Arms Race Ww1 Essay

Militarism is a philosophy or system that places great importance on military power. Alfred Vagts, a German historian who served in World War I, defined militarism as the “domination of the military man over the civilian, an undue preponderance of military demands, an emphasis on military considerations”. Militarism was a significant force in several European nations in the years prior to World War I. Their governments were strongly influenced, if not dominated, by military leaders, their interests and priorities. Generals and admirals sometimes acted as de facto government ministers, advising political leaders, influencing domestic policy and demanding increases in defence and arms spending. This militarism fathered a dangerous child, the arms race, which gave rise to new military technologies and increased defence spending. Militarism affected more than policy; it also shaped culture, the media and public opinion. The press held up military leaders as heroes, painted rival nations as aggressive and regularly engaged in ‘war talk’. Militarism alone did not start World War I – that first required a flashpoint and a political crisis – but it created an environment where war, rather than negotiation or diplomacy, was considered the best way of resolving international disputes.

Militarism, nationalism and imperialism were all intrinsically connected. In the 19th and early 20th centuries military power was considered a measure of national and imperial strength. A powerful state needed a powerful military to protect its interests and support its policies. Strong armies and navies were needed to defend the homeland; to protect imperial and trade interests abroad; and to deter threats and rivals. War was avoided where possible – but it could also be used to advance a nation’s political or economic interests (as the famous Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote in 1832, war was “a continuation of policy by other means”). In the 19th century European mind, politics and military power became inseparable, in much the same way that politics and economic management have become inseparable in the modern world. Governments and leaders who failed to maintain armies and navies capable of enforcing the national will were considered weak or incompetent.

The north German kingdom of Prussia is considered the wellspring of European militarism. Germany’s government and armed forces were both based on the Prussian model and many German politicians and generals were Junkers (land-owning Prussian nobles). Prior to the unification of Germany in 1871, Prussia was the most powerful of the German states. The Prussian army was reformed and modernised in the 1850s by Field Marshal von Moltke the Elder. Under von Moltke’s leadership Prussia’s army implemented new strategies, improved training for its officers, introduced advanced weaponry and adopted more efficient means of command and communication. Prussia’s crushing military defeat of France in 1871 revealed its army as the most dangerous and effective military force in Europe. This victory also secured German unification, allowing Prussian militarism and German nationalism to become closely intertwined. Prussian commanders, personnel and methodology became the nucleus of the new German imperial army. The German kaiser was its supreme commander; he relied on a military council and chief of general staff, made up of Junker aristocrats and career officers. When it came to military matters, the Reichstag (Germany’s elected civilian parliament) had no more than an advisory role.

Elsewhere in Europe militarism took on a different flavour, yet it was an important political and cultural force. British militarism, though more subdued than its German counterpart, was considered essential for maintaining the nation’s imperial and trade interests. The Royal Navy, by far the world’s largest naval force, protected shipping, trade routes and colonial ports. British land forces kept order and imposed imperial policies in India, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. British attitudes to the military underwent a stark transformation. During the 18th century Britons had considered armies and navies a necessary evil, their ranks filled with the dregs of the lower classes, most of their officers failed aristocrats and ne’er-do-wells. But in 19th century Britain soldiering was increasingly depicted as a noble vocation, a selfless act of service to one’s country. As in Germany, British soldiers were glorified and romanticised, both in the press and popular culture. Whether serving in Crimea or the distant colonies, British officers were hailed as gentlemen and sterling leaders, while enlisted men were well drilled, resolute and ready to make the ultimate sacrifice ‘for King and Country’. The concept of soldiers as heroes was epitomised by Tennyson’s 1854 poem The Charge of the Light Brigade and reflected in cheap ‘derring-do’ novels about wars, both real and imagined.

The arms race

Military victories, whether in colonial wars or major conflicts like the Crimean War (1853-56) or the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), only increased the prestige of the military and intensified nationalism. In contrast, a military defeat (such as Russia’s defeat by Japan in 1905) or even a costly victory (like Britain in the Boer War, 1899-1902) might expose problems and heighten calls for military reform or increased spending. Virtually every major European nation engaged in some form of military renewal in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In Germany, military expansion and modernisation was heartily endorsed by the newly crowned kaiser, Wilhelm II, who wanted to retain his country’s “place in the sun”. In Britain the arms race was driven not by the monarchy but by public interest and the press. In 1884 the prominent newspaperman W. T. Stead published a series of articles suggesting that Britain was unprepared for war, particularly in its naval defences. Pressure groups like the British Navy League (formed 1894) agitated for more ships and personnel. By the early 1900s the Navy League and the press were calling on the government to commission more Dreadnoughts (battleships), one popular slogan being “We want eight and we won’t wait!”

