliance with Austria-Hungary, which was the beginning of the Triple Alliance. The Alliance system created an agreement between all countries involved, that they are required to provide backup in case war broke out. This initially made countries feel safe, which was the main purpose. But, the alliance system involved all of the great powers in Europe, and all opposed countries feared each other to an extent. With this great amount of fear in each alliance, one simple conflict could cause a clash between two countries and then it would ultimately involve the most powerful states in Europe. This proves how a conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary would result in such a large scale war and the greatest one at the time.

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By joining with Russia, France was able to assure defence from the rising power, Germany. The alliance was created, as both France and Russia needed to instill fear upon common enemy, and provide each other essential backup when necessary. This alliance proved successful as Germany showed fear by trying to increase its empire, through imperialism and creating an alliance with Austria-Hungary. The extent of the effect of fear can be seen here as this further increased the power of the German empire and the Triple Alliance, as this made Germany a greater threat, not only to France and Russia, but also to Britain. Ultimately, this caused the Triple Entente to be created which rivaled the Triple Alliance.

Tension was also created due to motives of gain through nationalism. Austria-Hungary’s aim was to gain land and Russia’s aim was to encourage Pan-Slavism. Both of these aims conflicted over the region of the Ottoman Empire. But this reason alone would cause a small war and not a total ‘World’ War. Russia supported the Slavic’s and this created the rising power of Serbia. Russia created a new and more powerful Serbia, hoping that they would eventually become Russia’s allies. Austria-Hungary saw Serbia as a great threat. They feared Serbia and knew that they couldn’t wait for them to get any stronger.

This proves that fear brings risk into play. Austria-Hungary could not take any chances with Serbia so they were looking for any reason to launch an attack on the increasing power of Serbia. Austria-Hungary’s fear of Serbia was in fact the trigger that sparked the devastating battle of WWI. Fear was a far greater cause as Austria-Hungary knew that they not only had to defeat Serbia, but destroy it. Serbia was quickly gaining power and Austria-Hungary had to put a stop to this before it was too late.

Historians often consider Militarism to be one of the main origins of fear in a country. Most countries knew that a large scale war was inevitable and so built up their armies. This was done by all of the great powers of Europe, with them nearly doubling their size from 1871 to pre-war 1914. This was done mainly out of fear, as they knew that in case war broke out, they needed to be prepared to defend themselves. Russia, for example suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of Japan, and they feared that they would suffer more humiliation and diplomatic failure so they knew to prevent this they had to develop their army.

Although they had the largest army of over one million, it was noticeably one of the weakest. Other countries witnessed the weak army Russia had so this fear increased the incentive of Russia to create a larger army. Fear was also in Austria-Hungary as the other large powers of Europe increased their armies drastically, Austria-Hungary was falling behind and in front of them, was their rival Serbia. The examples of fear would be that Austria-Hungary did not want to fall back and also that their close enemy, Serbia, was rapidly growing in military power and in national power. Austria-Hungary knew they had to put a stop to this.

These reasons for fear created a larger amount of tension than those for gain. I believe Militarism supported Imperialism as many countries aimed to develop their empires through the process of colonising. But in order to achieve this, they required a large navy and army. Britain, at the time, had the largest empire, occupying most of Africa. This was due to the fact that they had the largest navy in comparison to the other great powers. As one country further increased the power of their military, the other ones felt obliged to increase theirs as well, Reason being that they wanted to keep the balance of power maintained, the greatest military rivalry being between Britain and Germany. The only aim of these countries during the arms race was to have the strongest army.

When comparing these two causes, I believe fear was a more supported answer as compared to motives for gain. As stated before, the fear a country had over another country’s rise in military power can cause great amounts of tension. A country with greater power threatens the existence of other countries such as the rapid power gained by Germany posed a great threat to three other countries, Russia, Britain and France, who were all one of the great powers of Europe at the time.

In the case of a country like Belgium, they had no fear or motives for gain. They were basically a neutral party that was involved because it was invaded by Germany. Belgium’s neutrality was supported by the alliance treaty with Britain.

In conclusion, the feeling of fear brings great distress and anxiety in a nation. Gain may cause a minor feud between two nations, but unlike gain, fear can cause terror and anxiety in a country and the only way to remove a feeling of fear, is to get rid of it. No one can take a chance on fear as it could threaten the country’s very own existence. This point proves the brutal consequences of fear. Although motives for gain can cause war, it cannot cause a war with a high caliber such as the World War.


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