The Alliance System

GCSE History Revision - Alliances UK and France

None of the European powers were stupid enough to try and take on all of the other nations and empires at once. Instead, they formed alliances with the ones that they felt they shared mutual interests with. The alliances committed the countries involved to defend one another in the event of being attacked by a mutual enemy.

From the 1880s onwards, several different alliances were formed:

Triple Alliance, 1882

Supporting one another’s territorial aims, the new European nations of Germany and Italy, along with Austria-Hungary, signed a pact promising to defend each other if attacked by another European power in 1882.

Franco-Russian Alliance, 1892

France and Germany formally became allies in 1892 as a result of both countries’ fears of the German Empire.

Entente Cordiale, 1904

After centuries of hostilities and suspicion, Britain and France signed up an alliance agreement as a result of both countries’ fears of Germany’s increasing strength

Anglo-Russian Entente, 1907

The looming presence of Germany was also one of the reasons why Britain entered into an alliance with Russia, which also feared Germany’s territorial ambitions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, in 1907. Both this alliance and the Entente Cordiale were a major change in direction for Britain, which for the previous century had enjoyed a period of ‘splendid isolation’ from Europe.

Triple Entente, 1907

Alliances The Franco-Russian Alliance, the Entente Cordiale and the Anglo-Russian Entente meant that France, Britain and Russia were all allied with one another, in opposition to Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany.

The rivalries created by nationalism, imperialism and the arms race played a crucial role in pushing Europe into two heavily armed sides by 1914.

And while nationalism, imperialism and the arms race helped to create the conditions for war, the alliances made sure that any war that did take place would involve pretty much all of the European powers.

The Schlieffen Plan

We can also see the important role that these webs of alliances played in causing the War in the Schlieffen Plan, a strategy created by Germany in 1905 and 1906 that was designed to bring Germany a quick victory in the event of attack by quickly defeating France before Russia had a chance to prepare its army, before then attacking Russia itself.