World War 1: A Short Timeline Pre-1914

Political Disputes and Secret Treaties Led to WWI

World War 1 Medal
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Although the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914 is often cited as the first event leading directly to World War 1, the true build up was much longer. As well as growing public support for a confrontation—which varied but ultimately grew in the period before—the treaties and diplomatic relations so important in 1914 were all established years, often decades, before.

Neutrality and 19th Century Wars

  • 1839: The Guarantee of Belgium Neutrality, part of the First Treaty of London which said that Belgium would remain perpetually neutral in future wars, and the signatory powers were committed to guarding that neutrality. When World War I began, Britain cited Germany's invasion of Belgium as a reason to go to war, but as historians have pointed out, that this was not a binding reason to fight.
  • 1867: The 1967 Treaty of London established Luxembourg's neutrality. This would be violated by Germany, as with Belgium.
  • 1870: The Franco-Prussian War, in which France was beaten and Paris besieged. The successful attack on France and its abrupt end caused people to believe that modern war would be short and decisive—and the Germans saw it as evidence that they could win. It also made France bitter and framed their desire for a war in which they could seize 'their' land back.
  • 1871: The creation of the German Empire. Bismarck, the architect of the German Empire feared being encircled by France and Russia and tried to prevent this any way he could.

Late 19th Century Treaties and Alliances

  • 1879: The Austro-German Treaty tied the two Germano-centric powers of Austria-Hungary and Germany together as part of Bismarck's desire to avoid war. They would fight together in World War I.
  • 1882: The Triple Alliance was established between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, forming a central European power bloc. Italy would not accept this as binding when the war began.
  • 1883: The Austro-Romanian Alliance was a secret agreement that Romania would only go to war if the Austro-Hungarian Empire was attacked.
  • 1888: Wilhelm II became Emperor of Germany. He rejected the legacy of Bismarck and tried to go his own way. Unfortunately, he was basically incompetent.
  • 1889–1913: The Anglo-German Naval Race. Britain and Germany should, perhaps, have been friends, but the race created an air of military conflict, if not an actual desire for military action by both sides.
  • 1894: The Franco-Russian Alliance encircles Germany, much as Bismarck feared and would have tried to stop if he'd still been in power.

Twentieth Century's First Decade

  • 1902: The Franco-Italian Agreement of 1902 was a secret pact in which France agree to support Italy's claims to Tripoli (modern Libya)
  • 1904: The Entente Cordial, agreed between France and Britain. This was not a binding agreement to fight together but moved in that direction.
  • 1904–1905: The Russo-Japanese War, which Russia lost, an important nail in the coffin of the tsarist regime.
  • 1905–1906: The First Moroccan Crisis, also known as the Tangier crisis, over who controlled Morocco: France or the Sultanate, supported by the Kaiser
  • 1907: The Anglo-Russian Convention, a pact between England and Russia relating to Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, another pact which encircled Germany. Many in the country believed they should fight the inevitable war now before Russia became stronger and Britain was moved to act.
  • 1908: Austria-Hungary annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina, a significant rise in tensions in the Balkans.
  • 1909: The Russo-Italian Agreement: Russia now controlled the Bosporus, and Italy retained Tripoli and Cyrenaica

Accelerating Crises

  • 1911: The Second Moroccan (Agadir) Crisis, or Panthersprung in German, in which the presence of French troops in Morocco led Germany to demand territorial compensation: the upshot was Germany was both embarrassed and militant.
  • 1911–1912: Turkish-Italian War, fought between Italy and the Ottoman Empire, resulting in Italy's capture of Tripolitania Vilayet province.
  • 1912: Anglo-French Naval Agreement, the last of the Entente Cordiale which began in 1904 and included discussions of who controlled Egypt, Morocco, West and Central Africa, Thailand, Madagascar, Vanuatu and parts of Canada.
  • 1912, October 8–May 30, 1913: The First Balkan War. A European war could have been triggered any time after this point.
  • 1913: Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as US president.
  • 1913, April 30–May 6: The First Albanian Crisis, including the Siege of Scutari, between Montenegro and Serbia against the Ottoman Empire; the first of several crises in which Serbia refused to give up Scutari.
  • 1913, June 29–July 31: The Second Balkan War.
  • 1913, September–October: The Second Albanian Crisis; military leaders and Serbia and Russia continue to battle over Scutari.
  • 1913, November–Janaury 1914: The Liman von Sanders Affair, in which Prussian general Liman headed a mission to take control of the garrison at Constantinople, effectively giving Germany control of the Ottoman empire, which the Russians objected to

War Begins

By 1914, the 'Great Powers' of Europe had already come close to war several times thanks to the Balkan, Moroccan and Albanian disputes; passions ran high and the Austro-Russo-Balkan rivalry remained deeply provocative.

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Your Citation
Wilde, Robert. "World War 1: A Short Timeline Pre-1914." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Wilde, Robert. (2023, April 5). World War 1: A Short Timeline Pre-1914. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "World War 1: A Short Timeline Pre-1914." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).