Read this article to learn about the peace treaties between the period of two World wars!
The end of the First World War, “the war to end all wars”, it was believed, would be followed by a period of peace, freedom, democracy, and a better life for everyone. When USA entered the war, Woodrow Wilson declared,
We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free …
Seven months later, the Russian Revolution took place and the Soviet government issued the Decree on Peace, which called on all the belligerent nations and peoples to enter into negotiations for a peace without annexations and indemnities.
The Russian revolutionaries also hoped that their example would be followed by the working classes of some other countries of Europe. The Soviet appeal was rejected by the Allied Powers, and Germany extorted a heavy price for letting Russia withdraw from the war.
On 8 January 1918, Wilson had presented his peace proposals, called the Fourteen Points. These included the abolition of secret diplomacy, freedom of the seas, reduction of armaments, and redrawing of the boundaries of European countries on the principle of nationality.
In the case of colonies, what were proposed were an “impartial adjustment of all colonial claims”, and not the application of the principle of national self-determination? The last point was about the formation of “[a] general association of nations … for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike”. The Fourteen Points were expected to form the basis of peace.
The developments during the next twenty years, however, belied these hopes. The countries of the world did not become more democratic than before in spite of the collapse of four imperial dynasties. The social revolution which the Russian revolutionaries had hoped would occur in some countries of Europe, failed to materialise and the uprisings which took place in Germany and Hungary were ruthlessly suppressed. In many countries of Europe, dictatorial regimes came to power, which fostered national chauvinism and prepared themselves for war.
The fear of a social revolution was a major factor in the rise of dictatorial regimes and it also haunted those countries of Europe that had democratic political systems and influenced their internal and external policies.
The power of Europe was much diminished as a result of the war though its hold over the colonies did not end. A number of new independent nations emerged in Europe, generally but not entirely, based on the principle of nationality, but the conflicts within Europe over European affairs did not end.
Some of the roots of the conflicts in Europe lay in the peace treaties which were signed after the war. The inter-imperialist rivalries, which had been a major cause of the war, also did not end and they again became a major factor in international conflicts.
USA in this period became the leading power in the world. Most European economies, as well as the economies of various countries around the world, became dependent on her. This became clear when the economic depression, which started in USA in 1929, had its disastrous effects on the economy of every country in Europe (except Russia), and in other parts of the world.
The social and economic inequalities that marked the pre-war societies in industrialised countries, continued during this period too though for some time some progress was made in improving the standard of living of the people.
The economic crisis of 1929-33, however, brought into sharp focus the fundamental weaknesses of the existing system of which misery and poverty of the vast masses of the population seemed to have become an essential part.
Outside Europe and North America, the period was marked by the growing strength of the national liberation movements in the colonies, though their success was to come only after another world war had been fought.
The League of Nations, envisaged in Wilson’s Fourteen Points, came into being as a result of the peace treaties, but it proved totally ineffective in preventing the world from relapsing into another war. Since the mid-1930s a second world war seemed to have become inevitable, and when it broke out in 1939, barely twenty years after the end of the first one, it was much more widespread and many times more destructive than the first one.
The Peace Treaties:
The main enemy of the Allied Powers in the First World War had been Germany. The Peace Conference of the Allied nations started in Paris on 18 January 1919 to draft a peace treaty with Germany. The Conference was dominated by the US President, Woodrow Wilson, the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George and the French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau. The surrender of Germany had been obtained on the understanding that the Fourteen Points and other statements made by Wilson would be the basis of the peace treaty.
Wilson had, besides the Fourteen Points, announced that “[t]here shall be no annexations, no contributions, and no punitive damages” and that free acceptance by the people concerned would be the basis of any settlement.
This principle was completely violated when the treaty was drafted. Neither Germany nor any other Central Powers were represented at the conference. When the victors had finalised the treaty, they gave Germany five days’ time to sign it or face an invasion. Germany had no choice but to sign what she termed as “dictated peace”.
Even at the time of signing the treaty, the German representatives were humiliated. They were not asked to sit in the hall along with the representatives of the Allied Powers where the signing ceremony took place and were “escorted in and out of the hall in the manner of criminals conducted to and from the dock”.
Germany was also forced to accept her “war guilt”. The treaty had a chapter on reparations, which started by stating that Germany accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing 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 the aggression of Germany and her allies
When this was shown to the German foreign minister, he said,
It is demanded of us that we shall confess ourselves to be the only ones guilty of the war…. We are far from declining any responsibility … but we energetically deny that Germany and its people … were alone guilty…. In the last fifty years the imperialism of all the European States has chronically poisoned the international situation….
The treaty also had articles providing for the trial of Germans whom the Allies accused of committing war crimes. The list of the accused included the German emperor, who- had taken refuge in Holland.
The framers of the treaty were guided by various secret treaties and agreements that the major Allied Powers had signed during the course of the war. The main purpose of these secret treaties was to divide the spoils of the war. Russia was one of the signatories to these secret treaties.
After the revolution in Russia, she not only denounced these agreements but made them public. This exposed the claims of the Allies that they had been fighting the war for freedom and democracy.
Though these treaties were published in the American and the British presses, it did not deter the victors from implementing these secret treaties while deciding the fate of Germany (and later of Turkey and others Central Powers). President Wilson, for all his insistence on open diplomacy, was persuaded to give his consent.
