Formal declaration of war by the UK
First deployment of troops
Neoclassical realism role of Belgium and the UK
“If I am asked what we are fighting for, I can reply in two sentences. In the first place, to fulfil a solemn international obligation … an obligation of honor which no self-respecting man could possibly have repudiated. I say, secondly, we are fighting to vindicate the principle that small nationalities are not to be crushed in defiance of international good faith at the arbitrary will of a strong and overmastering Power.”
The events leading up to the outbreak of the first world war were numerous, yet the British Premier Minister Herbert Asquith, only mentions two, very liberal arguments in the quote above. Generations of historians have devoted their lives to explaining the causes of the first global large scale war.
The following essay finds its niche in intending to shed light on the question as to why the United Kingdom (UK) entered the First World War (WW1).
Firstly, in the background analysis, the political causes that lead to the formal declaration of war of the UK against the middle powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) will be analysed. Secondly, the first deployment of British troops will be looked at as a direct result of the declaration.
The subject will be approached from two sides, firstly from the Neoclassical perspective. Asking in how far political power struggles considerations resulted in the decision to join the war.
Especially, the Triple Entente alliance (UK, France, and Russia), and the ”Treaty of London of 1839” which played a crucial role in the British decision to join the war will be analysed. The UK found itself in a duty bound situation to "defense the Belgian neutrality." The two agreements will be used as part of the explanation as to why and how the UK joined the war, they will be examined through the sense of both school of thoughts.
Secondly, the Liberal school of thought will lend its self to the explanation. The ideas of Kant will be tested as to whether they can explain the British participation in the war. The concept of international cooperation, the duty to uphold contracts and the internal logic that democracy and free trade spreads are part of the train of thought of this paper.
Thereby, the countries trade and economic concerns in addition to its overall capitalist productivity will be used as to answer the research question. The productivity of the British capitalism was challenged, even though the UK and Germany were important trade partners a shift in the power balance on the continent would have had direct consequences on British gains from trade. Moreover and not less importantly the nation's objective to remain the leading naval power will be part of the approach.
Formal declaration of war by the UK
This section of the essay lends itself to the British-Belgium diplomatic ties and the considerations that resulted in the UK´s support of Belgium neutrality, which are different from the considerations of supporting France.
Henry Asquith, who was the Liberal Prime Minister of the UK between 1908-1916, had taken his time to make up his position regarding the increasingly tensed political situation on the continent in the early summer of 1914. At the end of July, he mentioned that "our actions must depend on the course of events including the Belgian question."
The countries of the Triple Entente and the Middle Powers found themselves caught in a tensed diplomatic environment which was caused their through declarations of support between themselves over the Balkan crisis. The conflict was escalating in a quick manner, shortly before the UK entered the war Mid July 1914, most people did not believe in the possibility of war. The UK due to its commitment to the Triple Entente felt a sense of responsibility to join France in its war efforts. The sense of commitment to upholding a functional international system, follows the liberalist argument.
However, the alliance did not oblige the UK to fight alongside France in the case of war. The common opinion in the British government was that due to long lasting intense diplomatic relations with France it should be supported.
The Belgian-British treaty of 1839 that said that the UK "recognised Belgium´s independence and neutrality...and was considered to have some responsibility for protecting ” it.
Interestingly, „most of the ministers rejected the view that Great Britain was obliged to defend Belgian neutrality by force of arms.” In the treaty it says. “Belgium, within the limits specified in Articles 1, 2, and 4, shall form an Independent and perpetually Neutral State. It shall be bound to observe such Neutrality towards all other States”  During the discussions in the House Of Commons, the neutrality became a decisive factors. Firstly, because the Germany army violated the neutrality and secondly, because Belgium had fulfilled the treaty and had stayed neutral as long as possible. The sense of obligation to international cooperating and the value of agreements can be seen here.
However, the treaty, as well as the Triple Entente alliance was not considered to be binding the UK to go to war in case Belgian neutrality, was disrespected. As the Prime Minister had remarked on August 3rd, the fact that Germany had violated Belgium neutrality, made the decision for the UK to got war an easier one. It therefore, clear that the UK, did not enter the war, because of the violation of the Belgian neutrality, since it was not binding. Disrespecting of the neutrality by Germany, was just one amongst several reasons to enter the war.
