Incidents That Would Have Sparked a Pre-1914 Great War

The First World War is the first modern war in a global scale that altered the world's geopolitical landscape and ultimately, shaped the foreign policy of the major powers that has affected us up to this day.


The First World War is the first modern war on a global scale that altered the world's geopolitical landscape and ultimately, shaped the foreign policy of the major powers that has affected us up to this day. Triggered by the shot that assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Great War (as it is called then) also laid the groundwork of a more bloody global war 25 years later and the Cold War that put the world on a brink of nuclear apocalypse.

Many thought that the century preceding the Great War was entirely peaceful brought about by rapid colonial expansion and the eventual industrialization and social progress of the Great Powers. There were a series of political crises and foreign incidents that almost plunged the world into war.


1. "Krieg-in-Sicht" Crisis (1875)
After France's Second Empire under Napoleon III lost the war against Prussia that eventually unified the fragmented German states into a unified nation, there was a growing concern about the rise of Germany. There was an effort made by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to contain France at all cost to prevent any form of "revanche" against them.

The Germans went to great lengths by supporting the election of liberal and republican-minded governments in France's neighbors: Spain, Italy, and Belgium. Unfortunately, Bismarck's foreign policy caught a snag in 1875 when an editorial in a German newspaper titled "Krieg-in-Sicht" (War-in-Sight) suggested that some highly influential Germans, worried about the rapid recovery of France after the devastating defeat in the 1871 war, were planning a so-called "preventive war" to keep France in check. The article has prompted a "war scare" not only in both France and Germany but in Great Britain and Russia as well. The later countries made it clear that they will oppose any attempt to wage preventive war against France.

Revanchism will help France rally its people in a second war against the German aggressors and it is more likely that the British and Russians will come to France's aid. If France can hold on to an initial German advance, they may have a chance to defeat their enemy just in time it's allies mobilize their armed forces. On the other hand, the Germans will face the same dilemma that they had in the OTL "First World War." They are more likely to build a strong coalition with the Austro-Hungarians and the Italians to nullify the threats from both fronts.


2. The Fashoda Incident (1898)
What would have happened if both France and Great Britain were at war on a small piece of land in Africa? The world would have been in a different place.

It all started in 1897 during the last gasps in the Scramble for Africa when a French force made its way to Fashoda (today Kodok), a small village south of Cairo along the Nile. During this time, the French were already attempting to expand their holding to West Africa along the southern border of the Sahara Desert. On the other hand, the British were trying to reinforce their sphere of influence through southern and east Africa to Egypt. It just so happen that Fashoda was in the middle between two rival powers.

Although the British eventually prevailed and obtained the territory in a show of force, the incident caused turmoil in Europe. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed because if a war were to happen, Russia would have been compelled to support France and it would have dragged Germany and Austria-Hungary into a war as well!


3. The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)
From the 1850s up to the early 1900s, the Russian Empire was expanding its territories from Central Asia to the fringes of the Siberian landmass. By this time, the Russians figured that its future was in the East rather than the West. They were compelled to go to war with an up-and-coming Japanese Empire over the control of Manchuria. It culminated in a Japanese surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, a strategic warm-water port. Russia would go on to lose the war in the Battle of Tsushima Strait wherein its Baltic Fleet was destroyed so that it became an international embarrassment.

With Russia embroiled in a war in Asia, it would have been possible for its European rivals to take advantage of such a situation. It all boils down to its French ally, should it supported the war then Austria-Hungary may have compelled to attack Russia on its western borders while Ottoman Turkey may also follow suit by attacking the Caucasus. By then, Great Britain and Germany will join the fray.


4. The Tangier Crisis (1905-06)
Also known as the First Moroccan Crisis, the war would have been fought much earlier if the warmongering will prevail. In an effort to undermine France's influence in North Africa, Kaiser Wilhelm II made a calculated risk to visit Tangier and meet with representatives of Sultan Abdelaziz. The incident sparked an international crisis that almost triggered the war.

There was also a distinct possibility that Great Britain might join in on the side of France as they were concerned that Germany was after a port on Morocco's Atlantic coast. At the height of the crisis, the war scare in France was so serious that men purchased vast quantities of war supplies in preparation for mobilization. The French even canceled all military leave. Stubborn to the last, Germany threatened to sign a defensive alliance with the Sultan. War seemed all but certain.

Although Algeciras Conference settled the dispute, the battle lines have been drawn with the Entente Cordiale allies stuck together and Austria-Hungary gave its full support for Germany.


5. The Casablanca Incident (1908)
Although the war was averted over Tangier, another minor incident in Casablanca may have escalated out of control. It all happened when three German deserters from the French Foreign Legion left their base in North Africa. The deserters, who were being helped by the German consul in Casablanca, were recaptured by the French on September 25, 1908. Naturally, the German government demanded an apology. Fortunately, the issue was settled when the two sides agreed to refer it to arbitration.


6. The Bosnian Annexation (1909)
By this time, tensions have already intensified and talks of a European war have been growing. When Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 6, 1908, there was a growing air of uncertainty as to who will fire the first shot of the "war." The Ottoman Empire is already a shell of its former glory and losing Bosnia to the Austro-Hungarians means that it's only a matter of time that someone will make the move to unify all the Slavic-speaking population of the Balkans.

Serbia in particular, with its nationalist proclivities, began to assert itself in the region. It did so confidently knowing that Russia, another Slavic nation, had its back. At the same time, the rise of the Young Turks created uncertainty about Ottoman presence in the Balkans.

The multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire is concerned that a destabilized region will become a liability to its security and survival. Russia has become increasingly concerned over the annexation that it facilitated backroom deals with Serbia, the newly-independent Bulgaria, and other Slavic sympathizers.

An early war would have followed the same script as the war will start in Bosnia. This time, the Central Powers would have been composed of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Russia may be as weak as it was during the OTL since it's still reeling from that devastating loss against Japan. The Central Powers may have urged Finn nationalists to launch an open revolt against their Russian overlords. With Russia pushed out of the scene, the Central Powers can focus their effort and resources on the Western Front.


7. The Agadir Crisis (1911)
Also known as the Second Moroccan Crisis, the incident started when Kaiser Wilhelm II sent the warship Panther to Morocco to protect German nationals (which turned out to be just one person). Many observers have interpreted it as a move to undermine French influence over the region just like what happened in the earlier incidents in Tangier and Casablanca. As France and Britain contemplated their next moves, the threat of war caused a financial crisis in Germany.

The Agadir Crisis backfired against the Kaiser as the Entente proved to be a strong alliance with France emboldened by British backing. However, it fed an overwhelming sense of fury in Germany, a feeling that Britain had become an enemy.

Fortunately, Germany and France resolved the conflict by signing the Treaty of Fez, in which Germany accepted France's position in Morocco in exchange for territory in the Congo.


8. The Balkan Wars (1912-13)
Considered the dress-rehearsal of the Great War, the Balkan Wars was a regional conflict that pitted Ottoman Turkey against the smaller Balkan nations of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece. It was soon followed by a second conflict with Bulgaria, dissatisfied by the outcome of the first war, battling against a coalition of Serbia, Greece, Romania, Montenegro, and erstwhile enemy - the Ottomans.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Incidents That Would Have Sparked a Pre-1914 Great War
Incidents That Would Have Sparked a Pre-1914 Great War
The First World War is the first modern war in a global scale that altered the world's geopolitical landscape and ultimately, shaped the foreign policy of the major powers that has affected us up to this day.
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