Aftermath of World War I
After World War I representatives of the victorious powers met in Paris to devise a peace settlement that would protect future generations from another such conflict. All agreed that a new framework or system was needed in international relations. Each power, however, had different views as to what that framework should be. From their compromises emerged treaties of peace, the chief of which was that with defeated Germany signed at Versailles on June 28, 1919. Based on the assumption that Germany and her allies had been the disturbers of the status quo, these treaties attempted to place curbs on their future actions. Articles 160, 180, 181, and 198 of the Treaty of Versailles, for example, forbade Germany to have an army of more than 100,000 men, a fleet of more than 36 combatant vessels, or any submarines or military or naval aircraft, or to maintain fortifications or military installations within 50 kilometers of the east bank of the Rhine. In addition, the defeated states were to be required to pay large sums as reparations for damages that the victors had suffered during the war.
But these punitive clauses were not supposed to form the keystone of the new system. That was to be the League of Nations, the organization whose Covenant was incorporated in the Treaty of Versailles and in the treaties of St. Germain-en-Laye with Austria, of Neuilly with Bulgaria, of Trianon with Hungary, and of Sevres with Turkey ( superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne). With the victorious nations as the original members of the League and with provision for the admission of other states, including eventually even the Germans and those who had been on their side, its Assembly was expected to provide a forum for the airing of all international issues. In the event of any aggression by one state against another or any breach of one of the peace treaties, its Council was to mobilize all members, large and small, for a collective effort to keep the peace.
Neither the punitive clauses of the treaties nor the Covenant worked out quite as their authors had hoped. Although the Germans complied with most of the restrictions imposed on them, they recovered rapidly in relative strength. At Rapallo on April 16, 1922, they signed with the other outcast of Europe, the Bolshevik USSR, a treaty providing for mutual renunciation of claims and future economic cooperation. The victors meanwhile fell out. The British and French disagreed about Middle Eastern issues and about the amount of reparations that should be exacted from Germany. So sharp did their exchanges become that by 1923 it was commonly assumed that if there were another war it might well be one between Britain and France. As for the United States, its Senate declined to ratify the Treaty of Versailles; it took no part in the League and withdrew into self-imposed isolation, denying that it bore any responsibility for the maintenance of peace in Europe.
By the latter part of the 1920’s, the guarantees of peace were somewhat different from those that had been envisioned in 1919. The articles of the Treaty of Versailles designed to keep Germany in check were supplemented by defensive alliances between France and certain of Germany’s eastern neighbors: Poland ( Feb. 19, 1921) and the nations of the Little Entente, Czechoslovakia ( Jan. 25, 1924), Rumania ( June 10, 1926) , and Yugoslavia (Nov. 11, 1927). At a conference held in Locarno on Oct. 5-16, 1925, the German government entered into treaties (signed in London on December 1) with France, Britain, Belgium, and Italy, guaranteeing the existing Franco-Belgian-German frontiers. On Sept. 8, 1926, Germany was admitted to the League. The peace thus rested on three sets of undertakings: the pledges of mutual support between France and her allies, the guarantees exchanged at Locarno, and the promises of collective action made by those nations that subscribed to the Covenant. Events of 1931 and later years were to prove all these safeguards frail.