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Assess the claim that the most important reason why Britain went to war in 1914 was to defend Belgian neutrality.

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Assess the claim that the most important reason why Britain went to war in 1914 was to defend Belgian neutrality. September 1914 saw the outbreak of the First World War. The trigger to the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on the 28thJune. The subsequent invasion of Belgium elicited the British response of a declaration of war. However, there are a number of extremely significant long term factors which mounted the build up to war. Of crucial importance was Britain's policy towards Germany. The relations between Germany and Britain had been deteriorating since the beginning of the century, primarily due to Germany's decision to develop its navy. Britain perceived this to be a considerable threat as any menace to the Royal Navy posed an unparalleled threat to British domestic security and that of its empire, its trading potential, and compromised its ability to supply itself with resources. As a result the naval race broke out. The resulting, extremely tense relations between the two countries set the foundations for war well before the outbreak in 1914. The aim was to build a fleet based in the N. Sea of sufficient size to pose a significant threat to Br if it found itself at war with a 3rd party. ...read more.


At the time they were viewed as nothing more than a matter of settling previous colonial disputes and preserving its imperial interests; neither agreement committed Britain to war nor were directed at Germany. The main significance of Britain's links to France and Russia lay in the role that Foreign Secretary Grey played in supporting them. Neither the Entente Cordiale nor the Anglo-Russian agreement necessitated British support for France or Russia; the entente was based around resolving conflicts over colonial territories and the agreement with Russia a means of defending the empire against the continued Russian threat. However, politicians Grey and Asquith believed that Britain had an obligation to aid France. Grey asserted that abandoning France would be "running away from her obligations of honour and interest". As a result in a Cabinet meeting on 2nd August, Grey threatened to resign unless the Cabinet backed him. It also seemed likely that Asquith would resign alongside Grey. This put considerable pressure on the Cabinet and was successful as all but 2 members supported Grey. Also of quite great importance in the Cabinet's decision to go to war was that the Liberals were aware that a refusal to enter war would result in a coalition with the Conservatives. ...read more.


As a result it was once again more significantly Grey's threat of resignation in support of Belgium neutrality and the potential public outrage if it was not supported that put the British government under pressure to declare war. Thus the invasion was of partial importance however it is arguable that Britain would have entered the war eventually in defence of France and of its own interest. Moreover, the Liberal Cabinet had come to the conclusion that unity had to prevail in order for the Liberals to remain in power; the defence of Belgian simply provided a more 'palatable' reason to present to the public. In summary, it is evident that the invasion of Belgium was not the most significant factor in understanding why Britain entered WWI. It is evident that the long running rivalry which had mounted between Britain and Germany from the start of the century would have ultimately resulted in Britain entering the war anyway. The threat posed to France and Belgium simply accelerated the process as Britian felt it had an obligation to defend them, an obligation which was crucially pushed forth by politicians such as Grey, and slightly less significantly the public. Thus put significant pressure on the government, triggering fears that the Liberals would be forced out of power as a result. ...read more.

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