The Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919 was a settlement / peace agreement / elaborate document that was signed on 28th of June 1919 in the HALL OF MIRRORS at Versailles palace in France.  It was signed towards the end of the Paris Peace Conference between the victorious nations of Britain, France, USA, Italy and Germany the defeated nation. The major personalities were President Woodrow Wilson of USA, Lloyd George- the Prime Minister of Britain and George Clemenceau, the Prime Minster of France. The treaty was arranged by the above representatives of the victorious powers who compelled or forced the German representatives to sign. The Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919 had the following achievements which contributed towards peace in Europe;

It concluded or ended World War I. It was precisely the Versailles peace treaty of 1919 that ended World War I thereby bringing about relative peace in Europe and the world at large. At the Versailles Palace, Germany was forced to denounce war and accept the war guilt clause. The terms she agreed to were intended to weaken her and her allies so much that it became almost impossible for such powers to declare another war of such magnitude. This ushered in relative peace until 1939 when yet another war of the world scale broke out.

The Versailles peace treaty of 1919 created a peace keeping body called the League of Nations.  While at Versailles, the peacemakers unanimously agreed to adopt Woodrow Wilson’s 14th point which advocated for the formation of an international body to keep global peace and guarantee the independence of all states, both small and great and thus they created the League of Nations. This was the first of its kind in the history of Europe. The body undertook a wide range of humanitarian, political and economic missions which fostered peace and harmony as well as economic recovery and development in the world. For example, it set up the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1923 that organized medical assistance and distribution of vaccines to combat the epidemics of Typhus, Cholera, Dysentery, Malaria, Smallpox, Leprosy, heart disease and others which had swept Europe before, during and after the war. It also established the International Labour Organization (I.L.O) which improved the living and working conditions of workers in Europe. It also helped in the repatriation of prisoners of war. For example; it resettled from Russia over 427,000 prisoners of war. It also resolved disputes among European states. For example, the 1921 Aalland island dispute between Sweden and Finland was amicably resolved by the League in favour of Finland. It also resolved a boundary dispute between Poland and Germany in the northern Silesia in 1921. It was however undercapitalized, ill-equipped which led to its failure by the late 1930s. Though its life span was short lived from 1929 to 1945, the League of Nations succeeded in settling a number of social, political and economic problems in Europe.

The Versailles peace treaty also led to the creation of new states in Europe. For example, Hungary was separated from Austria to become an independent state. Bohemia was combined with Moravia to create the new state of Czechoslovakia. Yugoslavia was also created from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the former kingdom of Serbia. Poland which was formally divided among Russia, Germany and Austria was declared independent and given access to Baltic Sea through the port of Danzig. Also Romania became an independent state. The states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were granted independence from Germany (which it had grabbed from the Russian empire in 1918 during the course of World War I) while Finland was also granted complete independence from Russia. At the same time Danzig   became a free city. Such a policy was realistic since the subjection of these small states to big powers had been one of the major causes of extreme nationalism which sparked off world war one.

It also restored the balance of power in Europe which had formally tilted or changed in favour of the militant powers such as Germany, Austria and Turkey. From the mid-19th century, these powers had grabbed enormous territory from the small nations of Europe thus upsetting European diplomacy and balance of power. Thus at Versailles, the allied powers revived the status quo by granting independence to parts of the aggressive powers while elsewhere, huge territories of their empires were given out to new states or simply declared as mandated zones (under the League of Nations). The total effect of this was that each of these powers were reduced to their original boundaries. For example, Germany lost to Britain and France all her African colonies as mandated territories. She also lost Alsace Lorraine to France, Saarland to the League of Nations, Upper Silesia, West Prussia and Posen lost to Poland and the port of Danzig. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia which she had grabbed from Russia in 1918 were also declared independent states. Austria lost Bohemia and Moravia to the new state of Czechoslovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former kingdom of Serbia all went to the new state of Yugoslavia. Hungary lost Transylvania to Romania, Slovakia and Ruthenia to Czechoslovakia, Slovenia and Croatia to Yugoslavia. Turkey lost Smyrna to Greece while Syria was mandated under French custody, and several of her territories like Kuwait, Iraq and Iran among others became independent. Bulgaria also lost lands to Greece, Romania and Yugoslavia. This policy greatly weakened such states to the effect that they could hardly pursue aggression, in the face of the reviving strength of the traditional allies. This ushered in relative balance of power in Europe at least during the early years of the inter war period.