As a consequence of this pressure and other factors, European military expenditure between 1900 and 1914 sky-rocketed. In 1870 the combined military spending of the six great powers (Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Italy) totalled 94 million pounds. By 1914 it had quadrupled to 398 million pounds. German defence spending during this period increased by a massive 73 per cent, dwarfing the increases in France (10 per cent) and Britain (13 per cent). Russian defence spending also grew by more than one third. Russia’s embarrassing defeat by the Japanese (1905) prompted the tsar to order a massive rearmament program. By the 1910s around 45 per cent of Russian government spending was allocated to the armed forces, in comparison to just five per cent on education. Every major European power, Britain excluded, introduced or increased conscription to expand their armies. Germany added 170,000 full-time soldiers to its army in 1913-14, while dramatically increasing its navy. In 1898 the German government ordered the construction of 17 new vessels. Berlin also led the way in the construction of military submarines; by 1914 the German navy had 29 operational U-boats. This rapid growth in German naval power triggered a press frenzy and some alarm in Britain. London responded to German naval expansion by commissioning 29 new ships for the Royal Navy.

The following table lists estimated defence and military spending in seven major nations between 1908 and 1913 (figures shown in United States dollars):

Nation190819091910191119121913
Great Britain$286.7m$306.2m$330.4m$345.1m$349.9m$374.2m
Germany$286.7m$306.8m$301.5m$303.9m$331.5m$463.6m
France$216m$236.4m$248m$277.9m$307.8m$363.8m
Russia$291.6m$315.5m$324m$334.5m$387m$435m
Italy$87.5m$115.8m$124.9m$133.7m$158.4m$142.2m
United States$189.5m$199m$197m$197m$227m$244.6m
Japan$93.7m$95.7m$100.2m$110.7m$107.7m$104.6m
Source: Jacobson’s World Armament Expenditure, 1935

This period saw significant changes to the quality of military weapons and equipment, as well as their quantity. Having studied the lessons of the Crimean War and other 19th century conflicts, military industrialists developed hundreds of improvements and rushed them to patent. Perhaps the most significant improvements were made to the calibre, range, accuracy and portability of heavy artillery. During the American Civil War (1861-65) heavy artillery could fire up to 2,500 metres at best; by the early 1900s this range had almost tripled. The development of explosive shells was also significant, giving a single artillery round greater killing power wherever it landed. These advances allowed artillery shelling and bombardments to become standard practice along the Western Front during World War I. First developed in 1881, machine guns also became smaller, lighter, more accurate, more reliable and much faster, some capable of firing up to 600 rounds per minute. Small arms also improved significantly. The effective range of a rifle in the 1860s was around 400 metres; in contrast the British issue Lee-Enfield .303 could hit a target more than 2,000 metres away. Barbed wire, an invention of the 1860s, was also embraced by military strategists as an anti-personnel device. While historians often disagree on the reasons for the arms race, there is no doubt that the development of new weaponry changed the face of modern warfare. Sir Edward Grey, reflecting on his service as British foreign secretary in July 1914, said it thus:

“A great European war under modern conditions would be a catastrophe for which previous wars afforded no precedent. In old days, nations could collect only portions of their men and resources at a time and dribble them out by degrees. Under modern conditions, whole nations could be mobilised at once and their whole life blood and resources poured out in a torrent. Instead of a few hundreds of thousands of men meeting each other in war, millions would now meet – and modern weapons would multiply manifold the power of destruction. The financial strain and the expenditure of wealth would be incredible.”

1. Militarism is the incorporation of military personnel and ideas into civilian government – and the belief that military power is essential for national strength.
2. Militarism was strongest in Germany, where the kaiser relied heavily on his military commanders and the civilian legislature (Reichstag) exerted little or no control over the military.
3. Militarists were also driven by experiences and failures in previous wars, such as the Crimean War, Boer War and Russo-Japanese War.
4. Militarism, combined with new weapons, emerging technologies and developments in industrial production, fuelled a European arms race in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
5. Influenced by nationalism and advice from military commanders, European governments ramped up military spending, purchasing new weaponry and increasing the size of armies and navies.


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This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “Militarism as a cause of World War I” at Alpha History, http://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/militarism/, 2014, accessed [date of last access].

What was the most significant cause of World War One? (WW1)

World War one started on the 28th of July 1914 between two sides; triple alliance and the triple entente. It ended on the 11th of November 1918. Difference in policies were to blame, although the immediate cause of World War one was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The war started mainly because of four aspects: Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism. This is because big armies become potential threats to other countries, other countries started forcing alliances in order to secure land. Imperialism was a cause because building an empire needs manpower such as an army and a navy to conquer and keep the land that they colonised. The alliances system meant that a local conflict could easily result into an intimidating global one. The overall cause of World War was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Nationalism was a great cause of World War one because of countries being greedy and not negotiating. Nationalism shows you are proud of your country and want it to be the best. A lot of causes all linked back to countries all wanted to be better than each other. Nationalist groups in Austria-Hungary and Serbia wanted independence. France wanted Alsace Lorraine back from Germany who was lost in 1871 Franco-Prussian war. The use of Nationalism gave nations false hope and aggressive to win the war. Even if they weren’t able to win a war due to their strength and understanding of plans and leaders. This leads to Imperialism. As you can see Nationalism had made a big dent in Countries understanding and strength of war. Also how different countries wanted land to help their plan succeed in winning the war.

