History Paper on WWI and WWII: Total War and More Total War

WWI started in 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian empire in Sarajevo and lasted until 1918. The war pitted the Central Powers including Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire against the Allied Powers comprising of Great Britain, France, Romania, Italy, Russia, Japan, and the United States. A number of circumstances led to WWI one of these being the rising power of Germany not only in Europe but globally. As of the 1890s, Germany have developed into an industrial power thus surpassing countries such as the United Kingdom that previously accounted for 25 percent of the total global industrial production. However, by 1913, the UK only accounted for only 10 percent of the world’s industrial production whereas Germany’s share of global industrial production had increased to 15 percent. Britain did not take Germany’s rise in industrial production lightly and viewed it as a growing threat. In response, Britain resorted to create an alliance with France and later extended the alliance to include Russia resulting in the formation of the Triple Entente.

On its part, Germany saw this as a threat not only to its industrial growth but also security. Thus, Germany also formed a relationship with Austria-Hungary. The formation of alliances in Europe resulted in a security dilemma whereby states focused more on increasing their own security.  Evidently, Britain sought to increase or strengthen its security and settled on forming alliances with other European nations. This move made Germany feel less secure and it responded by forming alliances with other states as well. The formation of alliances in a bid to increase own security of nations paved the way for tensions that gradually led to conflict and ultimately WWI. Based on these perspectives, WWI could have been avoided if Britain had not perceived Germany’s growth in industrial production as a threat. On the other hand, Germany should have focused on its industrial production rather than forming alliances in retaliation to Britain’s decision to form alliances with other European nations.

The above explanation of the circumstances that led to WWI is centered on the system level of analysis. This level of analysis is believed to be broader than the state and individual levels of analysis. The system level of analysis explains the behavior of states using the characteristics of the international system. It argues that state power and polarity are fundamental concepts that explain why states behave in a particular way. Britain’s perception of Germany’s rising power forced it to form an alliance with France and Russia. On the other hand, Germany believed that Britain’s alliance with other nations would increase its power and threaten Germany hence the decision to form an alliance with other European nations.

Week 3 Forum

Realism is not only the oldest theory in the international relations context but also the most dominant. According to realists, the insecurity of nations is one of the major problems in the context of international relations. They argue that states in the international system, self-help is the primary source of motivation. Realists further give explanations for the cause of insecurity including man’s innate desire for power, conflicts of interest that usually arise between states that possess or are endowed with different resources, political orders, and economic systems (Walt). This can be seen in Japan’s decision to attack China and Italy’s decision to attack Ethiopia in 1935 both of which led to WWII. Realists believe that insecurity can be ameliorated by factors such as polarity, the offense-defense balance, domestic politics, and the shifts in the balance of power. Realists state that some of the solutions that states should consider when it comes to insecurity include maximization of power, formation of international alliances, socialization and innovation, arms racing, as well as diplomacy. Before WWII, nations needed to enhance their security thus they formed alliances as can be seen in the alliance between Germany, Japan, and Italy. There was also the alliance between the U.S., Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France.

To liberalists, fighting insecurity is only necessary when the insecurity presents a direct threat to a particular country. Unlike realists who believe that the international community is in a state of anarchy, liberalists argue that fighting insecurity is only important when there are long-term interests from the norms of the international community that are enshrined in a formal institution (Owen IV). The formation of the United Nations after WWII to resolve conflicts among nations is a demonstration of a collective security system where interests are a community norm. According to liberalists, a nation that violates common interests that are established by an institution of stability commits moral injustice and must be stopped. Liberalists hardly consider aggression as a solution to insecurity but believe that multi-state cooperation with institutional norms is a perfect solution to the problem of insecurity.

Realism in its solutions to insecurity has strengths and weaknesses. One of its weaknesses is that it typically relies on the view of humans that is derived from assuming a supposedly human nature that is conflict-prone. Another weakness is that it treats politics within and among nations as one that involves endless competition for advantage. A strength of the theory is that it gives an explanation to an issue or problem. For instance, it perfectly explains that WWII was as a result of power-hungry states and states that feared for their own survival (Walt). On the other hand, in its solutions to insecurity, a strength of liberalism is its conceptual taming of the state whereby it stresses the replacement of states if they no longer make people secure. Its weakness is that it ignores the incentives for even liberals to have a thinking similar to that of the state once they capture or take control of it (Owen IV).




Owen IV, John M. “Liberalism and Security.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies, 2017. Accessed 14 May. 2019. https://oxfordre.com/internationalstudies/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.001.0001/acrefore-9780190846626-e-33.

Walt, Stephen M. “Realism and Security.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies,2017. Accessed 14 May. 2019. https://oxfordre.com/internationalstudies/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.001.0001/acrefore-9780190846626-e-286.