The Short-War Illusion Problem and Deterrence Failure in 1914

free essayThe twentieth century is primarily associated with a series of confrontations between different countries, particularly with World War I. Prior to World War I, Europe achieved the highest level of its prosperity in comparison with previous years; furthermore, a prominent American historian, David Fromkin, claims that the level of Globalization before World War I was even higher than today despite the recent innovations and popularization of numerous informational technologies (3). In this way, the dominant states of Europe started the World War while reaching the pinnacle of the economic development. The problem of the beginning of World War I in the general context of economic prosperity becomes more ambiguous and inexplicable to some extent owing to the leading European states’ attempts to establish peace for the common sake and, thus, outlaw war in all its forms (Fromkin 4). In fact, the inability of the World War ensues from the Deterrence theory, according to which none of the dominant European state can start the military activity, because, in this way, it would stifle the existing economic, jeopardize political and social stability as well as trigger the military response of other great states. The Deterrence theory was mostly based on the value of general prosperity, which had to be more important for any nation than a war with its threats and instability. Additionally, despite the attempts to rationalize the prewar situation in Europe, the outbreak of World War I clearly demonstrates that warfare was advantegous at least for the members of the Triple Alliance that had begun the military activity against the lands under protection of the Triple Entente. Obviously, this fact partly confirms the futility of the Deterrence theory. The problem is that the members of the Triple Alliance had the short-war illusion that made them accept the German plan, which proposed a possible way to maintain the stability in Europe (or at least in Germany and its allies) and at the same time defeat France and Russia in order to gain an advantage over the Triple Entente. Furthermore, the plans of both the Triple Entente, which hoped to deter its rivals and, thus, avoid war, and the Triple Alliance, which aimed to win a short-term war, failed, because World War I began and ended after four and a half years with the defeat of the Triple Alliance.

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The Prewar Situation in Europe

The twentieth century brought a range of transformations to Europe. The core of transformations included the industrial revolution that refined manufacture and initiated the emergence of factories and plants based on the mechanized production. The industrial revolution subsequently caused a range of other enhancements in economic, social, and political spheres of life.

In the domain of the European economy, the industrial revolution presupposed both trading and military development. In regard to World War I, such changes had an ambiguous effect, because trading, which developed due to advancements in production process, worked against any military relations and exhorted the European leaders to cooperate. The development of military sector, in contrast, presupposed the possibility of the military solution of the contradictions between the European states. As Fromkin underlines, “in large part, in the new industrial age, Europe’s business had become the business of preparing to fight a war” (30). This ‘business’ could have two possible implications. Specifically, several states that shared the Deterrent theory (the Triple Entente) attempted to prevent the aggression of their possible counterparts by implementing this strategy and, in this way, preserve the status quo. Others (the Triple Alliance) hoped to change their political and economic situations through the direct military aggression against the members of the triple Entente that possessed the majority of the colonial lands in the world. Thus, both parties had their reasons for the military development.

Regarding the social sphere, the industrial revolution caused internal contradictions within the most industrialized states. On the one hand, there were a range of disputes between manufacturers whose production relied on the industrial development and low-class farmers whose livelihood was of agrarian origin. On the other hand, there were contradictions between a factory’s staff and its owners who looked in different directions in terms of profitability strategies and production process. Thus, the industrialization precipitated the development of socialism as a political movement oriented around the protection of the rights of the working class. Along with the class-oriented socialists, there were nationalists in each European state. They aimed to establish nationally oriented states, thereby destroying the empires that intended to achieve unification with secondary nations and gain some profit from such associations. Thus, “domestic strife threatened all the countries of Western Europe” (Fromkin 22). Along with the socialist internationalism, “the most widespread feeling in Europe at the time was xenophobia”, and both of these movements undermined the internal welfare of all the European states (Fromkin 26). Despite the international stability and cooperation, the dominant European states faced many problems that required instantaneous resolution.

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Along with the social, political, and economic transformations that followed industrialization, the twentieth century also presupposed some challenges for the existing world order because of the increasing development of Germany. On the one hand, in the beginning of the century, Germany was a leader in the sphere of industrial development in Europe, and, thus, its social and economic problems outlined above were also more significantly expressed than those of its counterparts and allies (Fromkin 20). The social split that ensued from industrialization led to the situation in which “Germany’s leaders would have to pursue an aggressive foreign policy to distract attention from problems at home that remained unsolved” (Fromkin 20). Most importantly, the rise of Germany as a new yet powerful European state accelerated the division of all the colonial lands between the old European leaders, and, ultimately, Germany remained without its colonies (Fromkin 19). Subsequently, that situation caused the Morocco crises of 1905-06 and of 1911, and generally justified the military opposition between Germany and the Triple Entente for the German people and its administration.

