Institutional Explanations of the Crisis Of 1914

In geopolitics, the European region has been one of the most stable. For decades, countries in this region have maintained strong diplomatic ties with one another. Researchers have suggested, however, that one of the fundamental reasons of the First World War was the failure of diplomatic institutions to engage in important activities aimed at promoting and maintaining peace. Ideological disputes resulted in the establishment of political coalitions and institutions that triggered World War One. Diplomacy and peacekeeping are entrusted to specialized entities in contemporary geopolitics. At the time of the advent of World War I, institutions formed under various alliances were mainly aimed at coordination of war and advancement of nationalistic agenda. The events in the run-up to the First World War depicted war as one of the easiest means of resolving a conflict. The general inclination of leadership and the citizenry towards war seems to have infiltrated the important institutions. Therefore, many of them seemed to prefer war to diplomatic approaches of conflict resolution. This paper will provide an institutional explanation of the crisis of 1914. It will look at the various relevant institutions, their philosophies and activities preceding the war between Serbia and Austria Hungary. Though World War I was to act as a lesson, it is apparent that institutional lapses have continued to occur until today. This has put diplomatic relations and world peace in a precarious condition; not only in Europe but also the rest of the world. The paper will look at the diplomacy situation in Europe and its implications on world peace from the period of World War I to date.

European Diplomacy Before 1914

European countries have had strong ties for a long period of time. Just like in contemporary geopolitics, some countries had stronger ties to others due to ideological similarities and differences. One of the key aspects of these ties that had strong implications on peace was alignments and realignments in anticipation of war (4-17-17). The logic of war dominated many actions affiliated to international relations at the time. Therefore, countries sought allies with the anticipation of support in case of an attack by enemies. Having strong relations with major powers also solicited fear from a country’s enemies. Minor powers like Serbia gained respect and recognition from the mere fact that they were allies of more powerful nations like Russia and Britain. Therefore, many foreign diplomats and ministers were concern about political realignments that would instil fear in their neighbours and offer support in case their nations go into war.

Activities of key Diplomatic Institutions in the period preceding the war

At the advent of the 20th century, the main institutions in charge of foreign relations were government departments and ministries. The political, economic and military alliances were controlled by foreign affairs ministers and officials (Fromkin 3). There was no one common and strong international body that could come up with institutions for peacekeeping and resolution of conflict.

Major geopolitical events were associated with military power and strong alliances. In the 19th century, some of the most important developments in Europe were liked to war. For instance, the unification of Germany was liked to three major wars: Austria and Prussia united in a war against Denmark in 1864, Austria and Prussia fought in 1866 while France and Prussia fought between 1870 and 1871. After these wars, the German Empire was proclaimed in Paris (4-7-17). The unification of Italy was also linked to war. Other significant wars in the 19th century included that between Spain and America, Japan and Russia and between the British and the Boers of South Africa. Therefore, stakeholders focused their attention on war.

War seemed as a very important action for countries at the advent of the 19th century. Therefore, some of the key institutions that determined the strength of a country were the army, the navy and the air force. Nations were making heavy investments towards enhancing the strength and influence of their armed forces. Security was viewed as a subset of military prowess rather than diplomacy and good international relations. The main institution behind determination of war and peace was the armed forces. The military strength of the countries forming various rival alliances were key determinants of the balance of power (4-10-17). Foreign affairs ministries were mainly focused on forming, joining and strengthening existing military alliances as a tool for fostering their nationalistic egos and agendas. It was believed that by having military strength or being a member of an alliance with military prowess, one was immune to attacks from enemies. The rival countries would fear retaliatory attacks from the allies. Contemporary institutional theories consider war as less likely because they prefer negotiations and agreements to settle disputes. Contemporary institutions are formed on a global or regional scale and have clear constitutions and cultures that guide their actions and deliberations. There existed a vacuum where there was no powerful international institution that could broker peace between two warring countries in 1914.

The vacuum created by lack of international institutions, that could broker peace, compromised the credibility of negotiations between conflicting nations. Therefore, countries would agree to negotiate for peace, but with a worry that their counterparts may not be sincere in the course of the deliberations. This is what characterized the deliberations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary after the assassination at Sarajevo. The Austria-Hungarian empire felt that Serbia’s government had a hand in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. According to Fromkin (11), Austria had purposed to spark off a war between itself and Serbia. It believed that its allies were strong and would help it to overcome Serbia and advance its demands.

