** war and social upheaval: World War I peace treaties

World War I: Paris Peace Conference and World War I Treaties

Figure 1.--The German people and not just right-wing groups were outrged by the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Here is a mass protest demonstratuion in Berlin (1919). In fact the Versailles Treaty was mild compared to the peace treaties the Germans imposed on Romania and Russia and the Septemberprogramm they planned to impose on the Allies. It was not the terms of the Treaty that the Germsans objected to, fter sll hy imposed similr conditions on Romnuia abd Russua. It was the fact that it was being imposed on them that the Germans objcted to. In the German mind, tyhe naturl order of Europe was that they should be doing the imposing.

The Paris Peace Conference met in 1919. Terms in large part were dictated by the Big Four (the United States, Britain, France, and Italy). There were several actual treaties that ended the War. One, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Germany and the new Bolshevick state in Russia was abrogated by the terms of the Armistace (November 11, 1918). The first peace treaty ending World War was the onerous Brest-Litovsk Treaty which the Germans forced the new Soviet Government to sign (March 1918). The defeat of the Russians signaled what the German people thought was victory after 4 long years of war. It thus came as a great shock when the German Western Offensive failed and the Allied strengthened by a new American Army successfully beached the German Western Front. After the Allied cracked the German Western Front, they forced the Germans to annul the Treaty under the terms of the Armistace ending fighting on the Western Front (November 1918). The others were separate treaties for each successor state of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bugaria, and Turkey). The most famous of these treaties was Versailles (1919), the treaty ending the War with Germany. German was the preemenent member of the Central Powers and Germany's defeat meant the defeat of the Central Powers. Germany and the other Central Powers were not invited to Paris to negotiate, only to sign the agrrement agreed to by the Allied Powers. The Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I was signed on June 28, 1919, about 7 months after the Armistace stopping the fighting on November 11, 1918. The United States did not sign the Versailles Treaty and had to negotiate separate peace treaties with the forner Central Powers. The borders drawn for the defeated Central Powers in large measure reflect today's map of Europe, except for the changes made to the German border as a result of World War II. The Versailles Treaty had a huge impact on the international status of Germany, impacting the country territorially, militarily, and econimically. Germany was made a pariah country and largely blamed for the start of the War. Of major significance, the Germany being punished was the Germany of the Weimar Republic and not Imperial Germany as the Kaiser had abdigated. As a result, the domestic German oposition to the changes, including the territorial changes, came to be directed at the Weimar Republic and not the Imperial Government and military that had conducted the War. The Paris Pece Conference also enshirined the principle of national self determibnation. The Conference, unfortunately only ended the first round of a European conlict that would be renewed again after a 20-year truce in 1939.

World War I

World War I was actually a largely European war. What made the war so important were the huge casualties caused no only by the duration, but the introduction of new weapns, including poison gas and rapid advances in the lethality of weapons. A whole generation of European men was largely killed in the fighting. The consequences were enormous. Empires and ruling families fell. Long held social systems collapsed. The Bollshevivks seized power in Russia. New countries based on nationality were created in Eastern Europe out of the old empires. The national hatreds that wee spawned errupted in an even more destructive war 20 years later.

Wilson's Fourteen Points

First the Blosheviks and then Germany and the other Central Powers looked to the Fourteen Points proposed by American President Wilson as a basis for ending the War. Actually they looked selectiuvely at them. The Germns and ustrins had mulkti-ethnic empires and had no interest in national self detrminastion for the vrious ethnic grouos wiyhin heir empires. Also the Germns had sigbificant territitial obkectives which hardly coimincided with Wilson's Fiuirteen Points. The Allies (Britain and France) lso had sdignificant reservtiins and were hsrdly iommitted them.

