“How radically was the political map of Europe changed by the Paris Peace Settlement, and why was it so changed?”
World War 1 ended when in November 11th 1918 the new German Republic under the rule of the newly named Chancellor Ebert signed the armistice with the Allies.
The Paris Peace Settlement took place from January 1919 until July 1919. During this period of time leaders and representatives fro a large number of countries that were in one way or another involved in the war met in Paris to draw a treaty, this was The Treaty of Versailles. The main players in the making of the treaty were the Big Four; W. Wilson from USA, D.L. George from UK, G. Clemenceau from France, and V. Orlando from Italy. The Treaty of Versailles was based on the Treaty of Vienna from the Napoleonic Wars, and it intended to draw the end of the war and the future of the nations in Europe. Even though many were very keen in setting up fair terms and in restoring peace for the future, many others thought that the Treaty of Versailles was quiet the opposite and nowhere near in preventing future conflicts. The main flaw that the treaty had was that it was too harsh on Germany. It blamed Germany for causing the war, it demanded 35$ billion in reparation costs, it was to give away part of its lands to other nations, its fleet was confiscated, and it was not to have an army of more than 100,000 men. As many pointed out, these harsh terms might backfire and cause future conflicts: “If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare predict, will not limp.” (Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of Peace 1919). Furthermore, Germany was not present in the negotiations of these terms, and was forced to agree and sign the treaty. This might have so due to the sense of revanchism the French had against Germany’s victory in 1871 in the Franco-Prussian War, where the French were also forced to sign the armistice [in Versailles] and give away Alsace and Lorraine.
In consequence, of the Treaty of Versailles the political and geographical map of Europe was hugely changed. New countries emerged and old countries fell. The new countries created were: Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The map illustrated the changes:
The emergence of these new states was due to the growing nationalism among ethnic groups which demanded a sovereign state for themselves. This was backed up partly by W. Wilson’s 14 Points, especially points 5, 10, 11, 13, and by the Paris Peace Settlement.
Firstly, Germany was forced to give part of its lands to France, Belgium, Denmark, Poland and Lithuania. The most important or significant area that was demanded was of Alsace and Lorraine in the Rhineland by France, since it was signed off to Germany in the War of 1871 [Treaty of Frankfurt]. However, statistically these areas were populated mostly by Germans. The fact that Germany was treated very harshly and was expected to pay enormous reparation costs and the socio-political turmoil within Germany caused the German economy to fall dramatically. There were numerous strikes, hyperinflation, no trading, people lost all their savings, French and Belgian troops took control the area of Ruhr since it was an important industrial site as Germany was unable to pay the reparations, all these led to Germans to starve, be in extreme conditions, demoralised all the nation and bitterness grew against the Allies.
Other newly created states like Poland and Czechoslovaki were also in socio-political difficulties. Both countries gained territorial independence, however one may question if they gained national independence since they were populated by many minorities from neighbouring nations. Poland contained over one million Germans, one and a half million Byelorussians, and four million Ukrainians. On the other hand Czechoslovakia contained seven hundred fifty thousand Hungarians and three million Germans, this was nearly forty per cent of the population. Poland and Czechoslovakia were not alone in this situation, many Hungarians found themselves in Rumania, Germans found themselves in Austria [by the Treaty of St. Germaine they were prohibited of joining Germany], and Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Austrians found themselves in Yugoslavia. Many other minorities found that they were not much better off than they were before the war.
W. Wilson proposed the League of Nations as an organisation that would discourage and prevent future wars, however its affectivity failed due to various reasons; the USA adopted an isolationist position and did not join it, Russia also did not join it, and many found that the ways in which it wanted to prevent wars was as extreme as war themselves [wars against wars, force against force].
In conclusion, one may see the end of World War One positively in the sense that it gave independence to many ethnical groups and their own sovereign states, however one may also see it very negatively as how it failed to prevent future wars. This can be explained by the same reason of why the Great War started in the first place, due to nationalistic ambitions for independence, however, the Treaty of Versailles intensified this feeling, as it besides creating new sovereign states, it created more boundaries between ethnical groups. As Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France said after having read the Treaty of Versailles: “This isn’t peace, it’s a twenty year truce.” (J. Merriman, A history of Modern Europe (1996) p1068).
- J. Merriman, A History of Modern Europe (1996)
- M. Macmillan, Peacemakers (2001)
- R, Hawthorne,(1950) “The Franco-German Boundary of 1871” World Politics pp209-250
- Source: Greece Central School District (http://web001.greece.k12.ny.us/)
- Northern Virginia Community College: http://www.nvcc.edu/home/cevans/Versailles/Menu.html
- Mount Holyoke College, Wilson’s 14 Points: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/doc31.htm
- J M Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (Macmillan, 1919)
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