On the very same day, the British Foreign Secretary gave an important speech in the House of Common. Bringing forward the argument that protecting Belgian neutrality was of crucial value and raised the question if it was for the UK´s advantaged to see France ‘in a struggle of life and death, beaten to her knees,(losing) her position as a great Power... subordinate to the power of one greater than herself.’
Further, he asked if it would be bearable for the west of the European continent to have to exist under the mastery of one nation other than the UK. That statement in its very nature fits the realist approach and shows the British war interest clearly.
The UK declared war on Germany after it had sent an ultimatum asking Germany to withdraw its troops from Belgium. The German troops were violating Belgian neutrality. This request of the UK remained unheard by the German leaders.
The Cabinet finally made its decision to send troops to France, without many objections, on the sixth of August. Interestingly, the mood in favour of intervention had changed within a few days.
First deployment of troops
After the declaration of war, the first deployment of troops followed. On the ninth of August the the British Expeditionary Force(BEF) left the UK for France.
The force consisted of five division which in total amounted to 160 000 fighters. Of which 75 000 were part of the British battalion and the rest were Franco-Belgium soldiers.
The British forces and its units were as well as its supervising organisation was created directly after the war entry when the decision to deploy troops was taken.
It was a common belief in the military circles of Europe at the time that the only way to win a war is by attacking and not defending. Therefore, the Anglo-French troops took the initiative and marched towards their enemy with the aim to take the led and to force the Kaiser´s army into the defence.
Consequently, the 75 000 British soldiers were progressing in the direction of 200 000 German soldiers who were undertaking the Schlieffen Plan.
Liberalism: Liberalism explain that the UK entered the I World War? Liberalism, Britain’s trade and economic interests (free trade/ free navigation and the productivity of British capitalism)
The liberal point of view in international relations (IR) enjoyed high popularity at the beginning of the 20th century. The idea was that nations were too intertwined to go to war. Liberalism and its positive approach as a school of thought challenge the classical pessimistic approach of realism. This positive idea, claims that humans are capable and driven to interact together in groups in order promote shared goals. Joined human activity on a national and international level can lead to a better overall outcome for all involved parties. These gains are not restricted to country borders. The concept regards it as self-evident that domestic politics of an actor is a decisive factor for its actions regarding other actors. Furthermore, within the liberalist framework it is believed that actors who are already interconnected are less likely to inflict conflict than ones who are outside of this mutually beneficial system. Moreover, it is said that the number of worldwide conflicts can be decreased by the dissemination of the ideology in question.
For liberals, conflict and war are not an unavoidable part of international relations. They believe in the power and advantageous of collaboration. It's considered that human group action and intelligence can overcome fear and rivalry and the struggle and longing for power.
Since, this school of thought is build on a positive image of human nature, it neglects the possibility of cheating, meaning, acts of aggressions within the system, or discards them as part of the process of spreading peace. The approach towards the nature of humans, is of the major differences between the two theories.
Liberalism would argue that the non-liberal, expansion lusting, non-democratic German government provoked the conflict. Since, according to this approach democratic states do not go against another. We can claim that that the ww1 came about because a UK triumph over Germany would mean a sign of progress, in the sense of overthrowing the German monarchy. That makes sense following the democratic peace theory and the spreading of liberalism. Not intervening, would have meant letting the treaty partner, Belgium down which does not fit into the liberalist framework. That claims that states cooperation is beneficial for either side. Following this line of argument, securing Belgium neutrality, will turn out to be advantageous for the Uk too.
Moreover, the „Germans by building their High Sea Fleet had quite knowingly and deliberately antagonized the British. The fleet was an instrument specifically designed to coerce the British rather than to defend any established German, interests and British policy makers realised that.“ The British aimed to maintain free trade and free navigation which was threatened by German build up of the army and navy. According to Liberalism that would not be a potential cause of war if the fleet was part of a democratic nation. Democratic national moving towards a more integrated world where mechanisms for solving conflicts exist, but it is a process and states which are not democratic can fall outside of it.
