In would only take a little spark

In this lesson, we will take a close look at the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente that were in effect on the eve of World War I.

We will examine the rise of the alliances and learn about the countries that created them.

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A Tense Situation

In the early 20th century, Europe was home to a tangled network of alliances that pitted nation against nation. Tensions grew rapidly as countries snapped up any territory they could get their hands on, built massive armies and navies, identified their enemies, and prepared for the huge war that was looking more likely every day.There had already been several small wars in the century’s first 14 years that strained the continent’s peace even further. By 1914, Europe was divided into two hostile camps and it would only take a little spark for the situation to explode into war. In this lesson, we’ll take a look at the two opposing sides that would soon fight World War I.

The Triple Alliance

On one side, we have Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, which formed the Triple Alliance.

Germany and Austria-Hungary were already allies by 1879 when, worried about a threat from Russia, they formed the Dual Alliance. Italy joined the group in 1882. There was a concern about a possible attack from France and the Alliance needed powerful friends to help defend it. The three countries promised to assist each other if any of them should be attacked.

The three countries renewed their alliance in 1887, 1907, and 1912. Each nation, however, seemed more interested in serving itself and gaining power and territory than it was in helping its allies. Austria-Hungary, for instance, was a powerful-looking nation, but it was always struggling to solidify the many nationalities that fell under its domain. It was so busy coping with its internal difficulties that it needed Germany’s support to meet its goal of capturing territory in the Balkans.

Germany too had ulterior motives in creating and remaining in the Triple Alliance. It was a fairly new nation, only united in 1871, but it was ready to conquer the world. Germany knew that Austria-Hungary was weak and it was perfectly willing to use that fact to its advantage: it would help its ally get some Balkan territory and then, perhaps, snatch a bit for itself and maybe, just maybe, it could maybe control Austria-Hungary as well.Finally, Italy was out to capture territory in Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans, and it needed strong allies to do so. Italy did not, however, trust Germany and Austria-Hungary.

In 1902, it made a secret alliance with France, promising to remain neutral if Germany should attack France and essentially making the Triple Alliance, of which it was still a member, ineffective and very, very shaky.

The Triple Entente

Opposing the Triple Alliance, we have the Triple Entente, made up of France, Great Britain, and Russia. The Triple Entente proves the old saying that ‘necessity makes strange bedfellows,’ for after years of bitterness and conflict, these old enemies became rather reluctant allies as they tried to hold on to their place in the world.France reached out first. It felt very threatened by the Triple Alliance and with good reason. France was no longer the powerful country it once was; it had already lost one war to Germany – the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 – as well as some territory, and it didn’t want a repeat performance, so it started looking around for allies.

France turned first to Russia and the two nations formed the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1894, promising each other to provide military assistance if members of the Triple Alliance should attack or mobilize for war.Still feeling nervous, France approached Great Britain in 1904. Britain, which for many years had enjoyed a splendid isolation and worked hard to stay out of continental conflicts, was also concerned about developments in Europe. The two old enemies soon formed the Entente Cordiale, which made their new friendship official, opened the door to better communication, and settled some colonial disagreements.

France agreed not to challenge Great Britain over Egypt, while Britain, in turn, promised to keep its nose out of Morocco. The Entente Cordiale stopped short, however, of guaranteeing military support from either side.Three years later, in 1907, Britain and Russia created the Anglo-Russian Entente.

Both nations vowed to respect Persian independence, which they had been stepping on for years. The Triple Entente was now fully formed, and France, Russia, and Britain placed themselves under a ‘moral obligation’ to assist each other if war should break out. When it finally did, in 1914, they added the commitment that none of them would make a separate peace with their enemies.By 1914, then, the three nations of the Triple Alliance – Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy – stood against the three nations of the Triple Entente – France, Russia, and Great Britain. The spark that would set off a fire of war was about to ignite.

Lesson Summary

In the early 20th century, Europe was home to a tangled network of alliances that pitted nation against nation and the tensions that would lead to a world war were increasing rapidly. By 1914, two hostile camps were glowering at each other. On one side, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy formed the Triple Alliance, partly for mutual defense and partly for self-serving motives. On the other side, France, Russia, and Great Britain created the Triple Entente, which brought together traditional enemies under a ‘moral obligation’ to assist each other if war should break out.

War did indeed break out in 1914 and it soon engulfed the entire world.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson is done, you should be able to:

  • Identify the members of the Triple Alliance and their shaky agreement before WWI
  • Recognize the members of the Triple Entente and their ‘moral obligation’
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