Cambridge and Baccalaureate Exams | Litcharts | Sparknotes Analysis WERE THE PEACE TREATIES OF 1919-23 FAIR?


Motives of the Big Three

Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France, President Woodrow Wilson of the USA and David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain, dominated the Conference and made the main decisions. They also met in secret, as the Council of Four, with the Prime Minister of Italy.

Although the big three agreed that their task was to make sure that such a terrible war could never happen again, each had very different ideas about what could be done.

Clemenceau was nicknamed ‘The Tiger’ because of his determination that France should not be defeated in the war. He had the strong backing of the French people. He wanted the peace treaties to protect France in the future and to compensate the French for their suffering. Most of the fighting had been on French soil.


Wilson was a high minded man. In 1918 he had proposed Fourteen points as a basis for future world peace. He hoped that the countries at the Peace Conference would agree to these points.


Fourteen Points The main points were:

1 Countries should stop making secret treaties with one another. The peace should be negotiated in the open. After that there should be no more secret diplomacy.

2 they should reduce their weapons and armed forces

3 People living under the rule of foreign countries should be allowed to form their own nations and choose their own type of government. Wilson called this the principle of national self-determination.

4 countries should belong to a new organisation, the League of Nations, to be set up to protect the independence of all states.

 Lloyd George was a clever politician and negotiator but, above all, he was not prepared to ignore British public opinion. Britain had suffered 750,000 killed and 1.5 million wounded. The British public which had just re-elected his government, wanted to ‘hang the Kaiser’ and ‘Make Germany Pay’.

The Aims of the Big Three

Lloyd George

1 end the German threat to the British Navy and empire

2 make Germany a non-aggressive country without colonies

3 prevent Germany becoming so weak that a revival of European &industry & trade is hindered

4 prevent Germans becoming so poor that they return to communism

5 avoid humiliation of Germans so that they have no reason to seek revenge

6 help secure France against Germany, but prevent France becoming too powerful

7 create a balance of power so that no one European country can threaten the others



1 have revenge on Germany for French suffering

2 make Germany pay for French suffering

3 punish Germany for the humiliation she had inflicted on France after defeating her in 1871.

4 ensure that Germany would never be able to attack France again: take away German land; weaken her industries; reduce her armed forces


1 prevent Germany from becoming aggressive again

  1. Punish Germany for her aggression, but avoid forcing her to pay very heavy damages

3 base the peace treaties on his Fourteen Points.


Why did all of the victors not get everything they wanted?

 Why did the peacemakers have to compromise?

Pressure of time – Although the peacemakers in Paris faced complicated problems, they had to work very quickly because:

  • the Austro-Hungarian Empire had started to break up before the war ended and the new states were already quarrelling about their frontiers
  • The Armistice was only a truce, and the Allies were continuing their blockade of Germany until a formal peace was signed. As a result, thousands of German civilians were dying of starvation.
  • The Allied leaders feared that if a settlement was not agreed quickly, the Germans, and other peoples, might follow the Russians’ example and choose Communist governments.

Conflicts of interests:

  • All 27 countries at the conference made their own demands
  • Even the Big Three disagreed on many points
  • The peacemakers had to do too much work in too short a time
  • To achieve a settlement quickly, everyone had to compromise.

Particular conflicts:

Clemenceau disagreed with Wilson:

  1. thought that France had suffered much more than the USA and resented Wilson’s generous attitude to Germany
  2. Wanted harsher treatment of Germany over the Rhineland and Saar coalfields.
  3. Disagreed with Wilson over self-determination of Eastern Europe.

Clemenceau disagreed with Lloyd George:

  1. Clashed over Lloyd George’s desire not to treat Germany too harshly
  2. Thought Lloyd George would be happy for Germany to be treated fairly in Europe where France was under threat
  3. But not allow Germany to keep its navy and colonies which would be more of a threat to Britain

Lloyd George disagreed with Wilson

  1. Lloyd George was not happy about point 2 of the Fourteen Points allowing all nations access to the seas.
  2. He was also unhappy with Wilson’s views on people ruling themselves with millions ruled by Britain in its empire.

Terms of the Treaty of Versailles

General Clauses

The establishment of the League of Nations
War Guilt clause – Germany to accept blame for starting the war.

Financial Clauses

Reparations – Germany was to pay for the damage caused by the war. The figure of £6,600 million was set some time after the signing of the treaty.

