As complex as the onset of the Great War was, factors that influenced its beginnings included militarism, alliances, nationalism, imperialism and assassination. This is acronymically known as MANIA.
Militarily, from 1870 until 1914, most of Europe was arming itself at the rate never seen before in history. Desiring security and power, along with the conflict and tension during this time period forced all of the major powers involved in World War One to increase its military expenditures by at least 200%. Although Germany led this trend by a large margin, the desired effect – security and power – was difficult to attain, as the proportional rate that each country grew by was essentially the same as what it had begun with. Coinciding with this growth was the drastic change from a ‘defensive’ military mindset to one with a more aggressive tone. The French, taking a defensive stance during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and Russia’s similar strategy against the Japanese in 1904-05, allowed for more of an aggressive military approach to take root. This is exemplified through the finalization of the German military strategy to quickly defeat France in case of war. Known as the Schlieffen Plan, it was developed in 1905.
A long history of European political alliances and ententes existed prior to 1914. This history of agreements evolved into a loose alliance between France, Russia and Great Britain (the Triple Entente) and the formal alliance between Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy (the Triple Alliance). The events in Morocco in 1905 and 1911 illustrate the influence that these alliances had. Both Germany and France displayed imperialistic motives towards Morocco in the early 20th century. In both incidents, the alliance system of Europe forced both sides to take political (and militaristic) positions congruent with their alliance. Interestingly, in the earlier incident of 1905, Germany counted on one of their rival alliance members, Russia, to be too distracted with their conflict with the Japanese, to assist the rest of the Triple Entente.
Nationalism, especially Pan-Slavic nationalism also played a key role in the beginning of World War One. The idea that all Slavs shared a common heritage and history was a common theme spread throughout Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. Of all the Slavic nations, which included Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia was by far the largest and most powerful. So much so, that she was counted on for assistance from those politically weaker Slavic nations. This was especially true during the Balkan Crisis of 1908-1909. From the late 1870’s, Austria-Hungary was...