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To what extent was Imperialism the key cause of World War One ?

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Introduction

To what extent was Imperialism the key cause of World War One ? The 19th century was witness to some incredibly powerful and far reaching change. By the late 19th century not only had the geo-political face of Europe radically changed, but the forces of Nartionalism, Imperialism and Militarism were influencing events that would ultimately lead up to the outbreak of the Great War. Imperialism can be defined as 'the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies'. This could be taken to include events within Europe itself, as much as those on the edge and outside European boundaries. However, the varied significance of each of these forces' role in causing the Great War, notably the role of Imperialism, can be debated. Imperialism was, in a number of ways, a significant cause of WW1. Much of the change in general European relations can be dated to the implementation of Weltpolitik. As Germany moved towards the more aggressive and expansionistic attitudes under Wilhelm II's chancellors, many European countries began to fear Germany's intentions and feel antagonistic towards her. Britain in particular felt threatened due to the competition created by the naval race. ...read more.

Middle

Britain's status as the number one power was absolutely linked to her empire as much as her industry. The rise of the imperialistic ambitions of European nations before the war can therefore be linked to the force of nationalism. Nationalism also lay at the heart of French hostility towards Germany, having lost Alsace-Lorraine in 1871. Germany's Weltpolitik was also inspired by a desire to make herself as great a world power as Britain. Nationalism was also one of the factors that led to the Dual Alliance between Austria-Hungary and Germany. However, the role of nationalism was of most significance in the Balkans. Fearing the strength of Pan-Slavism, and especially the impact it might have on her nationalistically divided empire, Austria-Hungary felt compelled to expand her influence in the region (such as the annexation of Bosnia). This in turn provoked a nationalistic response from the Slavs, supported by their fellow Slavic nation; Russia. The spark that led to WW1 was caused by the nationalistically inspired assassination of Franz Ferdinand, which gave Austria the excuse she needed to 'resolve' the problem of Slav nationalism further. Supported by the nationalistically driven aims of Germany, the ultimatum was nothing but a pretext for war. ...read more.

Conclusion

Much of the mistrust between nations was due to ther aggressive, expansionistic nature of much European nationalism. However, the rise of Militarism, the belief that it is necessary to have strong armed forces and that they should be used in order to win political or economic advantages, was only going to make a difficult job impossible. The growth of military power, both naval and land based, could only be regarded with suspicion and fear. Nevertheless, it was militarism that helped to hamper negotiations, but wasn't the key reason for war. In conclusion, it is clear that imperialism was a significant cause of the war, however, it was the changing geo-political situation post 1871 that set the scene into which the force of nationalism in particular, with the closely linked force of imperialism came into play. The aggressive and expansionistic nature of these forces led to rivalry, and when linked with militarism as well, fear. These factors would lead to the medium and short term causes of the war. However, of the three principal causes, imperialism was the least important, as the roots of New Imperialism lay largely with nationalism, a force when combined with the geo-political challenges of the time, ensured that a peaceful resolution of these rivalries and conflicts was tragically not forthcoming. ...read more.

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