Why Britain Entered the Great War
The Great War also named World War 1 or the First World War (1914) was a global military disagreement that involved mighty supremacy grouped into two opposing coalitions; Triple Entente and Triple Alliance. The war led to the death of more than 15 million people and it was branded as the worst form of conflict ever experience in the world. At the end of the War four superior empires; German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman were defeated with the latter two seeking autonomy (James 8). It is not clearly known what was the main reason for the eruption of the War but it is said that one thing led to another. The trigger of one event by another was otherwise known as, The Treaty of Alliance System (James 9). Britain was caught up in the events and the paper analyzes the reasons that made Britain enter the Great War.
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There were some reasons which made Britain get into the war; some were long-term others short-term. For example, Britain entered into a treaty in the year 1839 with Belgium. The treaty provided for Britain to offer neutrality to Belgium in case of war erupted. Also, Britain had some short-term reasons which were evident months before the war broke out in August 1914 (Lee 10). The first reason is that Britain was afraid of the rising power of Germany, according to Edgar (60). Germany was a young country that came into existence decades after the establishment of Britain but its rising power was outdoing that of Britain. For example in 1870, Britain’s steel production was 0.7 million tonnes while that of Germany was 0.3 million tonnes. In that period, Britain emerged as the top country in the world to produce steel. On the other hand, German steel production in the year 1910 was 13.8 million tonnes while that of Britain was 5.9 million in the same year (Edgar 61). As result, Britain started to realize that Germany was a great threat and its raising power was to be stopped by all means.
Edgar states that efforts to have an Anglo-German were fading away in 1907 and Britain sought to form alliances with France (64). Rivalry increased and it was showcased by the maritime race that took place. Germany laid down strategies on how to acquire a larger navy army than that of Britain, to create fear on Britain were it to be engrossed in a third party disagreement. The attempt made, brought fear upon Britain on the strategy they had laid before. Britain had implemented a strategy where the size of its navy should be greater than any two major navies combined. Germany further invented an HMS battleship which made the other battleships -including Britain’s- outmoded (Edgar 65). The intention of the invention of the ship by the Germans was to make Britain seek neutrality in case of war but to Britain, it was a sign of threat. These acts sent a signal to Britain of the emerging superiority of Germany and therefore, it gave them a reason to enter into war.
Another reason that made Britain enter into the war was the Moroccan crisis (Reed 12). The crisis happened in 1905. At this time Morocco was executing a chain of reforms, under the supervision of France. Thereafter, Kaiser Wilhelm invaded Morocco and proclaimed that Germany would ensure that Morocco retain its independence and protect it, as it was an independent country. The move was offensive to France and posed a probability of France disintegrating with Britain. As a result, Britain sought to protect France and prevent Germany from taking control and becoming superior.
The strong alliance created between Germany and Austria-Hungary was due to the betrayal by Italy. Therefore, the strong tie made Germany supportive of Austria-Hungary in the Bosnian Crisis in 1908-9. Britain declined to help Russians out of the crisis as Britain predicted their superiority if they won the battle. At the same time, Austria-Hungarian enhanced its territories as Russia received nothing. Lack of support by Britain to Russia was a path to the second Moroccan crisis and also it brought Europe close to the war (Reed 13-4).
According to Reed, the second Moroccan crisis erupted after the military from France were aggressively involved in the revolution in Morocco (16). The argument from Germany was that an agreement made earlier was breached, as a result, it demanded reparation and at the same time, battleships were sent to the Moroccan port. This made the British Government react angrily towards Germany. Britain viewed the situation as a big threat if Germany would ever succeed in making France obey their orders and hence, a reason to go into war.
