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William’s foreign policy


William II
William II

William’s foreign policy focused on expanding Germany’s colonial empire and building a massive navy. Both policies led to increased political tensions with Britain and Russia. As tensions grew, the major European countries formed opposing alliances. Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary formed the Triple Alliance in 1882. Germany considered the Triple Alliance an indispensable counterbalance to the alliances made by France, Russia, and Britain. By 1907 France, Russia, and Britain had formed the Triple Entente. In the name of the preservation of peace, Europe was now divided into two armed camps.

In contrast to his reckless foreign policy, which by its provocative military buildup increased tensions in Europe and risked war, William pursued an extremely conservative domestic policy. He allowed a few extensions of social insurance programs and trade union laws, but overall he strongly favored industrialists and large landowners.

Many of these wealthy capitalists actively supported the naval buildup, as did other imperialist groups intent on an arms race with France and Britain. At the same time, the SPD continued to gain support, garnering one-third of the Reichstag vote in 1903 and becoming the largest party in the assembly in 1912. However, the nationalist parties, which disagreed with the Socialists’ opposition to the military buildup and imperial expansion, refused to work with the Socialists. Consequently, parliament was deadlocked, which enhanced the power of the aggressive emperor.

Antagonisms between the two armed camps in Europe intensified with crises in Morocco and the Balkans. In 1905 and again in 1911, William intervened in Morocco, which France claimed, in order to protect German colonial interests in Africa. Austria’s 1908 annexation of the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina spoiled Serbia’s hopes of gaining them.

But the spark that set off World War I was the assassination, with Serbian knowledge, of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.

Following the assassination, in June 1914, Germany rashly assured Austria of full support, and the Austrians sent Serbia an ultimatum that Serbia could not accept. All the major powers then acted with headlong speed, believing that military advantage depended on rapid mobilization of their armies. Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia, an ally of Serbia, then mobilized its troops against Austria and Germany. On August 1, Germany gave Russia 12 hours to demobilize and then, receiving no answer, declared war on Russia and its ally France. Soon France and eventually Britain followed, and within days all of the major European powers were at war. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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