World War One was caused solely by the aggression of one country and its allies. It was made possible by the political, military and economical environments inside the aggressor country. These all contributed to the initiation of the First World War by the then mayor European power, Germany. To the credit of the Prussians, Germany had the largest (except for Russia), best equipped and best-trained army of Europe. With their innovative use of the heavy machine gun (the Maxim gun) in protected pillboxes the German quickly had an edge in over the other European armies. To use this military might in an effective way the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Alfred Von Schlieffen devised an attack plan appropriately named the Schlieffen plan. According to this plan the bulk of the German army had to march through Belgium and Luxembourg attack France out flanking its armies in the process and after a six-week campaign France would be defeated and the whole German Army could then attack Russia. The Schlieffen Plan rested on two critical assumptions. The first was the preservation of overwhelming German numerical superiority against France. The second was the inability of the Russian Empire, with its primitive system of land transportation, to deploy its numerically superior along the German before the Knockout blow to the west(Kelroy pg.48). This plan should have been very effective when it was conceived.
However during 1913 two events happened; one, French male citizen were now required to serve three years not two of military service this change would have brought the French army to the same size of the German army by 1915, 1916; secondly, with the help of France, Russia had created a large and relatively modern railroad system connecting it to the center of Europe. the undeniable fact that the German Empire was loosing its margin of strategic superiority in Europe over the combined armed forces of France and Russia(Kelroy pg. 48). During 1914 this created the feeling in that if the war were not started soon then the military advantage over its neighboring adversaries would be lost. This created urgency for military action in which any excuse was useful; therefore, when the Archduke was assassinated Germany had its perfect excuse to begin hostilities.
An army, however, does not order itself into war this is done by the state, and the German Governments political structure in the early 1900s proved especially prone to war. The political structure of the German Reich, as defined by the Federal constitution of 1871, may best be described as a facade of a parliamentary monarchy superimposed upon the edifice of an authoritarian state dominated by the reactionary, militarist, landowning aristocracy of Prussia(Kelroy pg.44). Therefore, if the Kaiser of Germany wanted war then war he will get. The only democratically elected organ of the German government was the Lower House of parliament or Reichstag its only power consisted in denying the government funds for operating the state. It is also to note that the Kaiser in times of war was the absolute commander of the Armed Forces. However, no political party mounted a political campaign to stop the war after the mobilization had taken place. This happened because the German Government had, under Bismarck, created separate peace agreements with each of the political parties.
With no inner political opposition the ruling class of the German Empire was free to pursue its agenda of dominance over Europe and with it the World. Yet, politicians and therefore the State do not go to war to amuse themselves, during World War one the Germans went to war to assure themselves that the German economy would have continued its rapid economic growth. At the end of the 1800s and the beginnings of the 1900s Germany had become the largest producer of industrial manufactured goods in Europe. This formidable concentration of economic power, which united heavy industry, big agriculture, and highfinance, in a close partnership with the government, produced a spectacular spurt of economic growth in the quarter century before the First World War(Pg. 46). With the government heavily subsiding and promoting industry and meanwhile protecting national foodstuffs from foreign competition the German Economy easily surpassed Great Britain in steel and iron production while closely matching her in coal production. Germany had the potential to economically dominate Europe.
Although the United States did surpass both Britain and Germany in the production of steel and goods these were largely taken up by the United States huge internal market and therefore the United States did not need to export and played no important role in world trade (Pg. 37). German goods were in a direct competition with British goods both powers specialized in producing steel, coal, textiles, and chemicals and both were heavily dependent on the capital and imports these goods generated. To avoid fierce competition of German and British goods an agreement was reached, Germany will confine its exports to eastern and southern Europe while Britain got most of the oversea markets (Pg. 37). This way Germany did prosper in the late 1800s however, during the 1900s a few things changed. First, Germanys imports had risen to a point were a large increase of exports was of vital importance, if the German economy was to continue at its furious rate.
Second, the Franco-Russian alliance system, which also included Balkan states, had not only a great effect in the military side of things but also in the economic facet. By removing Germanys traditional markets and substituting them by their own products the French had effectively isolated Germany economically. Virtually every attempt to expand Germanys economic power beyond its traditional sphere of activity met with disappointment after the turn of the century (Pg. 47). So, Germany was found itself with a great need to export products, the capacity to export an even greater amount of products but nowhere to export them to. The fear of economic encirclement in Europe and the Middle East was heightened by the ominous indications that the remainder of the world was being informally partitioned into spheres of economic interest by Great Britain, France, the United States, and Japan (Pg. 47).
So in the power elite of the German Reich there was the feeling that the only way Germany was to free herself out of her economic encirclement was by military force. The German elite also saw that due to the so called domino effect the only way Germany was going to free herself form the economical entanglement was to conquer all of Europe. For any small war with any of her neighbors would have, and did, activate the alliance systems initiating the First World War; Which the Germans, or more specifically the Kaiser and the Prussians, though they were perfectly capable of winning. Using an economic strategy that is condensed in the phrase: if you cant beat the competition then kill it. The German Elite prepared for war. We should also note that other factors affected the advent of the First World War. Some of these other factors are the need for national prestige and rise in nationalism. However, the influence of the economic pressure on the government and therefore the military coupled with an unstable belligerent ruling class were the main reasons for Germanys planed, unilateral and devastating First World War.
The twentieth Century World Thrid Edition by William R. Keylor Oxford University Press, New York 1996