Where Is The Tipping Point? – OpEd


It is generally believed that the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ignited the First World War. Narratives on the causes of the War differ. Wikipedia’s narrative on the identification of the causes of World War I remains a debated issue. It claims that World War I began in the Balkans on July 28, 1914, and hostilities ended on November 11, 1918.

Moreover, the Russian Civil War can in many ways be considered a continuation of World War I, as can various other conflicts in the direct aftermath of 1918. Scholars looking at the long term seek to explain why two rival sets of powers (the German Empire and Austria-Hungary against the Russian Empire, France, the British Empire, and later the United States) came into conflict by 1915. They look at such factors as political, territorial, and economic competition; militarism, a complex web of alliances and alignments; imperialism, the growth of nationalism; and the power vacuum created by the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

Other important long-term or structural factors that are often studied include unresolved territorial disputes, the perceived breakdown of the European balance of power, convoluted and fragmented governance, arms race, and security dilemmas, among other factors.   

Scholars seeking short-term analysis focus on the summer of 1914 and ask whether the conflict could have been stopped, or instead, whether deeper causes made it inevitable. The assassination referred to earlier escalated as the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was joined by their allies Russia, Germany, France, and ultimately Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Other factors that came into play during the diplomatic crisis leading up to the war included misperceptions of intent (such as the German belief that Britain would remain neutral), the fatalistic belief that war was inevitable, and the speed with which the crisis escalated, partly due to delays and misunderstandings in diplomatic communications. The crisis followed a series of diplomatic clashes among the Great Powers (ItalyFranceGermanyUnited KingdomAustria-Hungary, and Russia) over European and colonial issues in the decades before 1914 that had left tensions high. And the cause of the public clashes can be traced to changes in the balance of power in Europe that had been taking place since 1867.

Consensus on the origins of the war remains elusive since historians disagree on key factors and place differing emphasis on a variety of factors. That is compounded by as classified historical archives become available, and as the perspectives and ideologies of historians have changed. The deepest division among historians is between those who see Germany and Austria-Hungary as having driven events and those who focus on power dynamics among a wider set of actors and circumstances.

Secondary fault lines exist between those who believe that Germany deliberately planned a European war, those who believe that the war was largely unplanned but was still caused principally by Germany and Austria-Hungary taking risks, and those who believe that some or all of the other powers (Russia, France, Serbia, United Kingdom) played a more significant role in causing the war than has been traditionally suggested. Another narrative points to Kaiser Wilhelm II, role in causing the War. Because mighty Russia supported Serbia, Austria-Hungary waited to declare war until its leaders received assurance from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause. Austro-Hungarian leaders feared that a Russian intervention would involve Russia’s ally, France, and possibly Great Britain as well. On July 5, Kaiser Wilhelm secretly pledged his support, giving Austria-Hungary a so-called carte blanche, or “blank check” assurance of Germany’s backing in the case of war.

The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary then sent an ultimatum to Serbia, with such harsh terms as to make it almost impossible to accept. Convinced that Austria-Hungary was readying for war, the Serbian government ordered the Serbian army to mobilize and appealed to Russia for assistance. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers quickly collapsed. Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had begun.

The causes of the Second World War are neither singular nor straightforward. This section will explore the primary causes which led to the outbreak of war in 1939. Germany’s aggressive foreign policy was not the sole cause of the Second World War, but it was a large contributing factor. From 1935 onwards, Germany had actively pursued an aggressive foreign policy: reintroducing conscription, and occupying Austria, the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia before eventually invading Poland in 1939. By breaking international agreements set out in the Treaty of Versailles and pursuing aggressive expansionism, Germany’s actions made a major European war more likely. In the aftermath of the First World War and following the end of the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles was agreed. Whilst a temporary economic recovery appeared between 1924-1929, Germany remained politically and economically fragile.

The political instability from 1929-1933 led to disillusionment with politics and a rise in support for extremist parties such as the Nazis. The Treaty of Versailles also reduced the size of Germany. This had numerous outcomes, among them losing key economic outputs, as well as making people who had previously been German part of other countries. The change in the eastern borders of Germany in particular became a source of contention, and as a result, many people within Germany felt that the treaty was unfair. This again led to discontent and was exploited by extremist parties such as the Nazis who rejected of the treaty. 

