As with all international conflicts, there can be no easy answer to questions of blame or guilt. Historians continue to debate the causes of World War I nearly a century after the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand; the event that most agree was the spark which ignited the flames of war. Reaching back to the years before Ferdinand's assassination, a case could be made that growing nationalism, militarism, and the development of an intricate system of alliances were factors that helped bring Europe to the threshold of war. However, this essay will attempt to focus on the role of specific nations and how their leaders delivered their countrymen to the front lines of World War I.
Before any one country can be identified as "most responsible- for the outbreak of war, one must first consider the parties involved and their role in Europe in 1914.
Austria-Hungary stands out as the core of the conflict in Europe. The assassination of their Archduke pushed them to confront Serbia, yet it is doubtful they would have been brave enough to draw a line in the sand as they did if Germany had not granted them a blanket of protection. While it's arguable that a conflict between the two was inevitable, the assassination provided an excuse for Austrian leaders, notably Count Berchtold and his staff, to become aggressive. They issued an ultimatum to Serbia that called for reparations and remained aggressive even after Serbia responded to their ultimatum respectfully. While other national leaders, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, seemed relieved that Serbia chose a peaceful and apologetic path, the Austrian leadership focused on small discords expressed by the Serbs. They seemed intent on entering into a fight with Serbia, and loaded with confidence stemming from their alliance with Germany, they disregarded Russia's protective stance and declared war on Serbia. The maneuvering of the Austrian government during the crisis compels me to place a large portion of the blame on Austria-Hungary for the outbreak of WW I.