Academic journal article Military Review

The Origins of the First World War

Academic journal article Military Review

The Origins of the First World War

Article excerpt

THE ORIGINS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR, William Mulligan, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2010, 256 pages, $24.99.

Few topics in historical debate are as contested as the causes of the First World War. William Mulligan, writing for Cambridge's New Approaches to European History series, admirably summarizes current scholarship on the topic. Mulligan refutes traditional explanations for the war. He argues that the war was not inevitable, but instead a unique breakdown of the usual restraints against war. Mulligan notes the incentives that European powers had against war. His approach is refreshing and enlightening, given the decades-long lull in fi ghting in Europe after the Franco-Prussian war.

Before 1914, there had been several wars between Serbia and its neighbors. Mulligan argues that concerted action by the Great Powers halted wars in the Balkans in 1912 and 1913, but that "self discipline in Vienna and St. Petersburg was [a] vital element in successful crisis management." Similar discipline is visible in many of the colonial confl icts, such as the Moroccan Crisis. Mulligan correctly points out that self discipline likely happens only when the vital interests of the state are not at risk. Confl icting claims on tracts of Africa may lead to diplomatic crisis, but no European nation was willing to risk a general war for the Congo.

According to Mulligan, the July Crisis was a complete breakdown of early diplomatic and political norms. He places much of the blame on Austria-Hungary. …

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