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The globalisation of war

The globalisation of war

The first example of globalisation in the 20th Century was the globalisation of a war which eventually spanned five continents.

The declaration of war issued by the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the small kingdom of Serbia on 28th July 1914 was to trigger a chain reaction which, after four years of conflict, had resulted in the involvement of some fifty countries from all five continents; fifty nations, including all of the major powers of the time; fifty nations which would actually represent a larger number today given that the empires of the time, as multi-national states or colonial territories, have since been demolished. Those that were defeated were demolished in the wake of the armistice, the allies some time later, as a result of decolonisation.

The Star of the war


The conflict became a matter of worldwide concern as of its early stages, with not only France but also Germany, though to a lesser extent, having a large number of colonies in Africa and Asia. Great Britain had even more and was also able to rely on the dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Their status meant they were autonomous when it came to managing home affairs but their foreign policy was still under the control of the crown. British India, which still comprises the current Pakistan and Bangladesh, was also called to action, with the famous Army of India being officially established in 1895.


France, meanwhile, was the second largest colonial power in the world and had continued to expand its empire since 1830 and the conquering of Algiers. By the eve of the First World War the French Empire spanned the Maghreb, (mainly western) North Africa and the Far East with trading posts in China and India too, including the famous Pondicherry and Chandernagore.

Japan, an ally of the British, declared war on Germany on 23rd August 1914. By now, the Russian Empire, for its part, spanned a vast area comprising, among others, Finland, the Ukraine, Georgia and a large percentage of Poland. The Polish, under either German or Russian command depending on the region, would choose to fight for either side but always with the same objective in mind, that being to regain independence. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a mosaic of different peoples and religions which would shatter in the wake of defeat, just like its long-term rival the Ottoman Empire, which had become an artificial ally during the conflict.


Extension of the conflit


 The scope of the conflict continued to increase in the years that followed its outbreak.

Italy got involved on the side of the allies in May 1915 and Bulgaria began fighting for the Central Powers in October of the same year, before the young Portuguese Republic joined the Franco-British camp in 1916.

It was only in 1917, however, that the conflict reached its full global proportions when the United States joined the conflict on 6th April. President Wilson issued a circular inviting neutral countries to join the fight against Germany and the United States brought many South American countries into the war with them, including Brazil and Peru. Some countries, including Mexico, Argentina and Chile, did, of course, opt not to get involved in the conflict.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, China joined forces with the allies in August 1917. 140,000 Chinese workers had previously been recruited by France and Great Britain to perform handling and cleanup roles close to the front in France and Belgium even before China had issued its declaration of war.


The tables are turned


 Many countries had joined forces to fight in the war, most of them against the Central Powers. Some of them saw it as an opportunity to assert their independence, such as the British dominions, who went on to form the League of Nations in the aftermath of the war. Others, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, used it to assert their identity and claim nation status, whilst others still wanted to set up their own institutions and reinforce nationalist sentiment, as was the case of the young Portuguese Republic. This being the case, the tables turned in the wake of the First World War. Democracies triumphed over authoritarian regimes just as right triumphed over might. The world was now more democratic, more just and more free, at least for a few years.