NB: However readjustments were perceived by Germany and her allies as rather too unrealistic and instead encouraged them to remobilize their resources, re-armed their armies and eventually invaded the newly created states in order to recover the lost territory. The result was World War II in 1939.

The treaty also guaranteed the neutrality of international waters of Europe. The Versailles peace treaty of 1919 declared free navigation on all international water bodies, except those that were territorial. For example, the Dardanelles (mouth of Baltic Sea) which was the source of economic conflict among European powers as far back as 1850s was opened to the ships of all European nations at all times. This promoted free navigation as well as international trade in Europe which was a major achievement since the treaty had removed the trade barriers that had hitherto (formally) hindered economic cooperation in Europe.

The treaty upheld the principle of nationalism and self-determination. This is justified by the fact that small nations and oppressed minorities across Europe were either granted independence, as decreed in the Versailles peace Act or allowed to decide their destiny through referenda. For example, countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Kuwait and Iraq among others were liberated from the Turkish and Austrian dominance and thus became independent states. While elsewhere, the oppressed peoples were allowed to determine their political destiny through plebiscite arrangements. For example, a referendum was held in Upper Silesia which had a mixture of Germans and Poles. Sixty percent (60%) voted for union with Germany and fourty percent (40%) favoured Poland. They were eventually united with Germany. Schleswig was also re-united with Denmark through a similar arrangement. Though the defeated peoples were subjected to foreign domination, a fact that could seemingly contravene the spirit of nationalism, such dominations were time bound and largely aimed at ensuring peace and stability over Europe. For example, the occupation of Germany by the allied forces was intended to ensure Germany’s compliance to the Versailles resolutions.

The treaty also restored international diplomacy in continental Europe which had collapsed by 1830 following the collapse of the Congress System. With Napoleon I’s downfall in 1815, European powers had vowed to settle continental problems through collective and concerted efforts, thus giving birth to the congress system. However, disagreements that ensued especially between 1820 and 1830 devastated such European diplomacy which led to the collapse of the congress system by 1830. Though Bismarck attempted to revive it, his diplomatic maneuvers were largely intended to consolidate Germany’s supremacy at the expense of European stability; no wonder, it collapsed with his downfall inn1890. It was therefore the Versailles peace treaty of 1919 that revived (brought back) a meaningful European diplomacy where various powers of Europe agreed to a system of dialogue and collective action against emerging continental and world problems.

It also managed to disarm Germany thereby maintaining relative peace in Europe. The war had occurred partly due to Germany’s heavy arms production or armament. Thus to contain the possibility of another such disaster, the victor powers issued the disarmament clause through which Germany’s army was reduced to 100,000 men, conscription was banned whereby Germany was required to abolish compulsory military service and therefore the soldiers had to be volunteers. She was also not allowed armored vehicles, submarines or air crafts. The navy could only build 6 small battleships, with no submarines, the naval personnel not to exceed 15,000 men and to abandon all military and naval aviation by 1st October 1919. Thus restrained or weakened to such an extent, Germany’s ability to wage a war of revenge was curtailed at least for a significant period of time between 1919 and 1939.

The Versailles peace treaty of 1919 is also credited for having granted Poland, a land locked country, access to the sea which promoted her economic and political development.  Poland was given a corridor of land through Germany, to the port of Danzig and thus to the Baltic Sea. This enabled Poland to strengthen her army and also become involved in international trade hence gaining economic prosperity.

The treaty enabled different countries of Europe to regain their territories formally annexed by Germany. For example, France regained her mineral rich provinces of Alsace and Larraine and the Saar coal fields which Germany had annexed in 1871. Denmark also through a plebiscite (referendum) arrangement, regained her Schleswig territory which she had lost to Germany in 1864. The statesmen undertook such a realistic move because such disputed territories rightfully belonged to such nations. By so doing, the Versailles peace treaty at least for a while ended the long-aging continental enemity or revenge sentiments against Germany since the mid-19th century.


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