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10-08-2015, 16:34

The Peace Settlement

In January 1919, the delegations of twenty-seven victorious Allied nations gathered in Paris to conclude a final settlement of the Great War. Some delegates believed that this conference would avoid the mistakes made at Vienna in 1815 by aristocrats who rearranged the map of Europe to meet the selfish desires of the great powers. Harold Nicolson, one of the British delegates, expressed what he believed this conference would achieve instead: “We were journeying to Paris not merely to liquidate the war, but to found a New Order in Europe. We were preparing not Peace only, but Eternal Peace. There was about us the halo of some divine mission. . . . For we were bent on doing great, permanent and noble things.”2 National expectations, however, made Nicolson’s quest for “eternal peace” a difficult one. Over the years, the rea- sons for fighting World War I had been transformed from selfish national interests to idealistic principles. No one expressed the latter better than Woodrow Wilson. The American president outlined to the U.S. Congress “Fourteen Points” that he believed justified the enormous military struggle then being waged (see the box above). Later, Wilson spelled out additional steps for a truly just and lasting peace. As the spokesman for a new world order based on democracy and international cooperation, Wilson was enthusiastically cheered when he arrived in Europe for the peace conference, being held in Paris. Wilson soon found, however, that other states at the conference were guided by considerably more pragmatic motives. The secret treaties and agreements that had been made before and during the war could not be totally ignored, even if they did conflict with Wilson’s principle of self-determination (see Chapter 5). National interests also complicated the deliberations of the conference. David Lloyd George (1863–1945), prime minister of Great Britain, had won a decisive electoral victory in December 1918 on a platform of making the Germans pay for this dreadful war. France’s approach to peace was determined primarily by considerations of national security. To Georges Clemenceau, the feisty French premier who had led his country to victory, the French people had borne the brunt of German aggression and deserved security against any possible future attack. Clemenceau wanted a demili- tarized Germany, vast reparations to pay for the costs of the war, and a separate Rhineland as a buffer state between France and Germany—demands that Wilson viewed as vindictive and contrary to the principle of national self-determination. Although twenty-seven nations were represented at the Paris Peace Conference, the most important decisions were made by Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George. Italy was considered one of the so-called Big Four powers but played a much less important role than the other three countries. Germany was not invited to attend, and Russia could not because it was embroiled in civil war. In view of the many conflicting demands at Versailles, it was inevitable that the Big Three would quarrel.Wilson was determined to create a League of Nations to prevent future wars. Clemenceau and Lloyd George were equally determined to punish Germany. In the end, only compromise made it possible to achieve a peace settlement. On January 25, 1919, the conference adopted the principle of the League ofNations (the details of its structure were left for later sessions); Wilson willingly agreed to make compromises on territorial arrangements to guarantee the League’s establishment, believing that a functioning League could later rectify bad arrangements. Clemenceau also compromised to obtain some guarantees for French security. He renounced France’s desire for a separate Rhineland and instead accepted a defensive alliance with Great Britain and the United States, both of which pledged to help France if it were attacked by Germany. The final peace settlement at Paris consisted of five separate treaties with the defeated nations—Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The Treaty of Versailles with Germany, signed on June 28, 1919, was by far the most important one. The Germans considered it a harsh peace and were particularly unhappy with Article 231, the so-called war guilt clause, which declared Germany (and Austria) responsible for starting the war and ordered Germany to pay reparations for all the damage to which the Allied governments and their people had been subjected as a result of the war “imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.” The military and territorial provisions of the treaty also rankled the Germans, although they were by no means as harsh as the Germans claimed. Germany had to lower its army to 100,000 men, reduce its navy, and eliminate its air force. German territorial losses included the return of Alsace and Lorraine to France and sections of Prussia to the new Polish state. German land west and as far as 30 miles east of the Rhine was established as a demilitarized zone and stripped of all armaments or fortifications to serve as a barrier to any future German military moves westward against France. Outraged by the “dictated peace,” the new German government complained but accepted the treaty. The separate peace treaties made with the other Central Powers extensively redrew the map of eastern Europe (see Map 4.3). Many of these changes merely ratified what the war had already accomplished. Both Germany and Russia lost considerable territory in eastern Europe; the Austro-Hungarian Empire disappeared altogether. New nation-states emerged from the lands of these three empires: Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary. Territorial rearrangements were also made in the Balkans. Romania acquired additional lands from Russia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Serbia formed the nucleus of a new South Slav state, called Yugoslavia, which combined Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Although the Paris Peace Conference was supposedly guided by the principle of self-determination, the mixtures of peoples in eastern Europe made it impossible to draw boundaries along neat ethnic lines. Compromises had to be made, sometimes to satisfy the national interest of the victors. France, for example, had lost Russia as its major ally on Germany’s eastern border and wanted to strengthen and expand Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania as much as possible so that those states could serve as barriers against Germany and Communist Russia. As a result of compromises, virtually every eastern European state was left with a minorities problem that could lead to future conflicts. Germans in Poland; Hungarians, Poles, and Germans in Czechoslovakia; and the combination of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, and Albanians in Yugoslavia all became sources of later conflict. Moreover, the new map of eastern Europe was based on the temporary collapse of power in both Germany and Russia. As neither country accepted the new eastern frontiers, it seemed only a matter of time before a resurgent Germany or Russia would seek to make changes. The Ottoman Empire was also a casualty of the war. To gain Arab support against the Turks, the Western allies had promised to recognize the independence of Arab areas now under Ottoman occupation. But imperialist habits died hard. Although Saudi Arabia eventually received full independence, much of the remainder of the region was assigned to Great Britain (Iraq and Jordan) and France (Syria and Lebanon) as mandates under the new League of Nations. The peace settlement had established the mandate system at the insistence of Woodrow Wilson, who opposed outright annexation of colonial territories by the allies. Within twenty years after the signing of the peace treaties, Europe was again engaged in deadly conflict. Some historians have suggested that the cause was the punitive nature of the peace terms imposed on the defeated powers, provoking anger that would lead to the rise of revanchist sentiment in Germany and Austria. Others maintain that the cause was less in the structure of the Versailles Treaty than in its lack of enforcement. Successful enforcement of the peace necessitated the active involvement of its principal architects, especially in helping the new German state develop a peaceful and democratic republic. By the end of 1919, however, the United States was already retreating into isolationism. The failure of the U.S. Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles meant that the United States never joined the League of Nations. The Senate also rejected Wilson’s defensive alliance with Great Britain and France. American withdrawal from the defensive alliance with Britain and France led Britain to withdraw as well. By removing itself from European affairs, the United States forced France to face its old enemy alone, leading the embittered nation to take strong actions against Germany that only intensified German resentment. By the end of 1919, it appeared that the peace was already beginning to unravel.