Romanian Treaty

Brest-Litovsk--Russia (March 1918)

The poorly organized and led Russian Army suffered enormous losses. The Russian tied down large German armies in the Eastern Front, making it impossible for the Germans to concentrate their strength against the French and British on the Western Front. The Russians finally cracked in 1917. Revolution broke out in Russia. The Bolsheviks seized control of the Russian government in November 1917. The Russian Army had collapsed in front of the Germans. The Russian people were starving as deperate. The Bolsheviks who had pledged bread and peace had no alternative but to seek terms. The Germans were thus able to force a humiliating peace on the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks had to ceede the Ukraine, its Polish territories, the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), and Finland. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed in 1918 between the new Soviet government and the Central Powers. Russia gave up land for peace. This thus allowed the Russians to withdraw from the war, although at enormous cost. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty was after the collapse of the German Western Front in 1918 was annulled by the terms of the Armistice betwewwn Germany and he Western Allies.

Septemberprogramm (1914)

German defeat in World War I meant that they could not impose a peace settlkent on the Allies. We have, however, what it would have looked like. Not only do we know what the Germans imposed on Romania and Russia, but we have details of the Septemberprogramm. This was the German plan for the territorial expansion of the German Empire after their victory in the War. The Plan was prepared for Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg after Germany launched the War. The Chancellor's private secretary, Kurt Riezler, drafted the Septemberprogramm (September 9, 1914). It was based on suggestions from Germany's industrial, military, and political leadership. [Scheck] At the time, German armies had smashed Russian armies in the East and were pproaching Paris in the West. Germany seemed posed to defeat France in short ordrer and decisively. The Plan entailed substantial territorial expansionand creating vassal birder states--essentially German dominatioin nof Europe. Belgium was to become a vassal state. Luxembourg would be annexed. The Netherlands would become more closely associated with the German Empire. France would lose more territory and be partilly disarmed. African possessions were to be expanded. Russian would be sujected to huge losses of territory. And the Allies would have to pay a huge indemnity. The problems for the Germans was that even as the Septemberprogramm was being drafted, the battered French Army was making a historic stand on the Marne (September 6-12), denying the German Generals the quick victory thery had poromised the Kaiser. The War turned into a bttle of attrition that Germany with its limited resoirces was not going to win. We know that the Septemberprogramm, however, continued to be a valid statement of German war goals because of the settlements imposed on Romania and Russia (1917-18). After the War, the German people complained about the provisions of the Versailles Peace Treaty imposed on Germany. But if you look at the Septemberprogramm, the Versailles Treaty was mild compared to wht the Germans planned to do. It incorported two expantionist doctrines: Lebensraum and the Drang nach Osten nationalist movement of the 19th century. It also shows how territorial expsnsion was at the heart of the German fecision to launch the War. [Fischer] After the War, countless authors claimed that the War was a huge waste and gained nothing. vIt certainly was adusaster, but it was a mounumental achievement, preventing German domination of Furope. If the German Schlieffen invasion plan had suceeded and resulted in a decisive German victory, they weould have implemented the Septemberprogramm meaning German control of Europe. [Steinberg, p. 249.].

German Offensive

With Russia out of the War, the Germans were thus able to withdraw substantail forces from the Eastern Front to reiforce the Western Front. The Germans rushed to attack before the America which entered the War in April 1917 could equip and train substantial forces which could come to the aid of the British and French. The Germans amassed their forces in 1918, hoping that they could break the Allies on the Western Front before the Americans who were arriving in France in force would be ready to fight.

Allied Offensive

The Armistace (November 1918)

Allied offensives on the Western Front cracked the German front forcing them back toward Germany. The German Navy mutined. Riots broke out in Germany cities. The General staff informed the Kaiser that they could no longer guarantee his saftey. He abdicated and fled to the neutral Netherlands. A German Government was hastily formed and asked for an armistice based on President Wilson's 14 Points. After determining that the request came from a civilian German Government and not the Kaiser or German military, the Allies accepted the German offer. The gun fell silent after 4 years of vicious fighting at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918). There had been over 8.5 million soldiers killed and 21.2 million wounded. Versailles Peace Treaty (1919)

The Paris Peace Conference (1919)

The Paris Peace Conference met in 1919. Terms in large part were dictated by the Big Four (the United States, Britain, France, and Italy). Germany and the other Central Powers were not invited to Paris to negotiate, only to sign the agreement agreed to by the Allied Powers. The major negotiators were Americab President Woodrow Wilson, French Priemer Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister Lloyd George, and Italian Primier Vittorio Emanuele. Wilson was the only head oif state, the arrival of the Americans in 1917 along with his idealistic beliefs emodied in the 14 Points brought him great prestige throughout Europe, an enthusism not shared by many Americans. Wilson in many ways dominated the Conference, despite the misgivings if not outright opposition from the other members of the Big Three. Wilson managed to push through major principles such as an end to secret negotiaions, national self-determination, the League of Nations, trusteeships (not full colonies and thus somewhat of a criticism of colonialism). The one issue on which the Allies would not yield to Wilson on was repriations.

