Alliances are enlisted as one major cause of the First World War. Alliances refer to political, social, or economic agreements between two or more countries with mutual interests (Weitsman 238). The most common form of alliances before the First World War was political alliances that came in the form of military alliances (Weitsman 238). These alliances served to offer military support to its signatory members provided they had been attacked by another great power outside the alliance. The great powers during this time were four major countries such as France, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Germany stood out as a country that had signed numerous alliances before 1914, the year marking the start of the First World War. Each alliance signed by Germans had a specific objective, with the most common objective being the prevention of the major great powers from coming together, then isolating and attacking them. Several key alliances help explain the behavior of Germans before 1914. These alliances included the League of Three Emperors (1873), the Reassurance Treaty (1887), the Dual Alliance (1879), and the Triple Alliance (1882). The German alliance behavior and support for Austria-Hungary were largely based on the diplomatic isolation of the French as well as the maintenance of peace in the Balkan area.

The behavior of German Alliances

Before a deep analysis of the above-mentioned treaties is undertaken, it is important to note that a Franco-Prussian treaty existed in 1871 that signaled the end of the war between Germany and France. The French side was the major loser in the war since they were forced to surrender two of their towns, Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. This sowed the seeds of hatred between the two countries. Issues escalated when France was recognized as a great power in Europe, meaning it could attack Germany at any given time. All France needed was to be in an alliance with another great power.

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The League of Three Emperors was instigated by the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The chancellor was interested in creating a power-balanced and peaceful Europe. The three parties included the Kaiser of Germany, the Kaiser of Austria-Hungary, and the Tsar of Russia. The German chancellor was scared that an alliance between France, Austria, and Russia would completely crush Germany. If the two powers were allied with Germans, then the third one would never pose any threat to them (Noble 694). All three parties were to control Eastern Europe and ensure that restive groups like the Poles were controlled. This alliance also aimed at completely secluding France. The major issue with the treaty was the competition between Austria-Hungary and Russia. Both parties wanted to have a firm grip over the Balkans. To keep the alliance and solve the conflict, the German chancellor proposed Austria have control over the Western side while Russia could control the Eastern side of the Balkans (Noble 696). The alliance was to be in place for two years before it was re-signed again and extended to 1884. The alliance ended in 1887 due to overriding conflicts between Russia and Austria-Hungary. Russia allied with the French, which meant that the position of Germany in Europe was at great risk.

After the collapse of the League of Emperors due to competition between Russia and Austria-Hungary, Germany signed a secret deal with Russia. The treaty expected the two parties to remain neutral in case any of them had chosen to attack a third greater power. The treaty would permit Germany to attack France and Russia to attack Austria without any of the parties getting involved. Germany agreed to Russia’s conditions, which included the support for Russia over the areas across Bulgaria (Winkler 231). Germany also supported the Russians’ claims for the Black Sea. Otto Von Bismarck, the German chancellor, was still the engineer of this second treaty. The chancellor felt that the agreement was necessary for preventing any great power from leaning towards France (Winkler 231). Moreover, France was also at loggerheads with Austria. The implementation of the treaty would see the total diplomatic isolation of France by either power in the process preventing any form of war from coming to Germany from both fronts. The treaty also expected Germany and Russia to come together when they were attacked by either France or Austria. Germany was also expected to declare neutrality in the case Russia intervened in the case of Dardanelles and Bosporus strait. The dismissal of Otto von Bismarck as the chancellor of Germany saw the failed renewal of the treaty and the establishment of an alliance between France and Russia (Winkler 231). Russia asked for a treaty in 1890 but the new chancellor’s office declined this request. The French and Russians signed a treaty in 1892, putting Germany’s position under threat and forcing it to sign a treaty with Austria-Hungary. The initial secret deal between Germany and Russia also created an outcry from both the German and Austrian citizens as the deal had been made behind their backs.

