Alliances before and during WWI

This essay is copyright Alan James Edwards 1997. It may be freely downloaded for personal use, any other use requires the express permission of the author. Please contact if there are any errors or mistakes in this essay, or if you have comments or suggestions.


Development of the key alliances, 1890 - 1914

1882 Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria, Italy)

This treaty was developed following the Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria, signed in 1879. Italy joined the union in 1882, and the Triple alliance was created. This alliance was renewed in 1907, and in 1912.


1894 Franco - Russian Alliance

When the Germans allowed the Reinsurance treaty to become invalid in 1890, the French saw an opportunity to gain a crucial advantage. In 1891 they formed the Franco-Russian Entente. This agreement stated that both sides would consult eachother if either nation were threatened by another. In 1892 the agreement developed into a military convention, which in 1894 developed into a full alliance.


1904 Entente Cordiale (England, France)

Agreement to settle past colonial differences, especially Morocco and Egypt. This was less formal than a formal alliance


1907 Anglo - Russian Entente

This agreement was a counter-measure to the renewal of the Triple alliance. Like the Entente Cordiale, this treaty was to settle past colonial differences, especially in Persia, Tibet and Afghanistan. Collectively, Britain, France, and Russia now comprised the Triple Entente


The Alliance system in 1914, Did all alliances swing into action?

With the outbreak of WWI in 1914, several alliance systems swung into action. With one declaration of war, many main powers were dragged in to support their allies. Four major alliances were in operation with the outbreak of war. The Franco - Russian alliance pitched France and Russian against Germany, and its allies. As Russia and France were also allied to Great Britain, Great Britain honoured its pledge to Belgium when it were invaded by germany, and joined their side. These three countries were the Entente side during the war. The Triple Alliance was the main pact for the Central powers. This group involved Germany Austria, and Italy. Italy however, declared neutrality at the out break, leaving Germany with only Austria. They were soon joined by Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.


The Two Armed Camps of Europe

By 1907, All main European powers were bound to others by a series of treaties. These treaties had divided Europe into two Armed Camps, the Entente powers, and the Central Powers. This situation made it impossible for any international problem to be dealt with easily. The actions of the powers at the beginning of the war were generally expected. All powers were expected to join with their allies. It was the theory that close knit countries, bound together would generally keep the peace, but the system failed and split Europe into two halves, it is argued by many that the alliance system itself directly resulted in war. Two sets of countries, involved in arms races, and petty diplomatic disputed produced "Two armed camps", and dragged the European great powers into war.

There are several main questions that have to be asked about the alliance systems in 1914. Why didn`t Great Britain make its position clear until August 1914? Why hadn`t previous situations (ie Bosnia and Morocco) caused the alliance systems to swing into action? And why, if the alliance system had kept the peace for so long did it suddenly lead to war?


The Encirclement of Germany

By January 1906, The British government agreed to send 105,000 men to France within 15 days of an enemy mobilisation. Military links were now firmly developed between Britain and France. In Britain, Grey took office with a strong desire to conclude an agreement with Russia, and after negotiations an Entente was signed on August 31 1907. The main point of this agreement lay in the definition of spheres of influence in Persia. Grey's motive in seeking a Russian Entente was to change the balance of power of forces in Europe, and in particular to surround Germany with potential enemies. Tsarist Russia was never popular with the British Liberals, but it was acknowledged that the combination of Britain, France, and Russia could allow them to dominate near eastern policy. The whole situation changed with the launch of the Dreadnought class ship in 1906. This class was superior in speed, Armament, and engine efficiency than any existing boat. Before 1906, British superiority in pre dreadnought class ships was so great that Germany had little chance of rivalling them, but with the construction of the new ships they would be able to soon compete with Britain on more equal terms.