Versailles--Germany (June 1919)

The Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I was signed on June 28, 1919, about 7 months after the Armistace stopping the fighting on November 11, 1918. It had a huge impact on the international status of Germany, impacting the country territorially, militarily, and econimically. Germany was made a pariah country and largely blamed for the start of the War. Of major significance, the Germany being punished was the Germany of the Weimar Republic and not Imperial Germany as the Kaiser had abdigated. As a result, the domestic German oposition to the changes, including the territorial changes, came to be directed at the Weimar Republic and not the Imperial Government and German military that had conducted the War. The NAZIs and other right-wing groups were to saddle demoncratic politicans with the "shame of Versailles". Germany under the terms of the Treaty suffered many consequences. The navy and merchant marine was lost. The battleships had to be turned over the the Allies. The battleships ships in fact steamped into the British naval base at Scappa Flow. The German captains, however, rather than turning them over to the British, scuttled them. Germany lost her African and Pacific colonies. Along with territorial losses in Europe were important natural resources. The German Army was reduced to virtual impotence. And the country was sattled with immense retributions. A critical elemement in the treaty was the principle of national self determination promoted by President Wilson. This resulted in the creatiion of a large number of small, weak states in Eastern Europe. It must be said that the the Versailles Treaty was not as onerous as the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk (1918) imposed on the Russians. Still it was undenuably harsh. Many historians see it at the first step toward World War II.


The Paris Peace Conference is today generally seen as failure. Given the outcome that is not an assessment that is hard to defend. The Allies did impose onerous conditions on Germany that had disastrous results. It is difficult, however, to view Germany as a victimized country. It should be rememnbered that the terms that Germany imposed on Russian were even more onerous. This suggests that Germany would have imposed the same onerous conditions on the Allies. Despite the failure, there were many very important outcomes flowuing from the Paris Peace Conference. It was in many ways a forward looking effort. The last comprehensive European Peace Confervce was the Congress of Vienna (1815). There the Allies who defeated BNapoleon tried to turn the clock back. [Kissenger] The Big Four at Paris very much looked forward. There was no effort to restore the old European order. The Allies did adopt many of Wilson's 14 Points. New states were created based on nationality. Collective security and the League of Nations was attempted. It was an imperfect effort, but in many ways a very innovative effort unlike anything previously attempted in Europe. There was an attempt to end waar and create an international system based on the rule of law. [Strachan] In large measure, it was a reflection of the work of Woodrow Wilson. Many of the same issues would again be addressed following World War II (1945).

The United States

President Wilson had a major role in the Paris Peace Conference, especially the creation of the League of Nation. The Republican controlled Senate, however, was deeply suspious of the principle of Colective Seurity and American membershiop in the League. In the end the Senate rejected the League and after the 1920 elections returned the Republicans to the presidency, the United States negotiated separate treaties with the former Central Powers. The separate American peace treaty with Germany was signed July 2, 1921.

St Germain--Austria (September 1919)

