After 1871 Bismarck sought to isolate France diplomatically by building a series of alliances from which it was excluded. He sought to keep on good terms with both Austria and Russia, and, what was more difficult, to keep both these powers on good terms with each other. Since both wanted to dominate the Balkans, Bismarck’s task was formidable.
The First World War
Nationalism and the accompanying shifts in the balance of power both influenced and were profoundly influenced by public opinion, often shaped by the public press.
Throughout western Europe and in the United States a jingoistic press, often intent on increasing circulation, competed for “news,” and not all papers were careful to separate the verifiable from the rumor, the emotional atrocity story (even when true) from the background account that would explain the context for the emotion.
One factor that made war more likely was the unification of Germany and of Italy. The creation of these two new major states altered the balance of power in the European state system; the efforts of statesmen during the next forty years to adjust the system ultimately proved unsuccessful.
The older established powers were unwilling to give up their own claims, and after 1850, with the principle of national sovereignty well established, smaller western European states were no longer open to annexation by the great powers.
In June 28, 1914, the Habsburg arch duke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife, Sophie Chotek, were assassinated in the streets of Sarajevo, capital of the province of Bosnia, which had been occupied by Austria-Hungary since 1878.
The assassin, Gavrilo Princip (1895-1918), was a Serbian nationalist. The Austro-Hungarian government, alarmed by the ambitions of Serbian nationalists, took the occasion of the assassination to issue a severe ultimatum to Serbia.