What is Treaty of Versailles? What are the Terms and Impact of the Treaty of Versailles? What are the Consequences of the Treaty of Versailles? Read further to know more.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed by Germany and the Allied Nations on June 28, 1919, formally ending World War One.
The terms of the treaty required that Germany pay financial reparations, disarm, lose territory, and give up all of its overseas colonies.
The treaty forced Germany to surrender colonies in Africa, Asia and the Pacific; cede territory to other nations like France and Poland; reduce the size of its military; pay war reparations to the Allied countries; and accept guilt for the war.
What is Treaty of Versailles?
The Treaty of Versailles was a peace document signed between Imperial Germany and the Allied Powers on 28th June 1919. The treaty ended the state of war that had existed between Germany and the Allies from 1914 and brought World War I to an end.
The controversial War Guilt clause blamed Germany for World War I and imposed heavy debt payments on Germany. The treaty gets its name from the Palace of Versailles where it was signed.
The Treaty of Versailles was a major contributing factor in the outbreak of the Second World War.
Ending the First World War: the Paris Peace Conference and Signing of the Treaty of Versailles
- Exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—the event that tipped Europe into world war—the Treaty of Versailles was signed in Paris on June 28, 1919.
- The armistice signed on November 11, 1918 officially ended the hostilities, but the negotiations between the Allied victors at the Paris Peace Conference lasted six months and involved diplomatic delegations from over thirty-two countries.
- US President Woodrow Wilson had delivered a speech in January 1918, in which he laid out his vision for the postwar world. The Fourteen Points elaborated Wilson’s plan for the comprehensive overhaul of international relations. He called for an immediate end to the war, the establishment of an international peacekeeping organization, international disarmament, open diplomacy, the explicit disavowal of war, and independence for formerly colonial territories.
- Wilson’s Fourteen Points were hugely influential in shaping the contours of the postwar world and in spreading the language of peace and democracy around the world.
- In addition to negotiating the Treaty of Versailles, the Paris Peace Conference established the League of Nations, an international peacekeeping organization tasked with resolving international disputes without resorting to military force.
Terms of the Treaty of Versailles
- The Treaty of Versailles established a blueprint for the postwar world. One of the most controversial terms of the treaty was the War Guilt clause, which explicitly and directly blamed Germany for the outbreak of hostilities.
- The treaty forced Germany to disarm, to make territorial concessions, and to pay reparations to the Allied powers in the staggering amount of $5 billion.
- Although US President Woodrow Wilson was opposed to such harsh terms, he was outmaneuvered by French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau.
- France was the only Allied power to share a border with Germany, and therefore suffered the bulk of the devastation and casualties from the German war machine. The French aimed to weaken Germany to the greatest extent possible.
- The peace negotiations were helmed by Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Lloyd George of Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France and Vittorio Orlando of Italy. They were collectively known as the “Big Four”, all through the role played by Italy was limited.
- Germany and other defeated parties of the Central Powers were not represented. Nor was Russia which had concluded a peace treaty in secret with Germany despite being a part of the Allied camp
- In retrospect, the ‘Big Four’ were not on the same page regarding the peace treaty. Each had their own objectives which were in conflict with that of the other.
- The French wanted to prevent any future attacks by Germany and for this, they sought to economically weaken it by paying heavy reparations.
- The British wanted to rebuild Germany in order to gain a strong trading partner
- The Italians wanted to expand their power and influence in post-war Europe so that they would be at an equal footing with that of other European powers
- The Americans opposed any territorial changes and sought to implement a world order that was in line with the Fourteen Points. Other European leaders considered the Fourteen Points as too unrealistic to translate into policy
- Ultimately the European Allies imposed a harsh treaty by forcing Germany to surrender all of its overseas colonies and 10 % of its land. Other aspects of the treaty are as follows:
- Germany would limit the size of its army and navy and was not allowed to maintain an air force.
- It called for Kaiser Wilhelm II, ruler of Germany, to stand trial for war crimes
- Above all, it included the “war guilt clause” which held Germany solely responsible for starting the war and required it to pay reparations for Allied war losses.
Impact of the Treaty of Versailles
- World War I had begun when a Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. Gavrilo was a member of the Black Hand, a Serb nationalistic group with the aim of uniting Serbs living outside the kingdom of Serbia. This had prompted the Austro-Hungarian Empire to declare war on Serbia and in return Serbia’s allies declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thus sparking the war.
- The German people were furious that this fact was ignored by the Allies and Germany was made the sole party responsible for all the horrors of World War I. The nation’s burden of reparations crossed 132 billion gold Reichsmarks. It was a sum so huge that economists like John Maynard Keynes pointed out that Germany would not be able to pay it in full and even if, by chance that it did, the European economy would collapse.
- The economic hardship and the resentment of the treaty within Germany were fertile grounds for ultra-nationalist sentiments, which were exploited by Hitler and his Nazi Party to seize power and laid the groundwork for World War II, a conflict far deadlier and devastating than World War I had ever been.
Consequences of the Treaty of Versailles
- Although President Wilson was heavily involved in negotiating the treaty, which reflected his vision for the postwar world, isolationists in the US Congress proved a major stumbling block to ratification. The so-called “Irreconcilables,” mostly Republicans but also some Democrats, opposed the treaty, particularly Article X, which committed member-states of the League of Nations to go to war on each other’s behalf in the event of an unprovoked act of aggression.
- The Irreconcilables saw this as a violation of US sovereignty and some believed that it would commit the United States to an alliance system that could lead to another war. Due to the opposition of the Irreconcilables, the Treaty of Versailles was never ratified by Congress, and the United States never became a member of the League of Nations
- When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1934, his government began to violate many of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Not only did Hitler announce a moratorium on all debt payments and cease making reparations, but he began to build up the German armed forces in earnest.
- Some historians believe that the onerous terms of the treaty laid the psychological and economic groundwork for the rise of the Nazi party, which capitalized on German resentment of the burdens imposed by the Allied powers after the First World War.
Article written by Aseem muhammed