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The Triple Alliance in 1913, shown in red.
The Triple Alliance was the military alliance among Germanymarker, Austria–Hungary, and Italy that lasted from 1882 until the start of World War I in 1914. Each member promised mutual support in the event of an attack by any two other great powers, or for Germany and Italy, an attack by France alone. In a supplementary declaration, Italy specified that its undertakings could not be regarded as being directed against the United Kingdommarker. Shortly after renewing the Alliance in June 1902, Italy secretly extended a similar guarantee to France.

When Germanymarker and Austria–Hungary found themselves at war in August 1914 with the rival Triple Entente of Britainmarker, France, and the latter's ally, Russiamarker, Italy pledged its support to the Central Powers, but subsequently entered the conflict on the side of the Entente against Austria–Hungary in May 1915 and Germany in August 1916.

Austria–Hungary

By the late 1860s, Austrian ambitions in both Italy and Germany had been choked off by the rise of new national powers. With the decline and failed reforms of the Ottoman Empire, slav opposition in the occupied Balkans grew and both Russia and Austria–Hungary saw an opportunity to expand in this region. In 1876, Russia offered to partition the Balkans, but Andrássy declined for Austria–Hungary was already a "saturated" state and it could not cope with additional territories.. The whole Empire was thus drawn into a new style of diplomatic brinkmanship, first conceived of by Andrássy, centering on the province of Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, a predominantly Slav area still under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

On the heels of the Great Balkan Crisis, Austro-Hungarian forces occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina in August 1878 and the empire eventually annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 1908 as a common holding under the control of the finance ministry, rather than attaching it to either territorial government. The occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a step taken in return to Russian advances into Bessarabia. Unable to mediate between Turkey and Russia over the control of Serbia, Austria–Hungary declared neutrality when the conflict between the two powers escalated into the Russo-Turkish War . In order to counter Russian and French interests in Europe, an alliance was concluded with Germany in October 1879 and with Italy in May 1882.

Italy

Like Germanymarker, Italy had been formed from a collection of former states. At first, its main concerns were to get its government established, but by 1914 Italy was settled and was looking to 'flex its muscles'. Like some of the other European powers, it wanted to set up colonies and build up an overseas empire. With this aim in mind, Italy joined the German-Austrian Alliance to form the Triple Alliance, partly in anger at the French seizure of Tunisiamarker in 1881, which many Italians had seen as a potential colony.

However, Italian public opinion remained unenthusiastic about their country's alignment with Austria–Hungary, a past enemy of Italian unification, and whose Italian-majority districts in the Trentino and Istriamarker were seen as Italia irredenta ("unredeemed Italy"). In the years before World War I, many distinguished military analysts predicted that Italy would change sides. This prediction was strengthened by Italy's invasion and annexation of Tripolimarker, bringing it into conflict with the German-backed Ottoman Empire. There is some evidence that Germany and Austria–Hungary did not entirely trust their ally. In any case, Italy was not a strong individual or military power.

Italy's ideas for maintaining the balance of power in Europe clearly gravitated towards major alliances, even if they were a passive member. Italy's reasoning for not siding with the Central Powers was that the Triple Alliance was a defensive alliance, but Germany and Austria–Hungary had taken the offensive. It is also thought that Britain and Italy had an agreement about the Mediterraneanmarker. Britain needed access to the Mediterranean, so that she could access her African and India colonies easily. Because Italy is surrounded by the Mediterranean, it could not afford to fall out with Britain. This is thought to be another reason that Italy changed sides.

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