Before the rise of the United States, Britain, and to a far lesser degree France, shared the task of policing the world. Both had a great deal of experience in regulating volatile political situations that threatened the economic development of the world.
At their heights, France's empire totalled a little under 5 million square miles with a population of 110 million including France. The British Empire included a little more than 13 million sq. miles and contained a population amounting to one fifth of the world's total at the time - getting on for half a billion people. The British also controlled the world's oceans.
For comparison, the contiguous United States today has an area of about 3 million square miles with a population of 310 million, and the Russian Federation 6.5 million sq. miles with 145 million people. The erstwhile Soviet Union was somewhat less than 8.5 million sq. miles, with 293 million people.
Imperial Germany, personified by its half-crazed leader Kaiser Wilhelm II, was extremely jealous of the British Empire. When the Great War broke out, Germany had an overseas empire of its a own, comprising 1.3 million sq. miles and 65 million people - about the same size as the Dutch Empire. In Africa, they administered Togoland, Cameroon, German East Africa (which later was called Tanganyika, and later still Tanzania) and German South-West Africa (now Namibia, basically, the Namib desert.) They also possessed the north-eastern part of New Guinea, some lease-ports in China and various specks in the Pacific.
The Kaiser and his warmongering advisers thought they could add to this tally by invading France and removing a chunk of the French Empire as part of the price of withdrawing their army from French soil. They had gotten away with this kind of mugging before, notably during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71. One attraction of the famous "Schlieffen Plan" – the German scheme to encircle Paris by invading through Belgium - was that the occupation of that country would give them not only Channel ports, but also Belgium and therefore another large chunk of Africa, the Belgian Congo. This acquisition would have split Africa by creating German-controlled territory from coast to coast.
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