Ch. 34 International Contacts and Conflicts, 1914-1999
In the first half of the twentieth century, global wars and a severe depression resulted in the decline
of Western Europe. The second period was defined by the great rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States. This
period, known as the cold war, led to the creation of alliance systems and economic unions. Each crisis extended the nature
of conflict more fully around the globe.
Confidence and Internationalism on the War's Eve
International organization was one of the harbingers of progress. The
Geneva Convention of 1864, the establishment of the Red Cross, the Telegraphic and Postal unions all pointed toward greater
international cooperation. Scientists and industrialists began to display their accomplishments at great fairs and international
gatherings. Internationalization had two weaknesses: dependence on Western dominance and the emergence of strong
nationalist movements. These weaknesses affected political cooperation, in particular. Discussions at the Hague in 1899 did
result in international agreements on treatment of war prisoners and banned certain types of warfare, but disarmament was
not accepted. A permanent court of arbitration, the World Court, did survive the conference.
World War I
To many contemporary observers, the end of the nineteenth century embodied the concept of human progress.
Few believed that international catastrophe was near at hand.
The Onset of World War
I To distract citizens from internal problems, European nations used first imperial conquests and then,
after 1900, military growth. The two alliance systems that enmeshed the major European nations focused increasingly on the
Balkans, where Russia and Austria-Hungary were engaged in an uneasy struggle for dominance. In the Balkans, a variety of
small, recently independent nations and Slavic minorities sought advantages by appealing to whichever of the European
powers seemed likely to advance their causes. When the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, Austria
declared war on Serbia. Russia immediately mobilized its forces to protect its Balkan ally. Germany, France, and Britain were
rapidly drawn into the conflict by terms of the various alliance systems.
Patterns of War in Europe
There were three fronts to the war. The first, the western front, was in France, where German
armies confronted French and British troops for much of the war. The second front covered a great distance across Poland
and Russia. This eastern front was the battleground between German and Russian forces. The Italian front developed after
1915 between Austria-Hungary and Italy. Surface sea battles were uncommon during World War I, but the Germans mounted
an intensive submarine campaign against Allied shipping. The western front featured trench warfare, where the new
technology of machine guns, barbed wire, poison gas, and massed artillery wreaked havoc on the contending armies. There