The Triple Alliance was composed of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The three countries formed a treaty that ultimately contributed to the start of World War I.
Signed on May 20, 1882, the Triple Alliance was a secret agreement between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, which were also known as the Central Powers. Germany had already held a Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary from 1879, which they had established to support each other in case of attack from other European countries. Their alliance was considered surprising, but their dislike of Russia allowed them to find common ground. In 1882, seeking help against France, Italy joined Germany and Austria-Hungary to form the Triple Alliance. The agreement was mutually beneficial for all parties, since they were all in need of support. For Italy, the agreement promised to provide military support against France in case Italy was attacked without provocation. In return, Italy would provide assistance to Germany if France were to attack Germany. Also, Italy promised to remain neutral regarding the war between Austria-Hungary and Russia. Therefore, if either of the two Great Powers attacked one of three alliance partners, the other two alliance partners would be required to interfere with military force to assist its partners. On the other hand, if one Great Power forced one of the alliance partners to start a war, the other Great Power promised to stay neutral.
The agreement was renewed in 1887, when Germany promised to support Italian colonial ambitions in North Africa, and Italy promised continuous friendship in return. However, Italy reached an understanding with France in 1902 by signing a secret pact, stating that each of the countries would remain neutral in case of a war. When this agreement with France became public, Italy left the Triple Alliance.
France and Britain were concerned about the Triple Alliance, and France felt especially threatened by the German Navy. Thus, the two countries signed an Entente Cordiale, which means friendly understanding, to encourage cooperation against a German threat. Russia joined the alliance three years later to form the Triple Entente, which the consisted of France, Great Britain, and Russia. The primary difference between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente was that the latter did not promise military support if war broke out. However, the countries of the Triple Entente did pledge moral support for each other. The Russian government also made a promise to help Serbia in case of attack by the members of the Triple Alliance.
The Triple Alliance remained secret until 1883, when Italian politicians made the agreement public. Each country benefited from the treaty, albeit in different ways. Italy was concerned with ensuring support in case of an attack from France. The agreement helped to keep France isolated and to decrease Germany’s and Austria’s concern about Russian dominance in southeast Europe.
At the start of World War I, Italy remained neutral due to the defensive pacts that had been signed. However, since Austria-Hungary was Italy’s historical enemy, Italy officially opposed Austria-Hungary when it entered World War I, in May of 1915.