The weakness of the International System and the Policy of Appeasement became apparent. Whilst Germany’s foreign policy played a decisive role in the outbreak of the Second World War, the failure of other countries to react, or their inability to react, was also key. The aftermath of the First World War had also left France and Britain in politically and economically weak situations. This meant that they were often unwilling or unable to respond effectively to German aggression. Britain in particular felt that the Treaty of Versailles, and its effects on Germany, were harsh. Following the devastation of the First World War, Britain was desperate to avoid another world war. As a result of this followed a policy of appeasement towards Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy from 1933-1939. This policy boosted Hitler’s confidence and as a result, his actions became progressively bolder.

Outside of mainland Europe, the USA and the Soviet Union also played key roles in the outbreak of the Second World War. In the lead-up to 1939, both countries followed increasingly isolationist policies, keeping themselves out of international foreign affairs where possible. The USA had not joined the League of Nations and had passed several Neutrality Acts in 1938 which avoided financial and political war-related deals. As a major power, the USA’s reluctance to involve itself in other country’s affairs helped to embolden Hitler and the Nazis. This contributed to the rise of Nazism in Europe, and its confidence to carry out its aggressive foreign policy without fear of retaliation from the USA.

In addition to this, following the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 , the Soviets ceased to be an immediate threat to the Nazis. This allowed them to start the war for Lebensraum with Soviet support. When combined, these factors reduced the chances of an effective challenge to Nazi Germany preceding the Second World War. It meant that Hitler was able to get progressively more confident without fear of retaliation or serious action from other powers. Creation of the Axis Powers Throughout the 1930s, new alliances were forged across Europe.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) helped to unite Italy and Germany, who both offered military support to the nationalist rebels attacking the democratic government.  Prior to this, Italy and Germany had not been militarily aligned, and Italy had blocked Germany’s plans to annex Austria in 1934. Following the Spanish Civil War, however, relations between the two countries improved. In October 1936, the Rome-Berlin Treaty between Italy and Germany was signed. The following month in November 1936, an anti-communist treaty, the Anti-Comintern Pact, was signed between Japan and Germany.

In 1937, Italy joined this pact. The three countries formalized these pacts into a military alliance in 1940. The countries that were part of this alliance became known as the Axis Powers. When coupled with Germany’s aggressive foreign policy, the creation of an alternative military alliance to the Allies, intensified the volatile situation. The Failure of the Allied Powers in the Summer of 1939 The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were ideological enemies. Despite this, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany entered into a non-aggression pact in the summer of 1939, which allowed them to invade and occupy parts of Poland. This pact suited both countries’ territorial aims.

This situation, however, was not inevitable. In 1939, the Soviet Union was initially engaged in talks with the Allies over a defensive strategy for Poland. When these talks broke down, the Soviet Union turned back towards Germany, quickly agreeing on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Ultimately, the Allies failed to make a concerted effort to work together to prevent Hitler’s attack on Poland. This failure was a contributing factor in the outbreak of the Second World War. The War ended with the victory of the Allied powers in 1945 with US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin busy with the division of defeated Germany and the trial of Nuremberg. 

China At The End Of World War II

The end of the Second World War saw China, now US President Joe Biden’s enemy number one, effectively divided into three regions—Nationalist China under control of the Ching Kai Shek’s government, Communist China, and the areas occupied by Japan. Each was essentially pitted against the other two, although Chinese military forces were ostensibly allied under the banner of the United Front.

By the time Japan accepted the surrender terms on August 14, 1945, China had endured decades of Japanese occupation and eight years of brutal warfare. The end of World War II did not mark the end of the conflict in China, however. Japan’s defeat set off a race between the Nationalists and Communists to control population centers in northern China and Manchuria. Nationalist troops, using the transportation facilities of the U.S. military, were able to take over key cities and most railway lines in East and North China. Communist troops occupied much of the hinterland in the north and in Manchuria. The United Front had always been precarious, and it had been tacitly understood by both the Nationalists and Communists that they would cooperate only until Japan had been defeated; until then, neither side could afford to seem to pursue internal aims at the cost of the national struggle.

China has traveled many miles since then by becoming the second richest country in the world. IMF is hopeful that China and India will help global growth in the coming years. In its latest chart, IMF has predicted that in the region will contribute about 70 percent of global growth this year—a much greater share than in recent years. IMF’S latest Regional Economic Outlook describes the resilience of the world’s most dynamic region and the important challenges facing its policymakers. Though lately China is beleaguered by Xi-Jinping’s failure to transform the economy to consumption-oriented from foreign trade-based People now prefer to keep their money in banks than spend on real estate which has become problematic. Besides lack of employment to educated people has brought in a frustrated class. Whether XI-Jinping will try to gain popular support by invading Taiwan remains to be seen. 

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *