Which of the five great powers of Europe was the strongest in 1914?

Essay by greenfroggies March 2004

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In Europe in 1914, there were five great powers. They were Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and France. Some were stronger in times of conflict than others, and many historians feel differently about the powers. This essay will use data to prove conclusively, an opinion held by many historians of which were the strongest and which were the weakest.

Russia and Austria-Hungary were the two weakest powers in Europe in 1914. Austria-Hungary had a small army and a tiny navy of only 67 ships. This left them unprotected and vulnerable in wartime. Having a fairly low population, and absolutely no colonies, they had precious little defense and no backup. Russia had a large population, over three times the population of Britain in fact, but Russia was an immense country, and the population was spread out. They had an average army size, but being so far out on the edge of Europe, it would be hard to assemble and move an army.

The main weakness of both Austria-Hungary and Russia was that neither had any colonies at all. This gave them a huge disadvantage, for several reasons. Firstly, if things went bad for them in war and they needed more soldiers, they could not bring them from anywhere but their own countries. Secondly, they had no tactical advantages that could be gained from having colonies, such as having backup in hostile areas from nearby friendly colonies. Also, people fighting in Europe from foreign colonies were less likely to flee from battle because they would have had no-where to do. Perhaps the main advantage of colonies though is the trade they produce. Apart from being able to obtain goods not available in your own country, countries controlling colonies can make huge amounts of money from the trade.

In addition to...