The Dual Alliance was a defensive alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary, which was created by treaty on October 7, 1879 as part of Bismarck's system of alliances to prevent/limit war. In it, Germany and Austria-Hungary pledged to aid one another in case of an attack by Russia. Also, each state promised benevolent neutrality to the other if one of them was attacked by another European power (generally taken to be France, especially after the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894).
After the formation of the German Empire in 1871, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck wanted to portray his nation as a peacemaker and preserver of the European status quo, as well as gain more power for the German Empire and unify Germany. In 1878, Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War; the resulting Treaty of San Stefano gave Russia considerable influence in the Balkans. This development outraged Austria-Hungary, who was Russia's chief competitor for influence in the Balkan region (despite being an ally of the Russians and the Germans in the Three Emperors' League). Hence, in 1878, Bismarck called an international conference (the Congress of Berlin) in order to sort out the problem. The Treaty of Berlin that resulted from the conference reversed Russia's gains from the Treaty of San Stefano and provided the Austrians with compensation for lost territory. Despite Bismarck's attempts to play the role of an "honest broker" at the Congress of Berlin, Russo-German relations deteriorated following the conference. The Three Emperors' League was discontinued, and Germany and Austria-Hungary were free to ally with one another against Russia.
In 1881, Italy lost in the competition with France to establish a colony in Tunis (present-day Tunisia). To enlist diplomatic support, Italy joined Germany and Austria-Hungary to form the Triple Alliance in 1882, which was the first formal war-camp in Europe, the second being the Triple Entente formed in 1907.
During World War I, however, Italy did not go to war immediately with her allies but stayed neutral. In 1915, she joined the Entente powers and declared war on Austria-Hungary, and later Germany in the subsequent year. The Dual Alliance persisted throughout the war and ended with their defeats in 1918.
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