Balance of Power in 1914

Balance of Power in 1914

During the 19th Century, the balance of power across Europe had been carefully managed by all powers to ensure they could live in relative peace. However, as the century turned and 1914 arrived, growing Opens internal link in current windownationalism, militarism (including a spiralling arms race) and imperial rivalry had caused irreparable damage to relations between the continent’s strongest nations.

There were many events that affected the balance of power in 1914, but arguably one of the most significant was German unification in 1871, which saw the western German states ally with the Northern German Confederation and the German Empire was proclaimed. This new empire was strengthened even further in 1879 when Germany formed an alliance with Austria-Hungary, and then with Italy in 1882.


Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German Empire wearing the traditional Prussian Pickelhaube helmet

The growing strength of Germany (at the hands of Kaiser Wilhelm II) caused alarm across Europe, prompting Russia and France to form an alliance in 1893 in a bid to ensure they were strong enough to face any potential military action. While Britain had long considered both countries to be potential enemies, the turn-of-the-century announcement that Germany planned to build a naval fleet that exceeded to strength of even the world leaders (Britain) was the nail in coffin of their relationship. Britain subsequently began alliance negotiations with both France and Russia.

While the alliances ensured the main powers of Europe felt relatively prepared for war, each also began to make their own individual preparations to ensure they could defend their national interests. The majority even began to launch arms programmes and compulsory service campaigns to ensure their armies were grown and maintained. Some even started to develop a war plan in case war broke out, although historians argue that this only contributed to tensions that eventually triggered the start of World War One.

Below is a table that outlines the military strength of Europe’s major powers in 1914:

GB France Russia Germany A-Hungary Turkey
Population 46,407,037 39,601,509 167,000,000 65,000,000 49,882,231 21,373,900
Soldiers* 711,000^ 3,500,000 4,423,000 8,500,000~ 3,000,000 360,000
Merchant fleet (tons) 11,530,000 1,098,000 486,914 3,096,000 559,784 66,878
Battleships 64 28 16 40 16
Cruisers 121 34 14 57 12
Submarines 64 73 29 23 6
Value foreign trade (£) 1,223,152,000 424,000,000 190,247,000 1,030,380,000 198,712,000 67,472,000
Steel prod.** 6,903,000 4,333,000 4,416,000 17,024,000 2,642,000
Railways *** 23,441 25,471 46,573 39,439 27,545 3,882

* = in 1914 on mobilisation

^ = including British Empire

~ = Emergency maximum figure

** = tons

*** = miles

MLA Citation/Reference

"Balance of Power in 1914". 2019. Web.