29.5.3: The Final Treaty
After the war, the Paris Peace Conference imposed a series of peace treaties on the Central Powers, officially ending the war. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles dealt with Germany and, building on Wilson’s Fourteen Points, created the League of Nations in June 1919.
Describe the final treaty signed by the belligerants
- The major decisions at the Paris Peace Conference were the creation of the League of Nations; the five peace treaties with defeated enemies; the awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as “mandates,” chiefly to Britain and France; and the drawing of new national boundaries to better reflect the forces of nationalism.
- The Central Powers had to acknowledge responsibility for “all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by” their aggression.
- In the Treaty of Versailles, this statement was Article 231, which became known as War Guilt clause because of the resentment and humiliation it caused many Germans.
- The Treaty of Versailles also forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that formed the Entente powers.
- The redrawing of the world map at these conferences created many critical conflict-prone international contradictions; these became one of the causes of World War II.
- Carthaginian peace
- The imposition of a brutal “peace” achieved by completely crushing the enemy. The term derives from the peace imposed on Carthage by Rome. After the Second Punic War, Carthage lost all its colonies, was forced to demilitarize and pay a constant tribute to Rome, and could enter war only with Rome’s permission. At the end of the Third Punic War, the Romans systematically burned Carthage to the ground and enslaved its population.
- White Russia
- A loose confederation of Anti-Communist forces that fought the Bolsheviks, also known as the Reds, in the Russian Civil War (1917–1923) and to a lesser extent, continued operating as militarized associations both outside and within Russian borders until roughly the Second World War.
- Treaty of Versailles
- The most important of the peace treaties that ended World War I. It was signed on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Final Treaties of the Paris Peace Conference
Five major peace treaties were prepared at the Paris Peace Conference (with the affected countries in parentheses):
- The Treaty of Versailles, June 28, 1919, (Germany)
- The Treaty of Saint-Germain, September 10, 1919, (Austria)
- The Treaty of Neuilly, November 27, 1919, (Bulgaria)
- The Treaty of Trianon, June 4, 1920, (Hungary)
- The Treaty of Sèvres, August 10, 1920; subsequently revised by the Treaty of Lausanne, July 24, 1923, (Ottoman Empire/Republic of Turkey).
The major decisions were the establishment of the League of Nations; the five peace treaties with defeated enemies; the awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as “mandates,” chiefly to members of the British Empire and to France; reparations imposed on Germany, and the drawing of new national boundaries (sometimes with plebiscites) to better reflect the forces of nationalism. The main result was the Treaty of Versailles, with Germany, which in section 231 laid the guilt for the war on “the aggression of Germany and her allies.” This provision proved humiliating for Germans and set the stage for very high reparations, though Germany paid only a small portion before reparations ended in 1931.
As the conference’s decisions were enacted unilaterally and largely on the whims of the Big Four, for the duration of the Conference Paris was effectively the center of a world government that deliberated over and implemented sweeping changes to the political geography of Europe. Most famously, the Treaty of Versailles itself weakened Germany’s military and placed full blame for the war and costly reparations on Germany’s shoulders. The humiliation and resentment this caused is sometimes consider responsible for Nazi electoral successes and indirectly, World War II.
The League of Nations proved controversial in the United States as critics said it subverted the powers of Congress to declare war. The U.S. Senate did not ratify any of the peace treaties and the U.S. never joined the League – instead, the Harding administration of 1921-1923 concluded new treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Germany was not invited to attend the conference at Versailles. Representatives of White Russia (but not Communist Russia) were present. Numerous other nations sent delegations to appeal for various unsuccessful additions to the treaties; parties lobbied for causes ranging from independence for the countries of the South Caucasus to Japan’s demand for racial equality among the other Great Powers.
Austria-Hungary was partitioned into several successor states, including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, largely but not entirely along ethnic lines. Transylvania was shifted from Hungary to Greater Romania. The details were contained in the Treaty of Saint-Germain and the Treaty of Trianon. As a result of the Treaty of Trianon, 3.3 million Hungarians came under foreign rule. Although the Hungarians made up 54% of the population of the pre-war Kingdom of Hungary, only 32% of its territory was left to Hungary. Between 1920 and 1924, 354,000 Hungarians fled former Hungarian territories attached to Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.
The Russian Empire, which had withdrawn from the war in 1917 after the October Revolution, lost much of its western frontier as the newly independent nations of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland were carved from it. Romania took control of Bessarabia in April 1918.
The Ottoman Empire disintegrated, with much of its Levant territory awarded to various Allied powers as protectorates, including Palestine. The Turkish core in Anatolia was reorganized as the Republic of Turkey. The Ottoman Empire was to be partitioned by the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920. This treaty was never ratified by the Sultan and was rejected by the Turkish National Movement, leading to the victorious Turkish War of Independence and the much less stringent 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. It was signed on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I signed separate treaties. Although the armistice signed on November 11, 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on October 21, 1919.
Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required “Germany accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks (then $31.4 billion, roughly equivalent to USD $442 billion in 2017). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes, predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a “Carthaginian peace”—and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive, views that have since been the subject of ongoing debate by historians and economists from several countries. On the other hand, prominent figures on the Allied side such as French Marshal Ferdinand Foch criticized the treaty for treating Germany too leniently.
The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one content: Germany was neither pacified nor conciliated, nor was it permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European Powers, and the renegotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the indefinite postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932.
The remaking of the world map at these conferences gave birth to a number of critical conflict-prone international contradictions, which would become one of the causes of World War II. The British historian Eric Hobsbawm claimed that
no equally systematic attempt has been made before or since, in Europe or anywhere else, to redraw the political map on national lines. […] The logical implication of trying to create a continent neatly divided into coherent territorial states each inhabited by separate ethnically and linguistically homogeneous population, was the mass expulsion or extermination of minorities. Such was and is the reductio ad absurdum of nationalism in its territorial version, although this was not fully demonstrated until the 1940s.
It has long been argued that Wilson’s Fourteen Points, in particular the principle of national self-determination, were primarily anti-Left measures designed to tame the revolutionary fever sweeping across Europe in the wake of the October Revolution and the end of the war by playing the nationalist card.
- The Final Treaty
“Paris Peace Conference.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Peace_Conference%2C_1919. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Treaty of Versailles.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Versailles. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“William_Orpen_–_The_Signing_of_Peace_in_the_Hall_of_Mirrors,_Versailles_1919,_Ausschnitt.jpg.” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Orpen_%E2%80%93_The_Signing_of_Peace_in_the_Hall_of_Mirrors,_Versailles_1919,_Ausschnitt.jpg. Wikimedia Commons Public domain.