The Treaty of St. Germain ending the war between the Allies and Austria (a successor state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was signed September 10, 1919. The Versailles Peace Treaty (1919) is the best known World War I peace treaty. It was the treaty with Germany. Like Germany, Austria (as one of the successor states to the Austro-Hungarian Empire) was punished for causing the War. The Allied dictated the terms. Austro-Hungary was dismembered. Austria for centuries had been a major European power was left as a small-landlocked country. The St. Germain Pace Conference had many difficult nationalist issues to decide with the breakup of the multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire. The various national groups in the Empire made their case at the Conference. The Conference decided against the Sudeten Germans. They were not allowed to join Austria and Austria was not allowed to join Germany. The problem for the peace-makers in 1919 was to fashion new nations out of the often patch-work quilt of Eastern Europe. It was decided to include the heavily German and industrialized Sudetenland with Czech-populated Bohemia and Moravia to create a economically viable state. It was also decided to create Yugoslavia around the Serbian monarchy. Italy was more affected by the treaty with Austria. Italy bordered on the Austro-Hungarian Empire and as a result, the territorial changes affecting Italy were primatily covered in the Treaty of St. Germain. The Allied promises in the LOndon Treaty proved illusionary. While Italy got some limited territorial concessions such as the South Tyrol, Trieste, and Istria. Italy did not obstain the Adriatic coast territory it coveted. This went to what would become Yugoslavia. (Serbia on which Yugoslavia was based had been another member of the Allied coalition.) As a result, not only were the Austrians butter about the treaty, but so was Italy, one of the victorious Allied powers. Many Italians came to believe that the limited territorial gains were a small reward for the vast losses in men and treasure. In addition, many Italians came to see the Big Three (America, Britain, and France) as dominating the Conference. Orlando was seen as poorly representing Italian interests. Many nationalists such as Mussolini were outraged.

Neuilly--Bulgaria (November 1919)

The Treaty of Neuilly ending the war between the Allies and Bulgaria was signed November 27, 1919. The Allies dictated the terns of the Treaty, assisnong responsiblity for the War in part on Bulgaria. Bulgaria was stripped up western Macedonia which was given to Serbia/Yugoslavia, Thrace was assigned to Greece, and Dobruja to Rumania. As in the other Central Power states, the Treaty was unpopular. The territorial changes were not as severe as with the other members of the Central Powers. Still the Treaty was resented. Therecwere many Ethnic Bulgarians in Thrace. It also meant that Nulgarian no longer had a Mediterranran port. There were also reparations and limits placed on the Bulgarian military.

Trianon--Hungary (June 1920)

The Treaty of Trianon ending the war between the Allies and Hungary (a successor state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was signed June 4, 1920. The Allies dictted terms, assigning responsibility for the War on Hungary. The country like Austria was stripped of its territories that were populasted by other nationalities. This followed the principle of national self-determination. But was viewed in Hungary as punishment by the victorious Allies. Croatia, historic Hungarian province, was assigned to Yugoslavia. Transylvania had a majority Hungarian population went to to Romania (an Allied nation). Ruthenia and Slovakia went to to Czechoslovakia. The treaty left about 3 million Hungarians (Magyars) in neighboring states. The creation of the new states from the Austro-Hungarian Empire was an economic blow to Hungary. It was lost a small land-locked state. Hungarians lfound thenselves with reduced econnomic opportunities and with out an outlet to the sea. Hungarians had been the ruling class and owned large estates in the new states. Land reform after the War proved costly to man Hungarians. In addition, Hungary had to pay reparations. The Allies also place limits on the Hungarian military.

Treaty of Sèvres--Ottoman Empire (August 10, 1920)

World War I for the Ottoman Empire was formally ended by the Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920). This was the peace treaty between the Entente (Allies) and Associated Powers and the Ottoman Empire. As at Versaiiles, the Allies dictated the terms, dismembering the Empire. The Allies used the same approach as with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, dividing up the Empire into ethnically based nation states. The Ottoman Empire had already lost a great deal of territory as the result of largely British offensives, one through Paledstine and Syria and the other through Iraq. The Hejaz (Saudi rabia) was lost through the Arab Revolt supported by the British. An outline for the treaty had been reached at Sanremo Conference (April 1920). Several new states were to be created under the terms of the Sèvres Treaty. The Hejaz (Saudi Arabia) and Armenia were to become independent countries. Kurdistan was also to become independent and would include Mosul. The British and French during the War had reached the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This was incorporated into the Treaty. The territories involved were made League of Nation Mandates. Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine were assigned to the British. Lebanon and Syria were assigned to the French. The Dodecanese Islands and Rhodes which had been occupied by Italy in an earlier war with the Ottomans (1911) and small areas of southern Anatolia were to become Italian territory. Thrace and Western Anatoliaincluding İzmir/Smyrna would become Greek territory. The critical Bosphorus, Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara connecting the Black Sea and Mediterranean were to be demilitarized and internationalized. The Ottoman Army was restricted to a maximum 50,000 men. The Ottoman Navy was restricted to 7 sloops and 6 torpedo boats. The Ottomans were prohibited from creating an air force. Sèvres was near Paris and where the Treaty was signed. At the time the Allies occupied the Ottoman capital (İstanbul) and other areas of Turkey. The Ottoman Parliament had been forced to close earlier (April 1920) and thus could not ratify the Treaty. Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdeddin did not ratify it, but he was a figurehead. The Turkish republican movement refused to ratify the Treaty. The repunlican movement was led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha who was the president of the Turkish Grand National Assembly based in Ankara which was not occupied by the Allies. The republican victory in the Turkish War of Independence made the Ankara republicans Tyurkey's real government. The Allies offered to adjust the Treaty, but the Ankara Government rejected it entirely.

