Introduction - WW1 ImperialismImperialism was one of the main causes of World War One. In the years leading up to the outbreak of the war the major European military powers scrambled to increase their empires by establishing new colonies and territories in such places as Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. This imperialism caused friction between these countries as they often came into conflict over territories. These conflicts deepened the divide between countries such as Britain and Germany and strengthened alliances between other countries such as Britain, France, and Russia. On this page we list interesting facts about how imperialism caused WW1, what countries were imperialistic, and why countries wished to expand their sphere of influence.
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Reasons for Imperialism Prior to World War 1
- Nationalism - another major cause of WW1, nationalism, fueled imperialism. In the early 1900s European countries wished to increase their strength and prove their superiority by expanding their empires.
- Raw Materials - Prior to WW1 European countries were developing rapidly and desperately needed raw materials such as timber and metals to fuel this development. Colonies could provide cheap raw materials.
- Military Advantage - Some regions in the world were strategically important. For example ports where war ships can refuel and be repaired.
- Cheap Labor - Colonies often provided cheap labor. Workers would often work long hours for very little pay and were often exploited and forced to work for nothing.
- New Markets - The cheap raw materials obtained from colonies would often be processed in the controlling country and then shipped back to the colony to be sold.
Interesting World War 1 Imperialism Facts
- By the outbreak of World War 1 Britain controlled an empire 140 times larger than itself; France controlled an empire 20 times its own size; and Belgium about 80 times its own size.
- The late 1800s through the early 1900s saw the rapid colonization of Africa by Europeans; this period has been called "the Scramble for Africa". European countries competed for colonies wanting to control them for their vast natural resources and as a market for their goods.
- Britain had a far stretching empire in the early 1900s and was by far the greatest imperial power at that time. Some of the regions Britain controlled were India, South Africa, Egypt and other parts of Africa, and several Pacific and Caribbean Islands.
- Germany which had become a world super power after their unification in 1871 wanted to create an empire to rival that of Britain. This led to a naval arms race between Germany and Britain.
- An example of how imperialism caused tensions between the European powers prior to WW1 are two incidents called the First Moroccan Crisis and the Second Moroccan Crisis. These incidents, in which Germany attempted to gain control over the North African country of Morocco, almost led to war between Germany, France, and Britain. It also strengthened the alliance between Britain and France against Germany.
- Perhaps the best example of how imperialism was a cause of World War 1 is when, in 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina which were former territories of the Ottoman Empire. This caused great protest from several European countries and Austria-Hungary's neighbor Serbia. It was the tension between Austria-Hungary and Serbia that sparked the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a group wishing to unify several territories including Bosnia into a Yugoslavia.