If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Italy backs out of Triple Alliance

Created by Sal Khan.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

Italy was an interesting actor in World War I because it was one of the original members of the Triple Alliance. In 1882, Italy becomes a member of the Triple Alliance. The whole reason why it was called a Triple Alliance is because it was between Italy, Austria-Hungary and Germany. Despite being part of that defensive pact, that they would defend each other if any of these other parties like Russia were to attack them, or France were to attack them, it was an awkward alliance because Italy was a historical enemy of Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary had some territory, especially some territory where some Italian speakers were. Some Italian nationalists were interested in recapturing or having claims on some of that territory. I've circled some of that right over here. Right from the get-go it was an awkward alliance. Even in that first Triple Alliance, Italy got an exception for this defensive alliance. It says we don't want to be at war with Great Britain. Then in 1902, Italy gets into another secret ... or I guess this is the first of many secret deals ... with France. If you've ever played Diplomacy, this is what Diplomacy's all about. You make a deal with one person, but maybe in secret you're making exceptions with other people. They get into a secret pact with France where Italy's essentially saying, "Look, you know, even though we're a member of this Triple Alliance and we've already said we're not going to be at war with Great Britain, we're also going to say that for France as well. We're really not in a mood to be at war with you." Then when you fast forward to 1914, and we're now at the beginning of World War I, August, Germany declares, July, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, Russia begins to mobilize, Germany declares war on Russia and on France, Italy, because of this kind of awkwardness in this Triple Alliance, actually decides to stay neutral. Italy stays neutral. Their justification for staying neutral is that the Triple Alliance is a defensive pact. It says, "Hey, we're going to defend each other if anyone attacks us," but they're saying that in 1914 at the beginning of World War I it was Austria-Hungary that decided to take the offensive. It was Germany that took the offensive, just based on mobilization in Russia, that took the offensive against France and in terms of declaring war on Russia. So Italy says, "Hey, look, this is a defensive pact. The other two members of the Triple Alliance, they're being offensive. We don't want ... That means that we aren't bound to it. We're only bound to it in the event of defense. As you can imagine, a lot of it was them just trying to figure out who's likely to win this, in which scenario are they likely to gain the most. So you fast forward to 1915, in particular April 26. The Italians are negotiating with the allies thinking about what type of territory they could capture especially from Austria-Hungary. On April 26 they sign the Treaty of London, which at this point is a secret. Treaty of London. It's not broadcast to the other members of the Triple Alliance, but it's an agreement with the triple entente that hey, look, we are on your side. We are going to declare war on the central powers imminently. They do so in May 1915, on May 3. They back out of the Triple Alliance ... out of Triple Alliance ... out of Triple Alliance. Then on May 23 they declare war on their historical enemy, but one of the co-signers of the Triple Alliance declare war on the Austro-Hungarian empire. On the Austro-Hungarian empire. As we'll see, this was actually, Italy's entering into the war on the side of the allies against Austria-Hungary, actually played a major role in the eventual downfall of the Austro-Hungarians and I'll go into that into more detail in the next video.