Considering the brief description of the pre-war events, it is clear that the first decades of the twentieth century were full of contradictions between the leading European states, and, hence, they were predominantly concerned about the means of conflicts settlement. As David Fromkin underlines, for the European majority, the beginning of World War I was totally unexpected, and, thus, most of the Europeans were in shock and deep despair. Additionally, the Europeans’ inability to prepare themselves for the World War stemmed from two kinds of illusions that they cherished, namely the short-war illusion and the viability of the Deterrence theory, each of which denied the possibility of any long military conflict between the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance.

The Illusions Concerning the Beginning of World War I

Despite the obvious factors that had caused World War I, the European majority (including the dominant states’ administration) did not decipher those signals. There were two general illusions that did not allow them to properly interpret the existing reality and ensure necessary responses to the challenges of the epochal transformations. Also, the problem lied in the contradiction between the outdated worldviews as well as approaches of the European countries and the modern social, political, and economic reality that required fresh perspective. Subsequently, the results of those outdated patterns of thinking concerned the Deterrence theory shared by the members of the Triple Entente and the short-war plan of the participants of the Triple Alliance.

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The main idea of the Deterrence theory is that any military conflict is avoidable due to the deterrence measures for those who can start it. The effect of deterrence includes two dimensions: the passive and active ones. The former means the creation of such conditions in which war would only destroy the existing political and economic balance and, thus, cause problems for all the states that receive profits from the existing stability (Lecture, April 12, 2017). As for the active deterrence, it presupposes the demonstration of the deterring states’ military power in order to stop any possible aggressor’s intention of commencing a war (Lecture, April 12, 2017). The implications of the active deterrence are evidently costly but effective; however, it also raises some uncertainties concerning the extent of the escalation of the responsive aggression (Lecture, April 7, 2017). All of the abovementioned mechanisms could protect the world from war in nineteenth century, but in twentieth century they became outdated. For example, the Deterrence theory, which relies on the international stability as one of the aspects of the passive deterrence, considers neither Germany’s need for colonies nor the industrialized states’ internal struggles led by socialists and nationalists against the empires to which they belonged. Thus, each of the dominant European states found themselves in the situation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, when all parties lose, because they prefer personal profits to collaboration (Lecture, April 17, 2017). Moreover, each of the participants of World War I did not want to find a compromise and hoped to tame its counterpart through aggression, which unlimitedly amplified hostility. In this way, World War I uncovered the internal problems of the dominant European states as well as the futility of the Deterrence theory.

The short-war plan elaborated by the German military administration exemplifies another illusion that did not allow the Europeans to understand that the conflict between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente would lead to a World War. According to this plan, Germany (with its allies) due to its geographical position (with France and Great Britain in the West and Russia in the East) had only one way to win the war – to make warfare very short in order to prevent the total responsive mobilization in the members of the Triple Entente after the German would attack one of them. Thus, the plan was to invade France and conquer it by occupying the key points of the state. Subsequently, the German armies had to return to Germany and attack Russia, which (as Germans supposed) could not mobilize its military forces so quickly to attack Germany in response. However, as long as this plan included the participation of Austria-Hungary, whose military forces were weaker than those of Germany, and underestimated the military potential of Russia, it was doomed to failure from its very beginning. Furthermore, the plan of Schlieffen and Moltke was not a concrete plan, but rather a collection of abstract ideas concerning the preferable way to win the war (Fromkin 35-36). Therefore, the underestimation of the rivals’ military potential as well as the overestimation of Germany’s military forces resulted in Germany’s outdated evaluation of the reality. Particularly, the plan simply did not pay attention to the increasing pace of the European economies and, lacked the concrete data. Thus, the short-war illusion as well as the Deterrence theory became the result of the inability of the dominant European states to evaluate the reality adequately.

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Through the analysis provided, it seems that the problem of both parties of World War I (the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance) lied in their inability to understand the peculiarities of the reality of the twentieth century. Instead, both the short-war illusion and the Deterrence theory demonstrate that either the Triple Alliance that developed the former or the Triple Entente guided by the latter tried to plan their activities and interpret those of their counterparts through the patterns characteristic for the previous times that preceded the twentieth century which was different due to the industrial revolution. Thus, the short-war illusion was based on the inability to correctly evaluate the technical and military potential of the members of the Triple Entente. However, the members of the Triple Alliance did not conquer France in time since Russia attacked them before the expected time. In addition, the failure of the Deterrence theory also stemmed from, the Triple Entente’s outdated views. The members of the Triple Entente could not understand that despite the general economic success of Europe, the participants of the Triple Alliance had many problems with nationalism in their states as well as the colonies that were mostly divided between the members of the Triple Entente. Such difficulties were unprecedented for the twentieth century, and with the high level of Globalization they became sharper. In this way, World War I appeared as a way to resolve the contradictions between the reality and the outdated governing approaches the dominant European states.

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