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VI. Germany in International Affairs
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Overview: Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914   |   I. Economic Development   |   II. Society and Culture   |   III. "Modern Life": Diagnoses, Prescriptions, Alternatives   |   IV. State and Society   |   V. Politics   |   VI. Germany in International Affairs   |   Germany at War, 1914-1918   |   I. Battle   |   II. Mobilization of the Home Front   |   III. Privation and Ferment on the Home Front   |   IV. Seeking an End to the War

Bismarck's dismissal signaled a major change in the direction of German foreign policy, which henceforth reflected the preferences of the Kaiser and the men whom he elected to top positions in the foreign office, such as Bernhard von Bülow and Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter (Docs. 2, 4). If Bismarck's policies had been largely conservative and continental in orientation, Wilhelm's "New Course" was directed abroad, towards asserting Germany's rightful place among the world powers, towards achieving what Bülow called a "place in the sun" (Docs. 1, 7). The effort to expand Germany's colonial empire was marked by aggressive intervention in disputes in Africa and Asia; and the result was to nurture suspicions among the other imperialist powers, as a series of colonial crises kept international tensions high (Docs. 6, 8, 12). In particular, the British grew anxious as the Germans began to construct a great battle fleet, which they regarded as the indispensable means to pursue Weltpolitik – and to challenge British naval hegemony (Docs. 3, 13, 14, 15, 16). The resulting Anglo-German naval race poisoned international relations in the early years of the new century (Doc. 5). Germany already possessed the world's most formidable land army, which in 1912-13 underwent its own expansion to the accompaniment of a provocative popular campaign (Doc. 17, 18, 19). It remains a matter of debate whether the events that culminated in the summer of 1914 were due to Germany's aggressive designs, but the evidence makes clear that whatever the motives, German actions – particularly the intervention of the army leadership at a critical moment in the final crisis – played a central role in the outbreak of European war (Docs. 20, 21, 22, 23, 24).

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