What was Germany's 'Weltpolitik' and how did it contribute to causing the First World War?

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Germany as a nation-state was only conceived in 1871; beforehand, the region consisted of city-states and large provincial states such as Prussia or Bavaria. This meant that by the time of German unification, European powers such as Britain, France and Portugal had already established large colonial empires, leaving Germany trailing behind and focusing on their new place in Europe for the first few years of the state's life. The ascension of Kaiser Wilhelm II to the German throne accelerated a new style of German foreign policy, one of a greater worldview- Weltpolitik. A staunch imperialist, Wilhelm insisted that Germany must have a colonial empire to match that of other European powers in order to gain the status of a world power. German ambitions were affirmed by a speech in the Reichstag by then foreign secretary and future Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow, in which he demanded Germany's "place in the sun". Therefore, Germany joined in the 'Scramble for Africa', although entirely as a latecomer, claiming only South-west Africa (modern day Namibia). This resulted in both the higher echelons of the Bundesrat and Reichstag as well as nationalist groups such as the Pan-German league to look jealously towards the colonies of other nations, particularly France. With Social-Darwinism strong in Europe, but particularly Germany, they believed in German superiority and racial right to owning foreign lands. Therefore Weltpolitik became integrated into the German war aims set out in the few years before the outbreak of conflict, and became increasingly apparent as a souce of tension after the First and Second Moroccan crises. Thus, in giving Gemany an extra incentive to want to conduct a continental war to weaken their rivals and force the handover of colonies, Weltpolitik contributed heavily to the raising of tensions in the build up to war, and subsequently war itself. 

Jamie T.

About the author

Jamie T. is an online A Level History tutor with MyTutor studying at LSE University

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