One of the most significant causes of World War one was Imperialism, which is where a system where powerful nation rules and exploits one or more colonies. There are two main crisis’s that occurred in Morocco in 1905 and 1911. In 1905, Kaiser visited Morocco in North Africa, where Germany was building up its own Empire. An international conference was held in 1906. At the conference Kaiser was humiliated, this made him fill with rage because he wanted to be seen as Major power in Africa. Instead, he was treated as if he had no right in speaking at the conference that was made global news. In 1911 France tried to take over Morocco again. Britain feared that Kaiser wanted to set up a naval base in Agadir. Another conference was held and the British and French stood up against Germany once again. France took control of Morocco and Germany was given land in central Africa as an act of compensation. These two events lead directly to Militarism. This was a significant cause of World War one because Kaiser was humiliated and could have felt determined to fight Britain and France earlier as an act of Revenge. Also, at the time he would have been more hostile.

Militarism could have cause the war due to the naval and arms race. The main event of Militarism causing World War one was the naval rivalry which was made after 1900. Britain had the most powerful navy in the world. The new Keiser Wilhelm announced his intention to build a bigger German navy than Britain. Britain felt very threatened by this. Germany’s navy was much smaller than Britain’s navy but the British army was put all over its colonies so they can be protected. Germany didn’t have a big Empire like Britain but most people agreed, at the time, they were the best trained and the most powerful. The Kaiser felt he needed a bigger navy than Britain to protect its country.

While Britain and Germany built up their navies, the major powers on mainland Europe were also building up their armies. The problem for Germany was that if the war broke out they would have to fight both Russia and France at the same time. The Germans then came up with the Schlieffen Plan.

On the other hand, Russia could put millions onto the fields and France had a plan of attack which was to change across the frontier and attack deep into Germany, forcing surrender. Britain and France were working closely together with commanders which meant their military plans were designed to achieve quick victory. The British navy knew the cost of the war would lead to an economic collapse on the enemy. Overall, if countries have a big army, enough resources and a great navy they would be ready for conflict. By Germany, Britain and France participating in the naval and army race, they were able to build their navies to their top standard, this lead to the next stage which was Alliances, also their navy’s strength, significance in the war and how it would help them win the war.

Alliances showed a great dent in World War one. In 1914 the six most powerful countries in Europe divided into two opposing Alliances (sides/teams). The Triple Alliance consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy which was formed in 1882. The Triple Entente included Britain, France and Russia which was formed in 1907. Each country was heavily armed and each one had reasons for distrusting each other’s countries in Europe. In the nineteenth century, Britain had tried to not get involved in European Politics. It’s attitude towards this decision became known as ‘splendid isolation’ as it concentrated on its huge oversea colonies.

Britain had regarded France and Russia as its most dangerous rivals at the time. Meanwhile, Britain’s real ally was Japan at the time. Britain was very worried about Germany to have an Empire and a strong navy, which Britain saw as a serious threat to its own Empire and Navy. The central powers alliance was a collection of small independent states of which Prussia was the most powerful. In 1870 the Prussian statesman Bismarck won a war against France, after which he united the many German states into a new and powerful German empire. This all leads to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This shows how the use of creating Alliances was an advantaged and disadvantaged idea between the global nations.

The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife was critical in setting off the chain of events that led to the First World War. Not only was it a bad day for the Archduke and his family, but also a bad day for Europe. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. He was inspecting the army in Sarajevo with his wife Sophie. The royal couple arrived by train at 9.28am. Seven young Bosnian Serbs planned to assassinate Franz Ferdinand as he drove along the main road in Sarajevo, the Appel Quay. The first conspirator who tried to kill Franz Ferdinand threw a bomb at his car. He missed and was arrested. The Archduke escaped unhurt. He decided to abandon the visit and return home via a different route to the one planned. No one had told the driver the route had changed. On the way back, therefore, the driver turned into Franz Josef Street, following the published route and, when told of his error, stopped the car to turn around. Unfortunately, the car stopped in front of Gavrilo Princip, one of the conspirators, who was on his way home thinking he had failed. Princip pulled out a gun and shot at Franz Ferdinand, hitting him in the jugular vein. There was a tussle, during which Princip shot and killed Sophie. By 11.30am, Franz Ferdinand had bled to death.

This then led to the cold-blooded World War one. It caused the war because Austria blamed Serbia for the killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Then Austria declared war on Serbia, the Russian army got ready to help Serbia defend itself against the attack and Germany sends a demand to Russia ordering it to hold back from helping Serbia. Then Germany declared war on Russia. The French army is put on a war footing getting ready to fight a German invasion. After all of that Germany declares war on France and invades Belgium, Britain orders Germany to withdraw from Belgium and the Germans did not listen. As you can see the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the cause of different events which then led to the war indirectly.

I think the most significant cause of World War one was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other causes of the war was Imperliasm, Militarism, Nationalism and Alliances that were formed. These were the causes of World War One. Also, everyone wanted to be the best country, which links back to all four causes and aspects of the events.

Thanks for reading and please comment below on any further improvements or even just any more opinions.

-Dhiresh Nathwani

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