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The Alliance System of 1872-1907

Conceptual Clarifications

An alliance, according to Wiktionary, is the state of being allied; a union or connection of interest between families, states, parties, etc., especially between families by marriage and states by compact, treaty, or league. At this juncture, the alliance will be examined from the state’s perspective.

Therefore, it is a union, affinity, agreement, or connection between independent political entities. As in the European Alliance System of 1872 -1907, it is the agreed and signed unionism between concerned parties in Europe. Synonymous to alliance are union, connection, togetherness, and others in that line.

A system is a collection of organized things; a whole composed of relationships among its members. That is, is a framework that has series of engagements among the members.

The alliance system, therefore, is the collection of connected European powers that united themselves by alliances based on peculiar terms, as provided by the situation of that period.

To actually decipher the Alliance System of 1872 in Europe, it is important to know the immediate event that led to this development, that is, the Unification of Germany. The last war that was fought during the Unification of Germany was the       

Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71

France was defeated and left in humiliation. The superpower of Europe was humiliated by a mere rising state, Germany. The treaty that ended the Franco-Prussian War was hugely mastered by Otto von Bismarck, the German Chancellor.

By this treaty, France lost Alsace-Lorraine including other economically significant territories, and it was to pay war indemnity worth millions of Euros.


On this, Germany, under its great diplomatic Chancellor, Bismarck, looked for all means to isolate France by denying her friends in Europe. Bismarck signed series of alliances (which are also known as Bismarckian alliances) with notable powers of Europe, in order to isolate France.

And after 1888, France was out of the burden with the dismissal of Bismarck in 1888. France began to sign alliances with anti-Bismarckian European powers. In a long run, this development led to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

 Bismarck, after the Fall of France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, was left with suspicion towards France. He knew France would be more interested in attacking Germany because France was vengeful.

Therefore, he wanted to make France an isolated country by making European powers friends of Germany. Bismarck saw that his blood and iron policy could not successfully protect the newly-created Germany, and then, relied on the use of alliances to diplomatically punish France by isolating, and making her weak in Europe.

Of course, to some extent, France was secluded from European affairs, and the reparations placed on her by the armistice signed after the Franco-Prussian war rendered it economically unproductive, politically unstable, and socio-culturally disintegrated. Notwithstanding, the alliance system is still a unique development (at a time) for understanding European diplomatic engagements in the past.

The 1872 League of the Three Emperors (Dreikaiserbund)

The League of the Three Emperors was an alliance that was signed by Germany under William I, Austria under Joseph, and Russia under Czar Alexander. Because these European powers feared socialist revolutions, Bismarck used the opportunity to friend Russia and Austria.

For the inclusion of Russia in the alliance, Germany sought to assure peace in its eastern part where it shared boundary with Russia. According to the alliance which was to be renewed every three years, the Balkan question was resolved, and they pledged to provide assistance if any of them was attacked by France.

Therefore, by this alliance, France was pushed away from Russia which Bismarck actually targeted to dissociate from coming together with France. In reality, the alliance was not a genuine friendship

The Dual Alliance of 1879

 Bismarck was not sure of Russia being a true ally of Germany; therefore, he secretly summoned Austria into an alliance in 1879. The main term of the alliance was the maintenance of neutrality by both signatories in case of an attack from Russia, particularly.

Germany and Austria became suspicious of Russia, and they united themselves and ambushed Russia if it tried to attack any of them. Bismarck was able to show Austria that Germany was a true ally of Austria. And also, he was able to maintain the League of the Three Emperors that involved Russia, just in case of any attack from other European powers, especially its traditional enemy, France.

pic got from crisissome

The Triple Alliance of 1882

In reality, the alliance between Germany and Austria was the most active engagement in the Alliance System prior to 1882. Bismarck invited Italy into the alliance and this made the alliance Triple Alliance. The interest of Italy was to maintain its Tunis which was occupied by France in 1881.

In the face of the French aggressive occupation of Tunisia, Italy joined the alliance in order to forward her national interest. In actual historical facts, Bismarck was suspected to have tacitly encouraged France to occupy this region, perhaps with his policy of satiation, showing Germany as a contempt state.

And Italy, in a podium to advance her interest, joined the alliance by happily accepting the invitation from von Bismarck of Germany.


By the Triple Alliance, as put by Prof. Simeon, If Italy without direct provocation on her path should be attacked by France, the other two parties shall be bound to help Italy. And, in a reverse order same to Germany.

