What are the Central Powers?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Central Powers were one of the sides involved in the First World War. The member nations of the Central Powers fought against the Triple Entente, also known as the Allied Powers, and the outcome of the war ultimately favored the Triple Entente. The roots of the alliance among the nations who fought on the losing side in the First World War lie in the 1870s, and several of these nations were also involved again on the losing side in the Second World War, in some cases because they were invaded and occupied.

Signed on June 28, 1919 at the royal palace in Versailles, France, the Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War.
Signed on June 28, 1919 at the royal palace in Versailles, France, the Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War.

In the late 1870s, the German Empire joined forces with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy to form a secret alliance known as the Triple Alliance. After the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Germany called upon members of the Triple Alliance to join forces to fight against the Kingdom of Serbia. Italy declined, switching sides to fight with the Allied Powers.

As the war progressed, the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire joined the war on the side of Germany. These Central Powers were ideally located to deliver devastating military blows on multiple fronts throughout the war, as they were positioned between several key members of the Allied Powers. The war raged from 1914 to 1918, concluding officially with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

After the close of the war, steps were taken to demilitarize the Central Powers and reduce their political and economic clout. This was done ostensibly to curb their capacity to engage in war again, although it was also designed to penalize these nations and their citizens for their involvement in the war. With the outbreak of a global depression in the 1930s, radical politicians rose to power in some of the nations involved in the Central Powers and set the stage for the Second World War.

The politics involved in the First and Second World War lie deep in European history, with long histories of political and economic clashes between a number of the nations involved. Legacies of these conflicts persist to this day, especially in Germany, where citizens continue to struggle with the role of Nazism in the Second World War. Nations that fought against each other in the early and mid 20th century later joined forces in organizations like the United Nations, European Union, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, creating complex alliances that are unlikely to break down in the future.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@titans62 - I completely agree with you that it was a matter of the leaders of Europe not knowing what they were doing and seeing the dangers of the alliances. However, the Central Powers deserve a lot of blame.

The Central Powers involved Germany and a few very volatile countries that could end up sparking a World War. This was known among many leaders of Europe and that it was in reality an inevitability.

Once studying the era it comes to no surprise that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand caused countries to be drawn into World War 1 and that the Central Powers alliances were the major cause of the War actually starting.


@jmc88 - That may be true and his mis-calculation did draw England and Russia into the war, however why should Kaiser Wilhelm even have an alliance in this manner that could draw them into a war?

Wilhelm is not totally to blame, most of the leaders of Europe did the same thing he did, but he needed to have common sense and realize that a major war could happen simply due to Germany being in an alliance with a country that was in turmoil.

As a leader Wilhelm should have seen that the members of the Central Powers, besides Germany, were hotbeds of a possible war occurring and he should have gotten Germany out of the alliance as quickly as he could.

But again, he is not totally to blame as most countries in Europe were intertwined in alliances and this brought the entire continent into the War. I blame the ineptitude of leaders as a whole in the causes of the war and not essentially the Central Powers.


@Izzy78 - I am not at all a fan of Kaiser Wilhelm and do believe that he holds a lot of blame for World War 1, but you cannot say that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was not a major international incident.

Ferdinand's assassination occurred in a very tense time in Europe and countries like the Austria-Hungarian Empire looked to larger countries like Germany for assistance if a fight were to occur.

I do not feel like it was necessarily Wilhelm's association and alliance with Austria-Hungary, it was more or less his assumptions that Queen Victoria in England and Czar Nicholas II in Russia would not fight his country and be drawn into a World War because they were all relatives.

However, Wilhelm was absolutely wrong in this assumption and this gung ho nature is what can be considered the cause of World War 1, not necessarily the alliance system


The central powers prove to be an interesting alliance during this period of history. This alliance could be considered one of the causes of World War 1 simply because of the participants that were involved in the alliance and the German leader that was behind the scenes.

Kaiser Wilhelm was a man that I think was legitimately insane and an inept leader who orchestrated this alliance and refused to just think and see how much of a problem having the alliance was.

Just one person being killed, who was not even a leader, caused World War 1 simply because Kaiser Wilhelm was so gung ho about keeping a strict alliance and following his allies in the central powers and bringing his country into a war that he had absolutely no business being it.

It is all because of him and his ineptitude that World War 1 began and all he had to do was just not get involved in a matter that was between only two countries and not a major international incident.

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