Geopolitical equations toward the end of the 19th century were as complex as it was fragile. The two broad groupings were the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance. These two distinct groupings came into existence in 1882 and lasted till the First World War. But even among alliance partners, there were conflicts of interest and opposition, creating a sense of propensity for military conflict. The Triple Alliance consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The Triple Entente consisted of Great Britain, France and Russia. Taken in unity, the two groups had formidable economic and military power at their disposal.
During the time of the Triple Entente, Great Britain was the most powerful empire in the world. British colonies existed in every corner of the world and there was no other empire which could boast of the proficiency and reach of the British Navy. The British economy was flourishing during the late 19th century and it had considerable economic resources to use in war operations.
France was also a formidable imperial power at the turn of the twentieth century. Though its colonization was not as expansive as that of Great Britain, France had significant presence in Africa and South East Asia. Like Britain, the advanced technology and organization of the French Navy was the crucial factor in its imperialist conquests. France’s domestic economy was also robust, making it a potent enemy in a war situation.
The third country in the Triple Entente, Russia, was not a great imperial power like Great Britain or France. But its strength was its vast geography with variable and harsh climatic conditions across the terrain. This made the task of invading armies very difficult. Russia also had the advantage of a greater population, providing its military operations with an endless supply of young and fit personnel.
Germany is the most powerful empire of the Triple Alliance. It had superior military technology and efficient logistical methods. Since the country had access to the ocean on its northern border, its investment and development of the navy was weak. But as compensation, the Germany army was far superior to that of France on its western flank and Russia on its eastern flank. That it had enemies on both of its eastern and western borders is a great disadvantage as resources will have to be split during a concerted enemy attack. Germany’s economic resources were quite impressive though and it could rival that of Great Britain and France in this regard.
Italy was one of the weaker members of the Triple Alliance, as it did not have an empire comparable to that of rivals Great Britain and France. Its army and navy were also small compared to its northern neighbors. Italy’s key strength is its geographical location, with a long coastline and reach. It could thus serve as a key military base for Germany.
Finally, the Austria-Hungary Empire was as powerful as that of its eastern partner Germany. One of the weaknesses of its partnership is their history of previous disputes and disagreements. Though in theory the Triple Alliance should be a formidable opposition, a lack of ideological unity and internal tensions weakened their power to an extent. The Austria-Hungary Empire was also beset by ethnic conflicts within its borders.
Hence, in sum, in an all out war situation, the odds are slightly in favor of the Triple Entente, due to the greater expanse of their colonization, more efficient navies, stronger economies and more numerous personnel base. The Triple Entente also had a geographical advantage in that it flanked the Triple Alliance on both sides, making the latter vulnerable in a two pronged military attack.
Charles Seymour (1916). The Diplomatic Background of the War. Yale University Press.
Gildea, Robert (2003). Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-925300-5.