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World War I An Imbalance Of Power

1420 words - 6 pages

In The Guns of August Barbara Touchman presents a vivid image of the events and causes that lead to the First World War. The multitudes of motives that become evident in her book imply that none of Waltz's three images was solely responsible for the outbreak of war. However, the image that best explains the origins of World War I is the anarchy of the international system. The internal structure of individual states and the nature of men are two images that considerably contributed to the war but should be considered in the broader context of European rivalries that took place in the vacuum of interstate relations.

The premier reason for war, related to the realist image, came from the shift in the balance of power. The growing strength of Germany led to a military build-up in all the European countries. As military force is a zero-sum game, France, England and Russia expanded their armies in an attempt to preserve their relative power. Also, long preparation for the event of war permeated throughout Europe. Germany, France, Britain, and Russia all devised elaborate military plans that would correct the balance of power and bring the enemies under control. While the French had forged a German invasion draft called Plan 17 in 1911, the Germans created their own military tactic called the Von Schlieffen Plan already in 1906. The Chief of German Military, General Moltke saw the coming of war as inevitable. These extensive military preparations put countries in an inflexible position. Although, some countries were more focused on scaring other others than fighting, the commitment to military action undermined any attempts of peaceful negotiation. Mobilization brought countries on collision course that could only be stopped by war. As general Moltke stated, "This time we must make an end of it" (Tuchman 106). The rising international tensions meant even the smallest jiggle in the balance of power could lead to war. "Europe was a heap of swords piled as delicately as jackstraws; one could not be pulled out without moving the others" (Tuchman 18).

Another factor supporting Waltz's third image explanation of the war was the timidity of nations. The insecurity of European countries played a crucial role in prompting the World War. For fear of being encircled by enemies from all sides, Germany considered arming its military the highest priority. Only by being stronger than all the other nations could the Second Reich secure its sovereignty and respectful treatment by other states. A strong military could provide leverage in negotiations and deter potential invasions. Because the pre-war era was characterized by mulitpolarity, states in search of security formed two camps, the Triple Entente and Triple Alliance. Regrettably, the creation of this complex balance of power did not have the desired effect, as defection and non-compliance could not be prevented. In this situation, European nations primarily relied on their individual...

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