To what extent was Germany responsible for the outbreak of WWI? There is much debate about the degree of responsibility that should be given to Germany for the outbreak of war. One could argue that the outbreak of war was entirely Germany’s fault due to their aggression with the other Great Powers of Europe and the very presence of the Schlieffen Plan. One could also argue that Germany was merely protecting herself against aggression and the idea of encirclement. Or was it a misfired attempt at strengthening relationships with the Entente powers?
Either way one can deduce that Germany had a significant role in the outbreak for war, but should not necessarily be held fully accountable. Aggression already existed between the Entente and Germany, it is clear that Germany aimed to prevent their empire from falling due to the prevalent risk of fighting a war on two fronts. This was amended by the creation of the Schlieffen Plan. It was produced by General Alfred Von Schlieffen in 1905, it showed German intentions to invade France, but the time they would execute the plan remained ambiguous, however this is irrelevant.
The very existence of a plan to attack another Great Power highlighted the resentment Germany held toward France, their depth of knowledge and the assumptions they made, strengthened the fact that Germany would eventually invade, and each step was carefully calculated so it was timeless plan that could be executed at any moment and without a doubt lead to the outbreak of world war. The other side of this argument is that the outbreak of war was not Germany’s fault and that her armament was a defensive technique.
Germany was potentially going to have to face the greatest navy in the world along with her allies, by 1904, German military advisors were adamant that with Russia industrializing and French resentment, Germany would eventually be pulled into a war on two fronts as both countries were a threat. Germany had close to no colonies in the world except for parts of the Congo surrendered by the French after the Agadir Crisis in 1911, imperialistically they were weak so the 73% increase in spending could be justified by raising the point that they were making up for what they didn’t have territorially.
Germany had always been afraid of their geographical situation. They were encircled by all their enemies and their one powerful ally was Austria-Hungary. Admiral Tirpitz justified the spending on the German navy by stating that. ‘For Germany, the most dangerous enemy…is England…which we most urgently require a navy. ’ Tirptitz’s insisted that their arms spending was a defensive reaction to the aggression they had had with Britain and that despite what the other powers believed, these militaristic movements were of long term defensive means.
Historically in the days leading up to the war, Germany did not instigate other nations to mobilize their troops; Serbia’s appeal to Russia triggered the Great Powers to mobilize. Once Russia had mobilized, the Kaiser sent an ultimatum, in defence of Austria, stating that if they did not back down, the German Empire would wage war on them. After Russia’s dismissal of the ultimatum Germany had no choice but to mobilize and execute the Schlieffen Plan, otherwise they would risk their relationship with Austria-Hungary and therefore risk full encirclement.
Germany’s fear of encirclement incited them to become militaristic, however their quick advancement and involvement in crisis’s leading up to the war put them in a bad position for the outbreak of war and they were inadvertently pulled into a world war that was only meant to be localised between Austria and Serbia. Perhaps it was not a direct action of Germany; they could be blamed, not for the outbreak for war, but rather being the stipulator of war, by offering Austria-Hungry their false support in her pursuit to fill the power vacuum that was left in the Balkan region.
Germany offered Austria-Hungary unconditional support if they were to move and attack Serbia. Slav populated Austria-Hungary was worried about the upheaval in the Balkans, the ousting of Turkish influence planted the seed of fear that the empire would eventually dissolve if Serbia, the leading force in the Balkan movement, were to make a single Slavic state. Austria aimed to suppress this movement and Germany, believing that if Austria were to war with Serbia it would remain a localised war.
Bethmann Holweg, the German chancellor of the time believed that the defeat of Serbia would weaken ties between Russia and Serbia, (assuming Russia would not intervene due to financial and technological lapses at the time), then through Austrian success, Germany could improve its relationship with the nations of the Triple Entente without ever engaging in war, as the so-called ‘Blank Cheque’ never stated hat Germany would go to war with Austria, but merely would support their movements and this meant that Germany relatively remained neutral within the Great Powers. The ‘blank cheque’ was intended so that Germany could remain neutral with both Austria and the Entente powers but was based on a gamble of other nation’s actions, Germany at the time wanted to grow closer to members of the Entente but instead did the exact opposite by being forced to mobilize in defence of Austria.
Germany held a significant role in the outbreak of war, however they cannot be held fully responsible due to some aims they had that never intended to lead to an outbreak of a world war. Although the Schlieffen Plan was a war plan, the time of which they were going to execute it was never stated; it is arguable to say that it was a measure of prevention. Germany feared the idea of encirclement and so their armament spending increase was justified however to the allies it was perceived as a threat.
Germany manipulated the Austrian fear of the dissolution of their empire in an attempt to strengthen ties with the Entente powers and weaken those between Russia and Serbia, in the hope that Austria would succeed in defeating the Balkans and suppressing their movement. Germany acted aimlessly in their effort to gain a reputation in Europe and gain allies, their actions indirectly were the result of war.