Essay: Peace of Versailles

On the 18th of November 1918, the guns fell silent, the Great War was ended as an Armistice was signed with Germany. Two months later in January 1919, delegates from all over the world came to Paris to conclude the peace settlement that would end the war. Six months of intense discussions and debates ended up on the signing of Treaty of Versailles. Three major figures dominated the peace making, with the less noticeable presence of a forth one, that are namely: the American president Wilson, the French Prime Minister Clemenceau, and the British Prime Minister Lloyd Georges and the passive Italy personified by the Prime Minister Orlando. Those peacemakers are seen by many (scholars, historians, politics’) as injudicious and dogmatic. They were also perceived as vindictive with respect to the fate they have reserved to Germany. But on the other hand many historians and scholars revisited the series of events that took place at Paris in 1919 and challenge the view that this peace was a truncated one. These authors argue that the Peace conference was a real attempt to reshape the international system with an innovative concept breaking with the old balance of power that presided over Europe’s destiny for over a century. The peacemakers faced dilemmas that still hold a grip on the world today (the ethnic-nationalism issue). Albeit the Peace of Versailles showed many flaws and imprecision regarding the actions to take within the framework of the collective security, it nonetheless preluded to a new world order to come. Wilson wanted to build a new world order based on the principle of self-determination, an international system of collective security and on democracy that would result in the creation of the League of Nations. Excluded from the peace process, Germany was nonetheless viewed by Wilson as a potential democracy to be that can have its place in the League of Nation in the future. In my first section I will explain why Germany’s treatment weakened from the very beginning the foundation of the Peace of Versailles, jeopardizing the establishment of a new world order. In my second section the collective security principle and the League of Nations will be exposed in a way that I will point its limits but also its repercussion on the long term. And finally I will assess the self-determination principle and see to what extent it played a role in establishing a new world order.
Germany : the bone of contention
As World War I was moving into its final phase, the new international system that was about to be built, introduced innovative and unprecedented principles. With respect to this matter the American president appeared as the saviour as it was for the very first time that a non-European industrialized state stepped in the edification of a world order. After Germany surrendered, the Allies gathered at Paris and established the Treaty of Versailles. At the end of the war, the general feeling was as long as Germany remains unpunished, the Victors were left with an bitter taste of unfinished peace. The negotiations that preluded the signature of the Treaty were, up to a certain point, driven by France’s command for economic reparations with a wanting Germany to admit demanding Germany to admit that it was the only country responsible for this war. Lloyd Georges preferred to avoid inflicting severe punishment against Germany, as he didn’t think it could be a good idea. Wilson had a Presbyterian belief in punishment for German, but he also believed in redemption. Clemenceau was particularly concerned with France’s security against any other eventual aggression so that 1914-1918 would never happen again. He wished for a total dismemberment of his Rhine neighbour. Thus, Clemenceau, loyal to his reputation of old school tiger (his political career dates back to 1870) wasn’t really keen into dusting off the principle of balance of power, the only guarantor, in his eyes to maintain peace and security. As for Lloyd Georges, he was the in-betweener. His main concern was stability, he did not want to see his troops sent once again on the Continent to fight for another war. So a stable Europe was the best thing that could happen to Great-Britain. Consequently, he was neither in favour of breaking Germany’s back under the burden of heavy economic sanctions, nor of its total dismemberment. He rather proposed a moderate sanction and a more open to negotiation peace process with the former German Empire. So, at the very first start the three major actors of peace of Versailles did not agree with the very essence of what world future security should be. As the Victors gathered at Versailles there has been big debate on how to deal with Germany. Anyhow, all the discussions at Paris were held while Germany was maintained in a bench, isolated with no word to say in the peace process. The reason is that ‘the draft treaty was so controversial even among the victors themselves’ (Osiander : 2003 p 282). There was this apprehension that if the former belligerent state was included in the discussion it could seriously jeopardized the Alliance formed with the Victors. Anyways as a result of the peace of Versailles a decision was made. Eventually France’s worries concerning it very security and Wilson’s eagerness to give a good lesson to Germany resulted in a severe verdict. Germany lost the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, and, some 13 percent of its prewar territory. Restrictions were imposed upon its army (there was limited number of its members that had to be professionals and not conscripts) as well as on its navy. (Ian Clark, 2007) In addition the reparation section in the Treaty summoned Germany to pay heavy damages to the Nations she was fighting. Finally The wilhelmian empire was removed its colonies and were handed over as mandate to France and United-Kingdom (Ian Clark,2007). Lloyd George insisted on the fact, that no sustainable peace would be achieved without the participation of Germany in the new world order establishment process. Bargaining with Germany was an unavoidable element if Europe wanted to establish a secure post-war world order. It was a key element to European security. But Wilson estimated that the necessity to negotiate with Germany was at odd with his idea of what a new world order would be made of. Wilson’s idea bared the principle that it was time get rid of the system of balance of power that Germany’s imperialistic behaviour sustained. Because Germany was perceived as the only and principal cause of the pursuit of power politics that resulted into a massive destructive world war, it was out of question to include it in the peace settlement process. However, with respect of Germany’s situation, Ian Clark cites Holsti who considers that Wilson failed in applying the principle of justice. He failed because Wilson shifted away from his the moral criterion that he held in the highest respect : peace must be based on justice. (Ian Clark 2007 : 6). ‘In practice this meant that the peace would have to be negotiated between all the belligerents, it must be a peace between equals'( Ian Clark : 2007 p6). Whereas Llyod Georges privileged prudence by wanting a moderate sanction imposed on Germany, Wilson saw it useless as it was fundamental that Germany was neutralised. Thus it had to learn its lessons through economic sanctions and political ostracism. Clemenceau’s priority was to come back to some sort of status-quo. These irreconcilable views already set a weakness in the progress of Peace of Versailles.

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