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20 October 2014
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The Road To War: The Triple Entente
To what extent did the Triple Entente expect War?

A war was unavoidable if Germany and Austria-Hungary continued to challenge the empires of Britain and Russia. France was smarting from the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), and desperately wanted Alsace and Lorraine back from a now unified Germany. Austria-Hungary's annexation of Balkan territory upset Russia's plans to unite the Slavic people there.

HMS Dreadnought, 1906, © IWM

Britain wanted to maintain its place as having the greatest navy in the world. For many years Britain had kept only a small professional army in favour of building bigger and better battleships. It was the only country of the great powers which did not have a policy of enforced military service for its men. A naval arms race broke out between Britain and Germany.

Russia was still a great empire, but a troubled one. Defeated by the relatively minor power, Japan, it felt internationally disgraced. Coupled with problems at home – unrest due to food shortages, the controversial Rasputin, and an enormous gap between rich and poor – Russian leaders felt that beating Germany would restore people's faith in the government, at home and abroad.

Most countries had complex plans for war in Europe. For years France had been fortifying its border with Germany, anticipating a straight attack from German territory. Between 1907 and 1914, they changed their plans three times trying to prepare for an attack from any direction. Britain relied chiefly on its powerful navy, and as an island, did not see a need to develop a plan for a European land war. The Russians were hampered by the fact that their army was scattered over vast distances making it difficult to mobilise. It was 1913 before they had a strategy for mobilisation that satisfied France. All three nations were counting on an offensive war, not a defensive one.

To what extent do you think National pride a cause of the war?

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A - Russia needed to re-establish itself as a great Imperial power.

B - France wanted revenge for defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

C - Britain wanted to have the greatest navy.

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