This is a question that had been running around my mind for many years and it wasn’t until I used the pretext of modern day wars, oil, that the fog started to clear.
Below is just a small piece from William Engdahl’s incredible geopolitics-geoeconomics website regarding Germany’s quest for oil and Britain’s lack thereof preceding WWI.
Oil and the buildup to the Great War
In trying to sort out the myriad of factors at play in Eurasia on the eve of the First World War it is important to look at the processes leading to August 1914, and the relative calculus of power at the time. This means examining economic processes, including financial, raw material, population growth— in the context of relations among nations, and political and–as defined by the original and influential English geopolitician, Sir Halford Mackinder–geopolitical forces–a political economy or geopolitical approach.
It was common in the days of the Great War to speak of the Great Powers. The Great Powers were so named because they both were great in size and wielded great power in the affairs of nations. The question was what constituted “great.” Until 1892, the United States was not even considered enough a contender at the table to warrant posting a full Ambassador level diplomatic mission. She was hardly a serious factor in European or Eurasian affairs. The Great Powers included Great Britain, France, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Czarist Russia. After its defeat of France in 1871, Germany too joined the ranks of the Great Powers, albeit as a latecomer. Ottoman Turkey, known then as the “sick man of Europe” was a prize which all Great Powers were sharpening their knives over, as they anticipated how to carve it up to their particular advantage.
In 1914, and the decades following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, it was almost axiom that there was no power on earth greater than the British Empire. The foundations of that Empire, however, were far less solid than generally appreciated.
via Oil & WWI.