World War I: President Wilson's 14 Points--Analysis

The 'submerged nations' are coming to the surface and as soon as they appear, they fly at somebody's throat.

-- Tasker Bliss, American Arny officer at Versaiiles

Mr. Wilson bores me with his Fourteen Points; why, God Almighty has only 10!

-- Georges Clemenceau, French Primer

Figure 1.--.

President Wilson's first five points dealt with major principles. Point 1 renounced secret treaties which many had come to see as a cause of the War. Point 2 dealt with freedom of the seas, the issue that brought America into the War. Point 3 called for the removal of worldwide trade barriers. This was a major issue both in American domestic politics as well as international diplomact. Point 4 advocated arms reductions. Point 5 suggested the international arbitration of all colonial disputes. Points 6 to 13 were concerned with specific territorial problems, including claims made by Russia, France and Italy--some of the major Allied beligerants. Here Wilson addressed difficult issues such as the control of the Dardanelles and the claims for independence by the people living in areas controlled by the Central Powers.

1. Public Diplomacy

The first point was, "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." Many Europeans reached the conclussion that the War had been caused by the complex series of treaties among countries. The treaty that tied Germany to Austria-Hungary enbolded Austria to ignore Russian warnings. Some of these treaties had secret codicies. Clumsy German diplomacy, made public by the British, offering the return of the American southwest further confirmned this view. Many were convinced that a more, open public diplomacy would help preserve peace in the future.

2. Freedom of the Seas

The second point was, "Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants." Wilson added this point as a result of a huge miscalulation on the part of Kaiser Wilhelm, the renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare. Sunmarine were new when first used in World War I. Because they were stealy, they were considered especially sinister. British propaganda and attacks ob pasenger liners carrying Americans, such as Lusitania in 1915 had incensed American public opinion. This issue was much more complicated often discussed. At the onset of the War, the oyal Navy had closed the seas to German and other Central Powers shipping. In addition, the Germans charged that passanger liners ofen carried war matrials. In the end, the Germans gained little real advantage in rsuming unrestricted sunmarine wafare in 1917. In contrast, the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force in France gave the allies the manpower to blunt the German 1918 offensive and thn mount an oiffence that would cracknthe German Western Front.

3. Free Trade

The third point was, "The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance." The United States was especially interested in reducing trade barriers. America had emerged as an industrial leader with inducties that were often more efficent than European manufacturers.

4. Disarmament

The fourth point was, "Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety." Many believed that the arms race in the early 20th century had been a factor in causing the War. European powers greatly expanded military spending in the early 20th century. The size of armies were greatly expanded. The naval arms race between Britain and Germany was widely covrened in the press. Battleship constuction in particular was enormouly expensive. After the War this became an even moire widely heald theme. Arms manufactiors were called the "Merchants of Death".

5. Colonization

The fifth point was, "A free, open-minded and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined." This was an issue of importance to the United States which despite seizing the Philippines in the Spanish-American War (1898) was not a major colonial power. The United States, for example, in China pursued an Open Door policy. American policy was to criticize European colonialism because of the military and economic advantages it afforded. Many Americans also had moral objections. Little more than a decade after Versailles, the United States began to pln for Filipino independence.

6. Russia

The sixth point was, "The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their goodwill, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy." At the time, the Bolshecicks had seized power in Russia and were determined to with draw from the War. The Germans were in the process of forcing the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on them. After the War, the Germans complained about the harsh conditions of the Versailles Treaty. In fact, the harshest treaty of the war was the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk that the Germans forced on Russia.

7. Belgium

The seventh point was, "Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired." It was the German decission to invade France through neutral Belgium that had brought Britain into the War. The stiff resistance of the Belgian army under King Albert I helped delay the Germans just long enough to give the French Amy time to prepare the defense that would eventually stop the Germans on the Marne. The Germans, however, managed to occupy most of Belgium. The Germans annexed some German speaking areas of eastern Belgium. British propaganda had helped to turn the suffering of the Belgians into a clause celebre. Future American President Herbert Hoover helped organize an American relief effort while the United States was still neutral to prevent starvation in Belgium.

8. France

The eighth point was, "All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all." The Alsace-Loraine issue and the Franco-Prussian War is much more complicated than generally understood. Alscace in particular for much of European history was consderd part of German Europe. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Is it true that Alsace had been considerably Frencified after it was made part of France by Louis XIV. In terms of the "wrong done to France", the Franco-Prussian war was jnot a simple matter of German aggression. It was France which declared war on Prussia.

9. Italy

The ninth point was, "A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognisable lines of nationality." Italy at the outbreak of the War was allied with Germany and Austro-Hungary. The Allies managed to convince the Italians that more was to be gained if they entered the War on their side. As Italy desired territory controlled by Austro-Hungary, they decided in 1915 to join the allies.

10. Austria Hungary

The tenth point was, " The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development." The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a huge assembly of different prople of varying nationality, religions, and languages. The Empire was dominated by a relatively small Austrian ruling class. Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War has excluded Austria from Germany. Thus the Austrians turned to their non-German territories. After the World War I, several new countries were to be carved from the Empire. It was in on of these countries, Czecheslovakia that NAZI Germany would begin its conquest of neigboring countries. Here there was a problem with the principle of national self determination embodied in the 14 Points. In a Europe with many nationalities living side bu side, there was no way of devising borders tat would please everyone. Some national groups were to small to justify a country. Others would find themselves minorities in new countries. Thus in Czecheslovakia, the Germans in the Sudetenland found themselves part of a new republic dominated by Czechs. Hitler would take advantage of this in 1938 which led to the Munich Conference.

11. The Balkans

The eleventh point was, "Rumania, Serbia and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into." The War had begun in the Balkans. Romania which had sided with the Allies and defeated was restored. Serbia which had also faired badly, was esentially rewarded bu creating Yugoslavia, literally Land of the Southern Serbs around it. There had been relatively limited emmigration from the Balkans to the United States. As a result, the United states was less invested inthe Balkans than other areas affected by the War.

12. Ottoman Empire

The twelth point was, "The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees."

13. Poland

The thirteenth point was, "An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant." Poland was of considerable interest to the United States, in part because of the considerable Polish ethnic communities in some American cities. There was also consideravle symnpthy for the Poles in France. The final peace settlement created a Poland with a corridor to the Baltic cut across largely German populated areas. This was the Polish Corridor that Hitler used as the primary demand made on Poland in the steps leading to World War II.

14. League of Nations

The fourteenth point eas, "A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." The League of Nations was made the first article of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Although the major European countries joined the League, it was attacked by the Republican dominated American Senate. Although Wilson considered the League the center-piece of his presidency and efforts to prevent future wars, the United states never joined the League.


Navigate the CIH World War I Section:
[Return to the Main 14 Points page]
[Return to the Peace treaties] [About Us]
[Aftermath] [Alliances] [Animals] [Armistace] [Biographies] [Causes] [Campaigns] [Casualties] [Children] [Countries] [Declaration of war] [Deciding factors] -------[Diplomacy] [Economics] -------[Geo-political crisis] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Military forces] [Neutrality] [Pacifism] [People] [Propaganda] [POWs] [Russian Revolution] [Terrorism] [Trench warfare] ------[Technology] [Weaponry]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War I page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]

Created: July 5, 2003
Last updated: J4:09 PM 2/19/2018