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10-08-2015, 16:28


Between 1871 and 1914, Europeans experienced a long period of peace as the great powers managed to achieve a fragile balance of power in an effort to avert a re-creation of the destructive forces unleashed during the Napoleonic era. But there were a series of crises that might easily have led to general war. Until 1890, Bismarck, the chancellor of Germany, exerted a restraining influence on Europeans. He realized that the emergence in 1871 of a unified Germany as the most powerful state on the Continent had upset the balance of power established at Vienna in 1815, making many Europeans uneasy. Fearful of a possible anti-German alliance between France and Russia and possibly even Austria, Bismarck made a defensive alliance with Austria in 1879. In 1882, this German- Austrian alliance was enlarged with the entrance of Italy, angry with the French over conflicting colonial ambitions in North Africa. The Triple Alliance of 1882 committed the three powers to support the existing political and social order while providing a defensive alliance against France. At the same time, Bismarck maintained a separate treaty with Russia and tried to remain on good terms with Great Britain. When Emperor William II cashiered Bismarck in 1890, he embarked on an activist foreign policy dedicated to enhancing German power by finding, as he put it, Germany’s rightful “place in the sun.” The treaty with Russia was canceled as being at odds with Germany’s alliance with Austria. But the result was what Bismarck had feared: it brought France and Russia together. Republican France leapt at the chance to draw closer to tsarist Russia, and in 1894, the two powers concluded a military alliance. During the next ten years, German policies abroad caused the British to draw closer to France. By 1907, a loose confederation of Great Britain, France, and Russia—known as the Triple Entente—stood opposed to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Europe was divided into two opposing camps that became more and more inflexible and unwilling to compromise. When the members of the two alliances became involved in a new series of crises between 1908 and 1913 over the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, the stage was set for World War I.