Militarism, in the sense that it resulted in militarily ready and aggressive nations, was inarguably responsible for the Great War being the large-scale bloody war that it was, but it can be argued that militarism did not essentially cause the war, nor did tensions between the heavily armed countries make war inevitable. Militarism, in the sense that it resulted in tensions between heavily armed nations, can be rejected as being a cause of the First World War. Proponent of this argument, historian David Stevenson in “an improbable war”, cites the Cold War as leading evidence. Although militarism reached its peak in the Cold War, the conflict never turned into a hot war; if the tensions pre- 1914 where to cause the Great War, then the tensions between the superpowers in the Cold war would have unleashed an armed conflict. It is inarguable that nuclear weapons created unparalleled tension. A limitation to this argument however is the proxy wars, which inarguably reduced the tensions between the superpowers over the course of the Cold War.
Another deterrent from the Cold War turning into an armed conflict however was the fact that both superpowers had already acquired supremacy and neither wanted to risk their power by entering a war in which their victory was not guaranteed, and so the tensions created by the heavy armaments never pushed the superpowers to war; each of the superpowers knew better. However, there were no established superpowers in Europe before 1914, and so a great motive of the European nations was either maintaining the balance of power in Europe, or enhancing the power and prestige of their own nation (Hamilton, 41). Similarly, economic arguments are used to demonstrate that territorial conquest had become unprofitable in the time of the Cold War, and capitalism therefore was the deterrent to war. Most nations before WW1 large-scale territorial annexations and motive for war could’ve been the desire to expand territory and better a country’s economy; imperialism. Historian Paul Schroeder Europe’s balance of power in broke down after 1890 as imperialist visions prevailed.
The “Blank Check”
A commonly neglected aspect of WW1 is the basis of the “blank check”, which brings to light Germany’s faulty assumptions as well as the Austro-Hungarian responsibility in starting the war. From this perspective, the authority of military leaders is not what has pushed the powers to the brink of war. During 1914, Germany had been consumed in political upheaval, and the election of the Social Democratic Party threatened the survival of the existing regime. The “blank check” was an attempt to calm internal political tensions and to reassure the people that Germany was both an economically and militarily a strong power. Max Hastings, British military author and Journalist states that “A key factor in Berlin’s original decision to fight had been a desire to crush the perceived domestic socialist menace, by achieving a conspicuous triumph over Germany’s foreign foes”. The validity of this can be evaluated against Count Szogyeni’s