Why did the 1919 Paris settlement not provide a durable peace in Europe?
The First World War, was without a doubt one of the most tragic events in the history of people. It was fought on a scale, and at a cost in human suffering, unparalleled in the history of man kind. Countries from every continent, including most of those in Europe, had taken part. Whole populations had been marshalled to serve their countries war efforts1. All these came to an end when on 11 November 1918, Germany finally agreed to sign an armistice. What is very important to know, is that this armistice was actually based on United States' President Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points". However, the Treaty of Versailles, sharply differed from Wilson's points, and Germany, who felt betrayed, denounced the treaty as "morally invalid." Henig claimed that the fact that it did not survive the 1920s intact stemmed, not so much from the terms of the peace treaties themselves but from the reluctance of political leaders in the inter-war period to enforce them2. Overall, the Treaty of Versailles was flawed to the extent that instead of preventing future wars it made a future war inevitable!
But let's take things from the beginning in our attempt to demonstrate the reasons that led the Versailles Treaty, to be considered a failure. The goal following World War I was to restore European stability and maintain everlasting peace. However, these goals were recognized by all of the leaders as not easily achievable. French Prime Minister Clemenceau commented on the day the armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, "We have won the war: now we have to win the peace, and it may be more difficult3. The French politician Marshal Foch, as the Versailles Treaty was being signed, stated rather prophetically, "This is not peace; it is an armistice for 20 years4." Indeed, Foch was absolutely correct. The Versailles Treaty did little to shape any sort of long-term peace from the results of World War I. Instead, the treaty, hastily put together, was vague, exposed the Allies' inability to cooperate toward an agreement, and fuelled German nationalism from resentment over her treatment by the Allies in the treaty. The principle reasons for the failure of the Treaty of Versailles to establish a long-term peace include the following. Firstly, the Allies disagreed on how best to treat Germany, also Germany refused to accept the terms of reparations, and finally Germany's refusal to accept the "war-guilt" clause, that led to growing German resentment and nationalism.
The Versailles Peace Conference exposed the ideological rift growing between the Allies. Throughout Versailles and after, Britain and France could not agree on how to treat Germany. While public opinions of both nations wanted Germany pay to the fullest extent, only France saw Germany as a potential threat to the future security of European stability. Thus, while Britain saw Germany as a barrier-fortress against the Russians and an economically strong nation with which to engage in international trade, the French viewed Germany as a threat to French security. France feared that not levying harsh enough penalties upon Germany would only make her stronger and she would eventually rise up against France in revenge. In short, while the British felt that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh on Germany, France felt as though it were not harsh enough. One aspect to deal with was German disarmament. Kitchen explains that there was general agreement that Germany should be disarmed but considerable differences about how this should best be achieved5. Eventually, the Allies came to an agreement regarding the new state of the German military. Among others, the German navy was to be limited to 15,000 officers and men, six battleships, twelve destroyers and torpedo boats, while the army was to be restricted to 100,000 men. The only problem was that the Germans never abided by this part of the treaty. One of the most...
Bibliography: Adamthwaite, Antony. The Making of the Second World War (New York, 1992).
Henig, Ruth. Versailles and After: 1919 – 1933 (London: Routledge, 1995).
Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914 – 1991 (New York, 1996).
Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace (New York, 1920).
Kitchen, Martin. Europe Between the Wars (London, 2000).
Marks, Sally. The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe, 1918 – 1933 (London, 1976).
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