The relations between the Great Powers in Europe changed a lot with the accession to the throne of Wilhelm the II in 1888, his dismissal of Chancellor Otto van Bismarck two year later and therefore the breakdown of the Bismarckian Alliance System.
The unification of Germany, and the political greatness of Prussia and the empire, are ascribed to the statesmanship of Bismarck. Bismarck was the father of the German nation, he created it and he also masterminded a plan to keep Germany safe from the enemy nations around her. After the humiliation of the loss of Alcase and Lorraine, France was bound to not pass away an opportunity to take revenge from Germany, so to prevent this happening Bismarck constructed an elaborate network of alliances.
One of the most important alliances of the many that were made was, the Dreikaiserbund or the League of the the Three Emperors singed in 1872 between Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary. The most important of the articles in the treaty was that ^in case on of the High Contracting Parties should find itself at war with a fourth Great Power, the two other shall maintain towards it a benevolent neutrality and shall devote their efforts to the localisation of the conflict^. But Russia and Austria-Hungary drew suspicious of each other over conflicts in the Balkans in 1887 and the League fell apart. So to replace that lose Bismarck drew up the secret Dual Alliance with Austria in 1879, it was a defensive alliance against Russian in case she attacks Austria. In 1882, Italy joined the Dual Alliance which created the Triple Alliance. By 1887 Bismarck succeeded to bind Russian in a separate alliance which was called the Reinsurance Treaty. Also Germany kept friendly acquaintances with Britain so that such a powerful nation with not be against Germany. This way, Bismarck^s plan succeeded and now France was truly friendless, powerless and isolated.
Kaiser Wilhelm the II had a plan called ^Weltpolitik^ for Germany which meant that he wanted Germany to be a world power with a large colonial empire, strong and unbeatable in every possible way. Bismarck saw this as a threat to the country^s peace he has aintained for twenty years and his idea was that Germany should remain a land-based, peace-loving European power as she has always been. The clash of ideas and values between the thirty one year old, young Kaiser and the seventy five year old chancellor led to Bismarck being forced to resign by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890. Then the Kaiser appointed Count Georg Leo Caprivi instead. ^Bismarck was able to juggle with three balls (Austria-Hungary, Italy and Russia)^ said Caprivi. ^I can juggle with only two^ and so the traditional dislike of Slavs kept Bismarck^s successor from renewing the understanding with Russia even though his excuse was that the alliance with Austria-Hungary would be damaged if word of it leaked out.
France no doubt took advantage of this opportunity to get an ally, and the Franco-Russian Entente was formed in 1891, which became a formal alliance in 1894. The first article in the entente says ^If France is attacked by Germany, or by Italy supported by Germany, Russian shall employ all her available forces to attack Germany. If Russian is attacked by Germany, or Austria supported by Germany, France shall employ all her available forces to attack Germany.^ The 1891 alliance marked the end of France^s long diplomatic isolation Bismarck had worked on through all those years.
Historians generally agree that the Kaiser was an expansionist, who wanted to increase Germany^s power in Europe and in the world at large. He did not mind challenging the other colonial powers in a struggle for prestige in various hot sports abroad. Also supporting him, German industrialists and traders declared that to continue with the economic growth, Germany had to become a great colonial power. Some of them dreamt of uniting all the Germans in one Pan-German state. Unfortunately Germany started her struggle for colonial power way to late so had to settle down for a mere island called Caroline Islands.
Possession of overseas dominions (even though small) provided a good excuse for the creation of a German navy. After reading ^The Influence of Sea Power Upon History^ by Alfred Thayer Mahan, who noted that ^the state which controlled the seas controlled its own fate^, the Kaiser was sure that the key stone to world power was controlling the seas. The Kaiser expresses his intentions for expansion early in 1896, and in the next year he appointed Prince Bernhard von Bulow to handle the diplomatic aspect of Germany^s new naval policy and Admiral von Tripitz to direct the construction of the massive new fleet. Even though Tripitz^s excuse for the expansion of the navy was over seas colonies, he privately made a memorandum marked ^very secret^ saying that ^For Germany the most dangerous naval enemy at the present time is England. It is also enemy against which we most urgently require a certain measure of naval force as a political power factor^
Both Wilhelm and Tripitz believed that Britain would respect them for their new found power and Britain and Germany would develop a friendship and coexist peacefully, this was part of Tripitz^s strategic program for the navy, the alliance values. Britain, on the other hand, saw no reason that Germany should want t fleet to challenge its own, unless Germany intended to seek world domination. Britain knew that she no longer possessed the vastly overshadowing dominance it once did, so she became nervous about her policy of ^splendid isolation^ where Britain was greatly detached from European affairs. But now, she could not afford not to have an ally so starting from 1902 with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance with Japan, Britain concluded agreements with one rival seapower after the other.
Next, Britain became friends with her long time enemy France. The Entente Cordiale was formed in 1904. With agreements such as France letting Britain have a free hand in Egypt and Britain letting France have a free hand in Morocco. Even though not a military alliance, the entente was the beginning of the improvement of French-British relations. If not for the Kaiser^s dismissal of Bismarck^s idea of a peace-loving, land based power, the Entente Cordiale would have never been singed and now, France had a strong ally and Britain was no longer the enemy of France.
The Entente Cordiale was considered as an anti-German alliance in Germany because Britain who was suspicious of the German^s underlying intentions on the naval expansions and of course France, the arch rival have got together against them. Now the Kaiser of Germany was desperate to break up the entente between the British and the French. With this intention he visited the Moroccan port of Tangier in 1905, where he declared that Morroco should be independent of France. Germany though that in the crisis that was bound follow, Britain would isolate France but the German plan backfired as Britain stood by France when Germany threatened war over Morocco. So the entente between the two great nations strengthened and further military discussions were carried out between France and Britain as a precautionary measure.
Making matters worse for Germany, her actions lead to Britain creating an understanding with the Russian signing the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907 settling their differences over Afghanistan, Tibet and Persia. If Wilhelm the II and Bismarck^s successor Bulow had renewed the Reassurance Treaty between Russia and Germany, Russia would not have created an alliance with Britain.
Now that Britain was friends with both France and Russia, they created the Triple Entente. Finally, the bi-polar structure that slowly developed between the Triple Entente (France, Russia and Great Britain) and the Triple Alliance (Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy) divided Europe into two powerful rival camps. So the reakdown of the Bismarckian Alliance System led to the formation of new alignments between the Great Powers of Britain, France and Russia while Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary made another alliance against those Great Powers.