Wilhelm II sought to improve Germany’s status as an empire. Highly nationalistic, he was jealous of the great English and French empires, and wanted Germany too to have its “place in the sun” (Groom, 7). In 1905, France tried to turn Morocco into a French Protectorate. Germany objected, whether to claim the area for itself, gain support with Britain by weakening her traditional enemy, or both is unclear. In any case, when Bismarck promised the sultan of Morocco his support, his implied threat of WWI pushed the British even farther to the French, failed to keep the French out of Morocco, and lowered mutual goodwill among the European powers. In 1908 Austria caused a crisis of its own by annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbia sought to conquer them itself, to point of seeing it as its right, and Russia had promised to protect the large Slavic populations in those areas.

Gunboat Panther in Agadir harbour

They both cried out in protest. Germany was again quick to threaten war, and Russia backed down. In 1911, Kaiser Wilhelm threatened war for the third time. In French-controlled Morocco, a rebellion had broken out against the sultan. The Germans responded by moving a gunboat into Moroccan waters to protect German companies in Agadir, despite the fact there were no Germans in Agadir, and the port was closed to European powers. Like in the first Moroccan crisis, the real reason behind the move was to attempt to push the British and French apart and possibly claim a bit of Morocco for itself. Yet again, the move only served to bring Britain and France closer together, let France claim even more of Morocco, and bring the European powers even closer to war.

During this time, Wilhelm II had started to greatly increase the size of Germany’s then-small navy. As Germany was on the European continent, and controlled few colonies, the British came to the conclusion that Germany was trying to surpass the English navy and assert German dominance over England, which it was. The naval arms race did little to bring the countries any closer together. The mutual distrust between each country also led them into a land arms race, in which military expenditures expanded rapidly. From 1900 to 1910, total defense expenditures increased a meager 21 million pounds, but from 1910 to 1914 they shot up from 289 million pounds a year to 398. Germany had increased its military budget by 73 percent in those 4 years, while Britain and France had only increased them by around 10 percent. By 1914, each side knew the war was coming. The Balkans were still being contested between Austria Hungary, seeking to expand its dying empire, and Russia, taking on a role as defender of the Slavs. Bismarck himself said, “The Great European war could come out of some damned foolishness in the Balkans.” The Germans were rapidly expanding their military and the series of crisis’s had made forgiveness and compromise difficult. The diplomats and leaders were careful not to set off the final spark.

(Daniel Selector H3G-06)