The existence of a sound and impartial mediator would have helped prevent the war. Some of the demands issued to Serbia were encroaching on its independence and sovereignty and it was apparent that they would be rejected. Fromkin (13) notes that Serbia was lenient by giving in to most of the demands. He notes that these demands had been drafted before the assassination and the incident was only utilized as the most convenient excuse to start the war.

In the contemporary world, international organizations have played a key role in preventing wars. The League of Nations and the United Nations were formed in reaction to the two respective world wars. Despite their many successes, these two organizations have largely been viewed as failures. These two international bodies have come under heavy criticism with claims of lack of impartiality when resolving issues (4-21-17). Despite the alleged ineffectiveness, it is evident that institutions formed under these two, in addition to other international and regional organizations, have had a positive impact on peace and conflict resolution.

In the run-up to the First World War, there was a gap created by the absence of international organizations that could arbitrate on conflicts between nations (4-7-17). Therefore, the most significant institutions were foreign ministries. Other institutions charged with the responsibility of maintaining peace and order to the national level. This meant that they had no power to intervene and even arbitrate on conflicts between nations. Therefore, powerful countries controlled the world and many smaller countries sought the friendship of at least one of the powerful nations.

Before the establishment of international institutions and their agencies, the geopolitical atmosphere was controlled by the powerful nations that were desperate to prove their might. Britain had remained powerful for a long time due to its naval power. This dominance was under threat of the Germans. Germany’s economy was becoming more powerful and was making efforts to counter Britain’s military dominance (4-7-17). The US was an emerging superpower at the time. However, its dominance was also under threat from China. The Chinese developed a quest for global supremacy. Their rising military power was equated to their economic growth.

In the absence of powerful international institutions that would instil order and peaceful coexistence, the powerful nations dictated economic, social and political relations. Britain and the US had democratic forms of government that could be removed through elections. On the other hand, Germany, Russia and China had irremovable governments. Both categories of countries were keen to increase their dominance and military power. Due to the increasing need for dominance, armed forces and foreign affairs ministries were very key institutions. The positive correlation that existed between political power and military supremacy made it hard for the authorities and institutions to contain the situation in 1912 and 1913 (Fromkin 23). During these two years, there occurred two successive military conflicts. The two wars led to the loss of the territory that had remained under the Ottoman Empire. The success of one of the sides in this war acted as a motivator to the rest of Europe and the world that war was one of the effective ways of conflict resolution.

Regional alliances and institutions were formed with the intention of coordinating wars. The Balkan League was formed in 1912 (Fromkin 9). It was an alliance of five nations aimed at seizing Macedonia from Turkey. During this time, Turkey was in a war with Italy. Montenegro first declared war against Italy in October 1912. The rest of the members of the Balkan League came in and joined the war after some time. The Balkan allies achieved their mandate. A peace conference was held in London to help resolve the boundary. However, a coup d’état in Ottoman followed this conference and the Balkan League was in war with the Ottomans again. Eventually, most of the regions under the Ottoman empire had to be shared among the members of the Balkan league. During this time, the powerful nations only intervened after war had failed to resolve the conflict. Therefore, it is clear that the world preferred war to arbitration and negotiations.

The second Balkan war pitted Serbia, Greece and Romania on one side and Bulgaria on the other. Eventually, Bulgaria ceded a large proportion of its territorial to Serbia and Greece after the former was defeated (Fromkin 3). In these smaller wars, the superpowers only intervened after it had become apparent that war would not be effective in solving the conflict. If this failed to happen, the war could go on until one of the sides conceded defeat. The alliances formed and institutions under them were aimed at ensuring that the members win the war, rather than prevent it.

Concentration on military strength and boundary expansion distracted the Balkans from other important issues. The powers were keen to ensure that they buy the latest war technology from manufacturers around the world. France, Britain and Germany easily availed finances in form of loans and grants. The preoccupation of the Balkan governments with external war distracted them from internal issues. For instance, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and the Serbian Black Hand were terrorist organizations that gained ground while the respective governments were busy with external war (4-7-17). If there existed strong international institutions, there could have been a possibility of success in having the Balkan governments concentrate on internal issues.


The influence of nationalism was stronger than institutions of the time. This nationalism is what dictated the decisions by national governments, foreign ministries, alliances and institutions formed under them. There was no strong institution that would control the activities of the Balkans. Nationalistic passions culminated into the military alliance that was keen to take over most of Europe (4-10-17). The powerful nations could hardly intervene because some were allies to the members of the Balkan League while the rest feared that these allies would attack them if they openly condemned or stopped the activities of the Balkans.

Works Cited

Fromkin, David. Europe's last summer: who started the Great War in 1914?. Vintage, 2007.

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