The growth and expansion of Germany with the clashes discussed above created some sort of fear in the British territory. Germany was seen as a big threat to the security of Britain and the delight of the British Empire. A telegram sent by Kruger in 1896 was seen to cause much anger in the British Empire according to James (16). The telegram was congratulating the Boer president for defending Transvaal land which, the British saw as their own land. James states that, in 1908, Kaiser commented on Britain to be “mad as March hares” country and it led to another spark of events, and Britons demanded war. Reflecting on the events, other European countries had gone into war, and if Britain was to remain neutral its position as a powerful country was to weaken. Therefore, this was one of the many reasons Britain engaged in war.
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In 1912, Lord Haldane, secretary for State of war in Britain, approached Germany so as they could reach an agreement (Edgar 72). On this note, Germany proposed to Britain to offer neutrality in case of any war, and on the other hand, they would reduce their naval arrangement. Britain saw this as a compromise in their liberty of action. The offer of neutrality meant that; on one hand, in case Germany won then it will become the most superior country having overruled Russia and France – powerful countries. On the other hand, if France and Russia won it meant the relationship of the two countries (France and Russia) with Britain would sink low (Edgar 72). However, the happenings of July 1914, greatly steered Britain to enter into the war (Edgar 72).
Britain’s main aim was to keep a balance of power and for them to achieve this they could not become, or even remain neutral as the win of any coalition would mean they are superpower countries. Britain was hesitant to enter into war but at the end of July of 1914, a possibility of Britain participating in the war was proclaimed (Lee 19). Britain argued that they had a reason to enter into war as the 1839 London treaty of Belgium was breached by the Germans according to Lee (19). Increasing pressure was mounted on Britain by Minister Edward Grey to enter into war. Grey threatened to resign if his wish was not accepted by the cabinet on the 2nd of August 1914 (Lee 20). This was a great threat as the resignation of Grey will result in Prime Minister Asquith resigning and consequently the formation of an alliance supporting the war. This saw Britain attain a reason for entering the Great War.
Britain’s other reason for the entry of the Great War was based on offering support and security to Belgium (James 19). Britain had entered a treaty with Belgium to offer neutrality in case of war seventy-five years before the Great War broke. So, it entered into the Great War with a reason of security obligation to Belgium. Britain was scared of losing its superiority, and if Germany was to overpower Belgium then their military power was to become more powerful and they will dominate as a superpower country. Britain was emphasizing on keeping a balance of power therefore it made all efforts to prevent and stop Germany and its alliances to reign in power.
It is evident that Germany was expanding economically and also its buoyancy was growing strong. This could be reflected in the effort they showcased during the Moroccan crisis; Germany tried to make France compliant with its rules. Earlier on Britain had attempted to approach Germany for some agreement. The offer was turned down and this implied that war was predictable. The death of Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 greatly triggered the war and Britain had to be involved as it had made alliances beforehand with the states which had pronounced war (Reed 18).
Apart from what has been discussed above, Britain also had an economic interest in some of the countries involved in triggering war. Therefore, it could not avoid participating in the Great War. Historians have argued that the biggest reason above all for Britain to enter the Great War was to retain a balance of power between different states (James 20). As discussed earlier, if Britain was to remain dormant as the other states fought, its superiority would deteriorate.
To conclude, the analysis done above shows that Britain did not have a definite reason(s) to enter the Great War. The reasons as highlighted are due to the trigger of events. Britain was reluctant in getting involved with the war but pressure from all sides; cabinet ministers and its alliances prompted it to get into war. Further, it went into war to prevent Germany from becoming a powerful company. Also, it is noted that Britain went into war to protect France from being ruled by Germany and consequently, making Germany a stronger nation. The greatest of all reasons was to maintain a balance of power among states and also to avoid deterioration of its outlook in terms of power. Therefore, the alliances formed by Britain are the key reasons why Britain went into the Great War.
Edgar, James. Full circle: The story of air fighting. London: Cassell, 2001. pp. 56-80.
James, Joll. The origins of the first world war. London: Longman, 1984. pp. 8-20.
Lee, Kennet. The first air war. New York: Free Press, 1992. pp. 10-26.
Reed, Allan, Millet. Military Effectiveness. Boston: Allen, 1988. pp. 12-8.