The "Weltpolitik" (world policy) strategy was adopted by Germany in the late 19th century, replacing the earlier "Realpolitik" approach.

The start of this policy was signaled in 1897 with then Foreign Minister Bernhard von Bülow stating that Germany now pursued such a policy. Some historians, however, argue that a form of "Weltpolitik" had been practised during the Kruger Telegram with Germany meddling outside of its sphere of influence.

This was a more aggressive policy which resulted in conflict between Germany and foreign nations, being held to be significantly responsible for a series of Great Power diplomatic crises in the lead up to the First World War. The policy sought Germany's place in the sun commensurate with its rising industrial strength, primarily by the creation of a colonial empire to rival those of other powers. The most dramatic element in the policy was the construction of the High Seas Fleet, a navy which sought to rival, or even exceed, the United Kingdom's Royal Navy in strength. It led to an Anglo-German naval race where each sought to outbuild the other in Dreadnoughts.

In many ways, Weltpolitik was seen as a natural development springing from the nationalism that had influenced German history in recent years. Whereas before nationalism had focused on attaining the unification of Germany, when that was achieved German nationalists sought to increase Germany's international power, and a colonial empire was thought to be an essential part of this. The doctrine of Social Darwinism was popular at the time, and it stated that the idea of the survival of the fittest applied to states as well as individuals. If a state did not strive to expand, it would itself be weakened or destroyed. All this fed into the nationalism that already existed in Germany and prompted the greater expansionism that Weltpolitik represented.

Britain reached friendly understandings with its long-time imperial rivals France and Russia to counter the perceived German naval threat, creating the division of Europe into two rival Great Power treaty structures (the Triple Entente of France, Russia and the UK; and the Central Powers of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy), thereby greatly increasing the likelihood of a conflict between any two of the Great Powers would rapidly drag in the others, whether by invocation of the alliances or through presumption by various Powers that such would occur, as happened in July to August 1914: most obviously through Germany's support of Austro-Hungary against Russia and its Schlieffen Plan which presumed any conflict requiring German mobilisation would involve war with France and whose consequent violation of Belgian neutrality gave the UK a casus belli under the Treaty of London, 1839.

Bismarck understood Germany should remain a land-based, peace-loving European power as she had always been. Kaiser Wilhelm I died and Wilhelm the II became the new Kaiser in 1888, and had entirely different intention for German diplomacy. Wilhelm II had a plan called "Weltpolitik", which meant he wanted Germany to be a large, strong, and unbeatable empire in every possible way. Bismarck saw Wilhelm’s aspirations, especially his idea of building a navy, as a threat to Germany’s peace he spent the last twenty years building. The clash of ideas and values between Bismarck and young "Willy" made Bismarck’s only hope of protecting the peace and securing the intricate network of alliance he had created by threat to resign, for without Bismarck the alliances were doomed to fail. Wilhelm II, arrogant and confident in his ability to maintain Germany’s power, accepted Bismarck’s informal proposal and Bismarck, with no friends to turn to, was forced to resign in 1890. It was here after that the German alliances started to crumble. All this resulted with was over 40 million casualties resulted, including approximately 20 million military and civilian deaths. Over 60 million European soldiers were mobilized from 1914 to 1918.

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