Neoclassical realism role of Belgium and the UK
On the other hand, the Neoclassical Realism position says that the humans lust for power and is as a theory not positive. Furthermore, in contrast to Liberalism, it represents a strong belief that IR in its very nature is conflictual. Bilateral and multilateral struggles and rivalry are bound to end in hostility. It focuses on state safety and the survival of the nation. There is a general disbelief in the possibility of positive development in the field of global politics. This theory views actors as mainly concerned with securing their advantage, their relative gains while competing in the international system. Morgenthau claims that humans in the international arena are competing for power, but it is unclear what the final goal is. However, the closest objective is power and "the modes of acquiring, maintaining, and demonstrating it determine the technique of political action ”
This power struggle which is about securing international supremacy is being undertaken in a system without order; it is anarchic.
The realist approach towards explaining the UK political decision is plausible in several aspect. The UK wanted to secure the balance of power on the continent. As aforementioned it had no interest in France losing power. Joining the war secured the nations security, it can be regarded as a preemptive action. To take action before a rising power might attack the UK from a more powerful position as it possesses now. However, the balance of power theory, combines realist and liberalist elements. It aims to protect the British position as the dominant power in Europe. However, pursues this goal through cooperation with other powers, to keep the rising power in check. Nevertheless, an essential part of this theory is to go to war if the rising power becomes to mighty.
The prospect of Germany winning the war would have meant it dominating the continent, becoming a supreme power. It would have had several severe impacts on the UK. First of all, it would have meant a power ready to challenge the UK world power statues and challenge its naval dominance. Which would result in the control of the trade of British goods. The productivity of the British capitalism was challenged, even though the UK and Germany were important trade partners a shift in the power balance on the continent would have had direct consequences on British gains from trade.
Moreover, the „Germans by building their High Sea Fleet had quite knowingly and deliberately antagonized the British. The fleet was an instrument specifically designed to coerce the British rather than to defend any established German, interests and British policy makers realised that“. The British aimed to maintain free trade and free navigation which was threatened by German build-up of arms. Nevertheless, “the Triple Entente had a combined national income 60 per cent greater than that of the Central Powers. ” From a simple, power assessment point of view, the power distribution was evident. By entering the war, the UK wanted to protect its trade and economic interests.
 Asquith, Herbert. "Declaration of War with Germany." Speech, House of Commons Meeting, House of Commons, London, August 4, 1914.
 Wilson, Trevor. The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War, 1914-1918. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986. p. 1999
 Hamilton, Richard F., and Holger H. Herwig. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. p. 199
 Ibid p. 279
 Duffy, Micheal. "Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com. August 22, 2009. Accessed April 25, 2016. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/london1839.htm.
 Hamilton, Richard F., and Holger H. Herwig. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. p. 202
 Ibid p. 282
 Ibid p. 282
 Evans, Robert John Weston., and H. Pogge Von Strandmann. The Coming of the First World War. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988. p. 151
 Ibid p. 160
 Gordon, George Stuart. The Retreat from Mons. New York: Houghton Miffin Company, 1917. p. 12
 Brown, Ian Malcolm. British Logistics on the Western Front: 1914 - 1919. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998. p.44
 Jackson, Robert H., and Georg Sørensen. Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. p. 94
 Buchan, Bruce. "Explaining War and Peace: Kant and Liberal IR Theory." Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 27, no. 4 (October 2002): 407-28. Accessed April 16, 2016. http://alt.sagepub.com/content/27/4/407.full.pdf html?ijkey=3ELhSsMladYYQ&keytype=ref&siteid=spalt. p. 424
 Jackson, Robert H., and Georg Sørensen. Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. p. 96
 Ferguson, Niall. The Pity of War. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999. p.437
 Ibid p. 57
 Morgenthau, Hans J. Truth and Power, Essays of a Decade, 1960-70. New York: Praeger, 1970. p.79
 Jackson, Robert H., and Georg Sørensen. Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003 p.57
 Ibid p. 34
 Ferguson, Niall. The Pity of War. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999. p.441
- Quote paper
- Otto Möller (Author), 2016, How can Neoclassical Realism and Liberalism explain that the UK entered World War I, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/373382