Creation of the League of Nations:
One of the first acts of the Peace Conference was the creation of the League of Nations (enumerated in Wilson’s Fourteenth Point). The Covenant (or the formal, solemn and binding agreement) of the League of Nations was approved by the Peace Conference in April 1919.
The primary objective of the League as enunciated in the covenant was the promotion of “international cooperation, peace and security”. Three articles of the covenant were particularly important for the primary objective of the League.
Article VIII mentioned that “the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments”. Article X stated that the “[m]embers of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all
Members…. In case of any such aggression or in cases of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council [of the League] shall advice upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled”. Article XVI related to sanctions. It stated: “Should any Member of the League resort to war…, it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other Members of the League….” This Article specifically stated that other member states should sever all trade or financial relations with the aggressor country and, on the recommendation of the council, makes collective use of armed force against her.
As will be seen, the League proved to be totally ineffective in maintaining peace and taking any effective steps against the aggressor countries. Nor was any progress made towards the reduction of armaments. Two agencies created by the League, however, did useful work. These were the Permanent Court of International Justice (popularly known as the World Court) and the International Labour Organization. Major developments relating to the League will be mentioned later.
The Treaty of Versailles:
The peace treaty with Germany was signed at Versailles on 28 June 1919 and is known as the Treaty of Versailles. According to the provisions of the treaty, Alsace-Lorraine, which Germany had seized from France in 1871, was returned to France; the newly created state of Poland was provided with access to the sea by giving her about 65 km of ‘corridor’ which separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany.
Danzig was made a free city under the political control of the League of Nations and economic control of Poland. Belgium, Denmark and Lithuania also acquired German territories. The Saar coal-mining area was brought under the control of the League of Nations for fifteen years while the mines in the area were given to France as compensation. Germany was debarred from uniting with Austria.
The Rhineland was to be permanently demilitarised and occupied by the Allied troops for fifteen years. The strength of the German army was fixed at 100,000 and she was prohibited form possessing any air force or submarines.
Germany was allowed to have only a limited number of naval ships. Having been forced to admit her ‘war guilt’, she was required to pay reparations to the Allies. These reparations were assessed later and amounted to £ 6,600 million.
Germany was also deprived of all her colonial possessions German colonial territories were divided among the victorious powers as had been earlier agreed among them in the secret treaties. Most of German East Africa—Tanganyika—went to Britain, with some portions going to Portugal and Belgian Congo. Cameroons and Togoland were divided between Britain and France. Ruanda-Urundi was handed over to Belgium and South-West Africa to South Africa.
The Pacific islands under German control were divided among Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Japan also acquired Shantung, which had been a German sphere of influence. These acquisitions were given the legal sanction of a peace treaty, which Germany had signed, as well as of the League of Nations.
In theory, the German colonies were not annexed by the victorious colonial powers. The covenant of the League provided for a system of what was called the Mandates. This system was applied to the colonies of the defeated colonial powers.
The covenant stated that these colonies and territories were “inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world” and that “the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization”.
To give practical effect to this trust, the covenant further stated, that, the peoples inhabiting these colonies and territories should be placed under the ‘tutelage’ of the ‘advanced nations’.
However, which ‘advanced nation’ would bring which particular territory under her tutelage had already been determined by the ‘advanced nations’ themselves and, therefore, the League had no practical say in it.
Treaties with Austria, Hungary and Turkey:
The Treaty of Versailles was the main treaty as it concerned the main defeated country. However, separate treaties were signed with other Central Powers. The Treaty of St Germane was signed with Austria on 10 September 1919.
According to this treaty, Austria recognised the independence of Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, and ceded territories to these countries and to Italy. Austria was reduced to the position of a small state and was debarred from forming a union with Germany. A separate treaty was signed with Hungary, which was now an independent state. She was required to cede territories to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The treaty with Bulgaria required her to cede territories to Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece.
The final treaty was signed with Turkey. According to a secret agreement, Britain and France had already divided the Arab territories between themselves. Syria and Lebanon had come under French control, and Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan under the British as mandates.
Some Arab territories such as Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar had come under British influence even earlier, while some others which had enjoyed autonomy under local rulers continued as before. Hejaz became a separate state but was soon conquered by Ibn Saud, the ruler of Nejd, to form Saudi Arabia.
The loss of their Arab empire by the Ottomans had been inevitable. The Allies had given support to Arab nationalist uprisings against the Ottomans, only to acquire their territories after the war. However, the dismemberment of Turkey herself led to a Turkish nationalist uprising. Greece and Italy had occupied large parts of Turkey.
The Sultan of Turkey signed a treaty in September 1920 agreeing to Turkey’s near-total dismemberment. In the meantime, the national uprising led by Mustafa Kemal, who had established a government in Ankara, swept the country.
Kemal’s armies drove the Italians and Greeks out of the country and in July 1923, the Allies were forced to sign a new treaty with Turkey. Turkey was declared a republic which laid the foundation of a modern secular Turkey. The office of the Caliph (Khalifa) was abolished.
These treaties formally brought the First World War to an end. Many provisions of these treaties, however, later became the source of new tensions in Europe. From the beginning Russia had been excluded from all negotiations, and was kept out of the League of Nations (as was Germany).
In fact, while the treaties were being drafted and the terms of the League of Nations was being formulated, the troops of many Allied nations were fighting the revolutionary government of Russia. The colonial question was settled to the satisfaction of the victorious colonial powers and not of the peoples of the colonies. China had been one of the Allies in the First World
War and she was represented at the Peace Conference. However, her territories, formerly under German control, were given away to Japan.