Conference of Lausanne--Turkey (July 1923)

Turkey proved to be the only member of the Central Powers defeated in World War I to negotiate with the Allies as an equal basis and to influence the provisions of the resulting peace treaty. The other World War I peace treaties were dictated by the Allies. Turkish diplomacy, their victory in the Greek-Turkish War, and strong military position around the Bosphorus/Dardanelles, forced the Allies to renegotiate the Sèvres Treaty. There was no political support in either Britain or France to renew hostilities with Turkey which was the only way of maintaining control over the Bosphorus/Dardanelles and other Treaty terms. After stopping hostilities with the Armistice of Mudanya, the Allies invited both the Ankara Republican and the Istanbul Ottoman governments to a conference at Lausanne to renegotiate the now dead Treaty of Sèvres (October 1922). Atatürk was, however, unwilling to compromise. He was determined that the republican nationalist government should be the only representative for Turkey. The Grand National Assembly moved to abolish the Ottoman Sultanate. Thus when the Conference opened, the republican government represented Turkey (November). Ismet Pasha was the chief Turkish negotiator. The 1919 National Pact served as the basis for the Turkish negotiating position. The Allies essentially accepted the provisions in the provisions of the Treaty. The United States participated in the conference but, because America had never declared war on Turkey, did not sign the treaty. The Treaty of Lausanne recognized the modern borders of Turkey with but two exceptions--the Mossul area and Hatay Province with the port of Alexandretta (present-day Iskenderun). The boundary in the east with Iraq was settled by a League of Nations initiative (1926). The southern boundary involving Iskenderun was settled when France ceded the port to Turkey (1939). France at the time was acting as the League of Nations mandatory power for Syria. This was probably a factor in Turkey remaining neutral in World War II. Especially detailed provisions of the treaty regulated use of the stragegic Bosphorus/Dardanelles Straits. A Straits Commission under the League of Nations was established. The Allies were to withdraw, after which the Straits woulf be demilitarized. Turkey would hold the presidency of the Commission and the Soviet Union would be included as a member. The foreign administration of the Ottoman public debt wase abolished, but the new Turkish Government assumed responsibility for 40 percent of that debt. The rest was apportioned among the states formed from other former Ottoman territories. Turkey agreed to maintain low tariffs on imports from signatory powers until 1929. Turkey also agreed to affirm the equality of Muslim and non-Muslim Turkish nationals. Turkey and Greece agreed to a mandatory exchange of their respective Greek and Turkish minorities. An exception was made for some Greeks in Istanbul and Turks in western Thrace. The Treaty was signed officionally ending the War (July 1923).


Fischer, Fritz. Germany's Aims in the First World War (1967).

Kissenger, Henry. A World Restored: A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-22 (1973).

Steinberg, Jonathan. "Old knowledge and new research: A summary of the Conference on the Fischer Controversy 50 years on". Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 48, No. 2 (April 2013).

Scheck, Raffael. "Military Operations and Plans for German Domination of Europe".

Strachan, Hew. World War I


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Created: June 24, 2003
Last updated: 7:03 PM 1/18/2016