 Despite the inclusion of Italy in the Alliance, Bismarck thought Germany was not still safe enough, because of the exclusion of Russia. Russia, by all means, wanted to maintain its influence in the Balkan region, but was disappointed by the results of the Slavic revolt against Turkish rule; Russia was not compensated as expected, therefore failed to recognize the 1887 Election of Prince Ferdinand.

Russia became more vibrant and ready to do a cause to retain her interest in the Balkan region. France which was still isolated sought to ally with Russia and Bismarck also showed Germany as a pitiable country. Fortunately, Germany was able to renew the Dreikaiserbund in 1887 by the Re-insurance Treaty.

The Re-insurance Treaty of 1887

The Treaty was signed to resuscitate the dead League of the Three Emperors. The term of the alliance was a pledge of neutrality if any of them was the aggressor. The Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 was the last alliance signed by Bismarck with other European powers, as examined above.

When William II became the Emperor of Germany, he did not have an interest in maintaining the series of alliances signed by Germany during the era of Bismarck, except the Dual Alliance with the Austrian Empire. He dismissed Bismarck, and he (Bismarck) left office in 1890. With the exit of Bismarck from the European diplomatic arena, France began to seek means to reunite itself with any available (anti-Bismarckian) European country.

The Bismarckian era has crippled France’s development in all ramifications- socio-culturally, politically, and economically. France was left with no friends in Europe and was turned into an appendage of Germany’s economy.

France used years to pay the war indemnity of 200 million Euros placed on her by Germany after the fall of France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Fortunately for France, the dismissal of Bismarck in 1888 by William II reawakened the eagerness of France to relate with any available European power.

Therefore, other alliances signed after the dismissal of Bismarck were also known as anti-Bismarckian alliances. These alliances were not solely signed between France and other powers, but also among other European powers, after the dismissal of Bismarck.

Franco-Russian Alliance of 1893

The year 1892 was not pleasant in Russia; it was down economically, and Germany was not ready to be of help. In fact, the new emperor of Germany, William II, only recognized the Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria.

France, who was desperate to secure an ally in Europe, promised aid to Russia, therefore, an alliance was established between France and Russia. After a few months of negotiation, the Franco-Russian Alliance was established in 1894.


Apart from the economic aids, one of the terms of the alliance was mutual defense in case of an attack, especially from Germany. The alliance was an immediate checkmate on the Triple Alliance

 Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902

With the following trends in Europe, Britain had sense of being an isolated island. Therefore, she made an alliance with Japan in 1902. The main term of the alliance was to maintain friendly relations in their colonies in the Far East. The surging Japanese influence in the east and the trends in Europe made Britain ally herself with a rising powerful nation, Japan.

Anglo-Franco Alliance of 1904

In 1904, the differences between France and Britain were resolved, and both came into an alliance. Entente Cordiale was signed by both powers in order to amicably resolved their colonial differences; the issues between Morocco and Egypt. By this alliance, Britain took Egypt and France took Morocco. 

Anglo-Russian Alliance of 1907

The Anglo-Russian Alliance of 1907 was signed between Britain and Russia. One of the terms of the alliance was to maintain the non-interference of Russia in the Afghanistan crisis. This alliance recognized Britain’s interest in the Far East, especially in India.

With this development, the current circumstances in Europe, and the nature of the alliance brought alike signatories together; Britain, France, and Russia formed a military bloc (Triple Entente), and Germany, Austria, and Italy formed another bloc (Triple Alliance). The immediate effect of this development was that Europe was diplomatically bifurcated into two blocs, and the enduring impact was that the outbreak of World War I in 1914.


“The importance of the alliance system that developed in Europe in the decades before World War I as a cause for it is still an important topic of debate and argument between modern historians”.

The European powers were suspicious of themselves and looking for a push that would result into war. Coincidentally, in 1914, the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (who had an affinity with Russia) killed an Austrian prince, Ferdinand II of Austria.

Both blocs were ready for war, the disagreement between the Austrian empire and Bosnia on this issue led to the involvement of both parties, which led to the outbreak of the Great War World War in 1940.       

Citation: Tadese Faforiji. The Alliance System of 1872-1907. (August 30, 2021). Tadexprof. Retrieved from


  1.  Russia, Germany and the Alliance system, 1872-1914 pt1 | The History Faculty ( by A. Kocho-Williams licensed as CC-BY-NC-SA (
  2. Was the Alliance System Responsible for the Outbreak of WWI?.
  3. League of the Three Emperors. Wikipedia.
  4. Dual Alliance (1872). Wikipedia.

Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.