After the French and Russian governments had formed a military alliance in 1895, Germany was faced with the prospect of a war on two fronts. As a result, the German chief-of-staff, Count Alfred von Schlieffen, began to develop an operational plan that would allow his forces to win a rapid victory over France. Schlieffen based his plan on the fact that France represented the most immediate threat to Germany. The extensive French railway network would allow France to mobilize far more quickly than Russia, and the French border was close to Germany's main industrial areas.

Schlieffen's plan called for 70 per cent of the German army to launch a broad offensive sweep through Belgium and into France. The plan's ultimate goal was the encirclement of the French army along the German-French frontier. While the basic military strategy of the plan was sound, it ignored the possible diplomatic repercussions of an advance through Belgium. Germany and the other major powers were signatories to a treaty that guaranteed Belgian neutrality. The violation of that neutrality would almost certainly result in a British declaration of war.

The French General Staff had first developed Plan XVII in 1911. It involved a major offensive by the French armies across Alsace-Lorraine into the main German industrial areas. The French General Staff calculated that any German offensive would be launched from that area. The French chief-of-staff, General Joseph Joffre, gave final approval of the plan, which would actually enhance the effectiveness of the Schlieffen Plan. Plan XVII had the potential to lead the French army deeper into the German trap.


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