It can be easily assumed that causes of World War I were born in the 19th century when the strong splash of civilizations took place. Such new powers as Germany and Italy once wished to establish themselves in the same row with old countries – Russia, France, and Britain, thus adjusting to new social ideological norms. The matter related to the causes of World War I remains one of the most heated debates in the world’s historiography since August 1914. Due to this reason, historians prefer using different approaches to the investigation of this problem. An institutional explanation of the causes of World War I may bring societies to the understanding of why it had actually occurred as a mystery to ordinary people and whether it was planned on purpose to establish a new balance of power and circle of influence. Presumably, World War I was neither sudden nor impossible to contemplate as the previous centuries brought an increase in intercultural misunderstandings and a social crisis in response to the formation of entirely new worldviews and social systems.
Generally, representatives of historical institutionalism tend to identify the institutional impact, following different political actors: the interests of the organization, ideological or social values peculiar to certain institutions – rather than to define them as the aggregation of individual interests and preferences. Conversely, the individual interests and preferences are not determined independently from the institutions, and political behavior is not linked directly to the individual intentions. Generalizations are built not by deductive reasoning with respect to the patterns of behavior, but based on a comparison of institutions, a comparative analysis of the political process or historical cases. Therefore, an institutional explanation of the causes of World War I would shed light on all the traces of the formation of an evident cult related to the concept of hostility prevalent at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries. Doyle proves that the theory of institutionalism can be applied in the context of World War as any other modern theories intended for explaining the overall causes of different phenomena.
The search of the causes of World War I leads to 1871 when the hegemony of Prussia was enshrined in the German Empire. To deprive France of an opportunity to avenge the defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck attempted to link Russia and Austria-Hungary and Germany in a secret agreement in 1873. However, Russia put forward its claims in support of France and the Union of three emperors broke up. In 1882, Bismarck strengthened Germany’s position, creating the Triple Alliance that united Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Germany. By 1890, Germany came to the forefront of European diplomacy. However, it is incorrect to state that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip is one of the causes of the conflict that had grave consequences for the whole world. David Fromkin suggested that the assassination was just a mere occasion that accelerated the tendency. The historian demonstrates that the relationship between Franz Ferdinand and Wilhelm was far more complex than it appeared on the surface. He also states that the world of the 1890s and 1900s had been, not unlike our own age, a time of globalization of the world economy, and schemes to establish some sort of league of nations to outlaw war. This assumption leads to the fact that the end of the 19th century was marked with tension and exposed to changes.
There is an inclination among different scholars to consider World War I in the light of its deliberate nature because of the institutions’ aptitude for redefining the balance of power. David Fromkin was one of the scholars who dedicated their time to discover the true causes of the emerging worldly disorder. At the beginning of his book, the historian provided quite a suitable comparison between the causes for the disaster related to the United Airlines flight 826 of Boeing and World War I. On the basis of the mysteriousness of the underlying flight and accompanied natural cataclysms, Fromkin leapt to a conclusion that “The sky out of which Europe fell was not empty; on the contrary, it was alive with processes and powers. The forces that were to devastate it – nationalism, socialism, imperialism. European world was already buffeted by high winds”. This assumption constitutes evidence that the researcher also supports the theory of deliberateness.
Still, there are different opinions about the cause of World War I. Doyle confirms that the Leninist concept began to dominate in Russian worldview. The gist of it was that World War I was is an imperialist, predatory war between two hostile factions of the capitalist powers, German-Austrian bloc and the Entente, for the sake of re-division of the already divided world, re-distribution of colonies, markets, spheres of influence and capital investment and for the enslavement of other nations. In this connection, an attempt was made to gloss over the Anglo-German and Franco-German conflict. Stressing the defensive nature of the foreign policy of the Entente, the bourgeois historians emphasized the Tsarist expansion in the Balkans and in the Middle East. In turn, Balkans on the eve of the war truly turned into one of the most dangerous hotbeds of international tension. The Austro-German expansion in the Balkans, Germany’s commitment to Turkey under its influence and the establishment in the area of the Black Sea sharply aggravated Russian-German conflict, so the tsarist government was forced to move away from the policy of maneuvering between the blocks and take the focus on the Anglo-French Entente. In the summer of 1914, it was advantageous to Germany to start a war, as the Russian army and navy were not ready. Germany headed for another war in the fall of 1913, after finishing reorganization of its army. The final decision was made about the war at a secret meeting with the German emperor of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne in October 1913 and June 1914.
A military confrontation between Germany and Russia was preceded by the opposition of the German and Russian imperialism on an economic basis. The main cause of World War I became the contradiction between the Allies and Central Powers coalition, primarily between Britain and Germany. However, there were other contradictions, which also influenced the course of the war, the contradictions between Germany and Austria-Hungary, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, Russia and Great Britain, Russia and France, and so on.
Along with the traditional understanding of the causes of World War I, a civilizational approach exists as a possible way of determining its causes. This approach consists of several groups of reasons. The first group of reasons that resulted in World War I is the general historical character. This is primarily an inter-civilizational struggle and cooperation of the dominant type of development. All civilizations at a certain stage of development want to expand their influence and balance of power. It is not only a territorial, military, and political expansion, but also a socio-cultural one. Going beyond their ethnic territories, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Russia, France, Japan, Italy, and the USA headed for establishing multicultural inter-ethnic States and Empires, consisting of metropolitan areas, colonies, and conquered countries. The imperial expansion of the great powers dated back to the 20th century. It reached the limits extremely enough to grow into the first global military-political conflict between their factions.
Globally, it was not only the interstate rivalry among the Powers of the Entente and the Triple Alliance. The essence of the conflict was the question – which of the two real options for the development of industrial society would the Western civilization adopt as a whole? The underlying problem of inter-civilizational and global character could be solved by means of starting World War I. However, the fatal inevitability of war did not actually exist, so it could have been omitted for the sake of the world’s safety. Thus, the countries had chosen a radical approach.
In addition, there was removed from an agrarian, traditional, feudal society to an industrial, modern bourgeois in Europe. This shift has led to fundamental changes, especially in the socio-demographic, military, and economic spheres. In place of a conglomerate of many peoples and nations, numerous bourgeois nation with the respective ideologies and military state institutions had come to being, which marked the beginning of long and wide-ranging preparations for the European war. The burden fell on the militarization of the European powers (Austro-Hungary, Germany, Italy, Russia, and France), which hindered their socio-economic development. The most advantageous position respectively belonged to Great Britain, Japan, and the United States overseas, particularly in the case of a protracted European war, which would lead to the weakening of continental powers.