Published: July 9 2007 on Helium
The countries involved in World War I, (1914-1918), were all there for diverse reasons. Some were there, fervently feeling a sense of nationalism, a new patriotic spirit awakening in the later years of the 19th century. Some were there defending imperialistic acquisitions or prospects. Some were there to test land and sea military strength. Some were there supporting an empire or mother country. And some were driven to war with varying degrees of all three agendas, plus, perhaps, a sense of fear.
The war was triggered by a Bosnian revolutionary's assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on 28th June 1914. But the major players in the war used this event as a catalyst to vent long term imperialistic and political tensions. In short, many countries joined for either their own particular grievances or a sense of duty bound up in colonial ties. Only the U.S. (originally neutral) entered the war under provocation. Finally, in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson committed the U.S. to the Allies because cargo boats were consistently attacked by the Germans. Germany "needled" the U.S. into the war.
The two major, opposing powers were known as the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance.
The Triple Entente, formed in 1907, became known, in the course of the war, as the Allies. The countries initially involved were Britain, France and Russia. Britain was regarded as having the strongest naval power. France had a credible land army. The United States joined this group in 1917. The Triple Alliance, formed in 1882, became known as the Central Powers. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy were initially involved. Germany and Italy were newly unified in the late 19th century. It seemed they wished to "test" their power on a world scale. On the outbreak of war, Turkey joined this group, while Italy crossed over to the Allies.
Other countries involved in the war joined or supported one of these two groups.
On the Allies side, Britain was supported by her far reaching empire of British territories in Africa, Atlantic Islands, Australasia and Pacific Ocean, Canada, Falkland Islands, Singapore, Cyprus, Malta, Indian empire; Indian Ocean Islands -Andaman , Cocos, Mauritius, Nicobar, Seychelles; Middle East Arabia(protectorates), Kuwait, Oman, Newfoundland; West Indies. France was supported by her smaller empire including Morocco, Algeria, New Caledonia and Guadeloupe. Italy was supported by her African colonies of Italian Somaliland, Eritrea and Tripoli. Japan joined the Allies, but only played a small role in east Asia. Belgium and Portugal, originally wanting neutrality, reluctantly joined the Allies when surrounded by warring factions. (Amazingly, Spain remained neutral throughout the war!)
On the Central Powers side, Germany was supported by her empire including Cameroon, German East Africa, South West Africa (Namibia), Togoland; Bismarck Archipelgeo, Carolina Islands, Mariana Islands, Marshal Islands, Palau Islands and Samoa Islands. Of note, the German empire was only acquired late in the 19th century, well after the main imperial players Britain and France. Colonial support was a somewhat unknown, untested factor.
In total, over 100 countries were involved in this war. But not all countries were directly involved in the fighting. Some of the colonies, for example, acted as a source of military supply of armaments or as a reserve force. Other European countries, such as Poland, Belgium and Luxembourg, were drawn into the war because they were occupied by the Germans; but they also acted as a "corridor of escape" for the Allies.
Africa, being the great imperialistic vision of the major European powers in the 19th century, was divided by the war. Only Ethiopia and four small Spanish colonies were neutral.
Then, when the United States joined the war in 1917, most of the Central American countries followed. Brazil, in South America, independently declared war on Germany in 1917. Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia severed ties with Germany but did not get involved in the war.
The larger powers were involved in World War I because they wanted to vent nationalistic superiority, test military strength and assert imperialistic claims left over from the 19th century. Many of the smaller countries were drawn in to the war because they either had a sense of duty to a mother country or, being surrounded by "the heavies", felt impelled to take sides to protect their own safety.