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The dual alliance with Austria-Hungary was signed when Otto Van Bismarck was still in power. The treaty was to protect either country in case Russia chose to attack any of them. Otto Van Bismarck felt that Russia could not wedge a complete war on two neighbors and be successful (Mansoor and Murray 286). The treaty was to protect Germany from any French attack, especially since Russia had gained interest in allying with France. The alliance with Austria-Hungary, one of the great powers, would not isolate Germany and, at the same time, would create peace in the region (Mansoor and Murray 286). The alliance between the two countries was one of the most surprising ones, considering their different histories. The two countries had been engaged in the Austrian- Prussian war in 1866 that saw Austria overtake the German dominance in the Balkans and establish itself as one of the great powers across the Balkans. Additionally, nationalism, a virtue deeply founded within the German system, was a threat to Austrians who had never believed in such values. However, it was their common dislike for Russia that had brought the two countries together. Austrians and Russians competed to expand their territories across the Balkan region and were perceived as the two greatest powers before the First World War (Mansoor and Murray 286). Germany never wanted any alliance among the superpowers with France, a country, with which they had conflicted for the longest period. Otto Van Bismarck attempted to portray Germany as a peacekeeping nation across entire Europe as well as a country that stood for the status quo among world great powers. After Russia had defeated the Ottoman Empire in 1878, Germany organized a meeting in San Stefano where Russians were given control over the Balkans. The ruling outraged Austria-Hungary as it was interested in the same position. To resolve the issue, Germany organized the Berlin treaty, where the initial position that had granted Russians control of the Balkans was reversed. Then, Austria-Hungary was permitted to control Bosnia. The new agreement saw the sore relationship between Russia and Germany.

The Triple Alliance was the last alliance signed before 1914, or before the First World War. This was another secret agreement between Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. The alliance was formed in 1882 and renewed for several years until the First World War. Italy joined the foray immediately after it had lost some of its North African colonies to France. Germany and Austria-Hungary were to assist Italy immediately after they were attacked by France. From the above deals, it is clear that Germany’s behavior in all alliances related to ensuring that the country was not isolated from world powers, which would provide them with cover in case of an attack.

Why Germany Supported Austria- Hungary

Germany supported Austria-Hungary for different reasons. First, Russians entered a treaty with France – the rival and the enemy of Germany (Lee 17). This effectively put Germans in a compromise situation, meaning that their position in Europe was threatened since two great powers had come together. To improve their status as a great power in Europe, they had to align their interest with another great power that in this case was Austria-Hungary (Lee 17). The latter competed with Russia and it would have formed a better alliance with the group that had the same relationship with Russia. The new alliance between Austria and Germany would still result in the domination of the Balkans because France did not have such an effect (Tucker and Roberts 89). It was only Russia that posed a greater threat to the Balkans, but the alliance with France gave it more power. The German support for Austria-Hungary was seen as debt since, at one point, Germany had secretly signed a pact with Russia, which permitted Russia to attack Austria-Hungary while Germany remained quiet (Tucker and Roberts 89). Germany did this with the full knowledge that it used to be in the agreement with Austria-Hungary in the League of the Three Emperors. By supporting Russia in the secret pact, Germany substantially managed to reduce the influence of Austria-Hungary. Joining the new alliance by the two countries would reinstate the position of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans (Tucker and Roberts 89).

The sore relationship developed between Germany and Russia, especially after the failure by Germans to renew their Reinsurance treaty, which meant that Germany would remain neutral in case Russia had attacked Austria. Germany also reiterated its initial decision that had been reached at San Stefano, which gave Russia control over the Balkans (Herwig 14). Instead, they agreed to provide the region to Austria-Hungary. As the result of the above actions, Germany could not ally with Russia, leaving the other great powers – Austria-Hungary, Italy, and France. The latter had sore relationships with Germany that took its two key towns Alsace and Lorraine and would in no way agree to any alliance. Germany was left with only one resort – to join Austria-Hungary. Joining another greater power would mean that Germany would not be in isolation, and peace would be maintained since an attack on Germany would necessarily mean that Austria-Hungary would become involved and a full-blown war would begin (Herwig 16). In other words, Germany supported Austria-Hungary to prevent a war in the Balkans.


Germany’s alliance behavior before 1914 was more oriented towards ensuring that France was isolated from the rest of the world. It was also designed to ensure that no two great powers would come together and join France since this would significantly isolate Germany. Therefore, the Germans opted to form alliances of self-interest with either party if their two primary objectives were met. In 1914, when the First World War began, Germany supported Austria-Hungary because Russia had allied with France, its long-time rival after the Franco-Prussian war. Germany also had a sore relationship with Russia after declaring that Bosnia was an indispensable part of Austria-Hungary, the major competitor of Russia.

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