Military Clauses

Army – was to be reduced to 100,000 men and no tanks were allowed
Navy – Germany was only allowed 6 ships and no submarines
Air force – Germany was not allowed an air force
Rhineland – The Rhineland area was to be kept free of German military personnel and weapons

Territorial Clauses

Anschluss – Germany was not allowed to unite with Austria.
Land – Germany lost land to a number of other countries. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France, Eupen and Malmedy were given to Belgium, North Schleswig was given to Denmark. Land was also taken from Germany and given to Czechoslovakia and Poland. The League of Nations took control of Germany’s colonies

The Other Defeated Nations

The Treaty of Versailles determined the punishment that Germany should face. Other treaties determined the fate of those countries that had fought with Germany – Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. Austria and Hungary were divided and therefore signed separate treaties

Austria – The Treaty of St Germain 10th September 1919

Land – Austria lost land to Italy, Czechoslovakia and Serbia.
Army – To be reduced to 30,000 men.
Anschluss – Union with Germany was forbidden
Reparations – Austria was to pay reparations but went bankrupt before the rate could be set.

Hungary – The Treaty of Trianon 4th June 1920

Land – Hungary lost land to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Serbia reducing its size from 283,000 sq km to less than 93,000 sq km. Population was reduced from 18.2 million to 7.6 million.
Army – To be reduced to 35,000 men
Reparations – Hungary was to pay reparations but the amount was never set

Bulgaria – The Treaty of Neuilly 27th November 1919

Land – Bulgaria lost land to Greece, Romania and Yugoslavia.
Reparations – Bulgaria had to pay £90 million in reparations
Army – restrictions were made on the size of Bulgaria’s army


Turkey – The Treaty of Sevres 20th August 1920

Land – Turkey lost land to Greece. The League of Nations took control of Turkey’s colonies.

What was the immediate impact of the peace treaty on Germany up to 1923?

German Anger

In the 1920s the Germans called the Treaty of Versailles the ‘Diktat’, the ‘dictated peace’. They resented:

  1. The loss of so much territory, especially the splitting of East Prussia from the rest of Germany.
  2. The loss of resources. The treaty took away 74% of their iron ore production and 26% of their coal.
  3. Foreign occupation of the Rhineland and Saar
  4. Having to accept ‘war guilt’ and pay reparations. They argued that Germany alone was not responsible for the war.
  5. The fact that while other peoples were given the right of self-determination, Austrians and Germans were forbidden to unite.
  6. The fact that Germany was the only country required to reduce its weapons and armed forces.


Reparations. Should the Allies make Germany pay?

Arguments for Arguments against
Most, especially the Belgians and French:

1 wanted to keep Germany weak so that she would no longer be a danger to them.

2 pointed to the huge cost of the war to the Allies, much of it owed to the USA which insisted on repayment. They said it was right for Germany to contribute.

Some, like the British economist John Maynard Keynes, disagreed with reparations altogether. Others though the payments were too high because:

1 Many Germans would be forced to lead poor and miserable lives. Many would die. This was inhumane.

2 Misery would fuel the Germans’ desire for revenge and might drive them into the arms of the Communists.

3 The rest of Europe would suffer because of Germany’s economic weakness.


These burdens and resentments added to the instability of the Weimar Republic

  1. There were revolutions from left and right
  2. In 1922 Germany fell behind in its reparations payments and so in 1923 France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr. German workers went on strike. The French killed over 100 workers and expelled over 100,000 protestors from the region.
  3. The economic problems of the crisis led to hyperinflation in 1923.


Could the treaties be justified at the time?


In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was not only criticised by the Germany.

Clemenceau thought it had not been harsh enough and lost an election in 1920

Lloyd George was welcomed when he returned to Britain by a public that thought Germany had been punished, but he believed that another war would happen because of it

Wilson was very disappointed with the Treaty. The American Congress (Parliament) refused to approve the treaty.


Some historians have often agreed with the critics of the Treaty and that it contributed to the causes of WWII. However, the majority of people outside Germany thought it was fair. A more generous treaty would have been totally unacceptable to public opinion. It was a difficult treaty for all parties to agree to, which suggests that the Treaty was the best that could be hoped for in the circumstances.

Read realted notes  The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro - 1989 - 47 – English