The humiliating defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871 had completed the unification of Germany. The German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, then created an intricate diplomatic network of alliances and treaties to ensure peace. Bismarck correctly assumed that French foreign policy would be directed toward creating conditions favourable for another war with Germany. Consequently, his efforts were designed to keep France diplomatically isolated.

Bismarck negotiated the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy. Because of the long-standing hostility of Austria-Hungary toward Russia, however, he also negotiated a secret "Reinsurance Treaty" with the Russians. According to the terms of the treaty, Germany and Russia would remain neutral in the event that either nation was at war. France and Britain were bitter colonial rivals, and Bismarck counted on this rivalry to prevent any French-British co-operation. In an effort to maintain cordial relations with the British, he also refused to involve Germany in any colonial ventures.

In 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck and within five years had abandoned Bismarck’s carefully constructed diplomatic policies. He did not renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia and embarked upon an ambitious colonial policy and expansion of the German navy that provoked British hostility. By 1895, France and Russia had formed a military alliance. In 1905, Britain and France, both alarmed by Germany’s increasing naval power and aggressive colonial policies, negotiated the "Entente Cordiale." This treaty included provisions for military co-operation in the event that either signatory entered a war with Germany. Since the British government controlled the foreign policy of the dominions, this had the potential to involve Canada in a European conflict.Europe was thus dominated by two power blocs, the Triple Entente: France, Russia and Britain, and the Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

 

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