World War One officially ended on 11 November 1918. After four long years of battle that left ten million dead and much of Europe destroyed. The following year the great power met in Paris and imposed their strength on the defeated Central Powers, led by Germany. The most well-known treaty to come out of the Paris Peace Conference is the Treaty of Versailles. The opinions of the treaty vary. Some say that Germany as the main belligerent should pay the brunt of the war cost. While others claim that the reparations the German people were forced to pay were excessive and counterproductive. The spirit of the Paris Peace Conference ran counter to that seen a century earlier at the Congress of Vienna and the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The terms in the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh on the German people, leading to the rise of the Nazi party and War World Two.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. The most controversial part of the treaty, which has become known as the War Guilt clause, required Germany to accept she and her allies caused “all the loss and damage” of the war (Article 231). The German people saw this clause as an attempt by the victorious nations to humiliate them. The Central Powers were required to pay reparations totaling 132 billion. Fifty billion of which would be paid by Germany (Marks, 2013). The Treaty of Versailles also broke apart large sections of the German Empire. The German Empire lost over 13% of its territory, and an estimated seven million Germans now lived in a different foreign nation (Magana, 2015). In addition to the loss of territory, the german military faced numerous restrictions. The Army was forbidden to use tanks and aircraft or heavy artillery. Simultaneously, the Navy was left with only six battleships and only 1500 officers (Magana, 2015).
When you observe the total amount of reparations paid by the German Empire and their territorial land loss, it is easy for one to conclude that their post-war punishment was to serve. However, some believe the restrictions did not go far enough. Military historians note that while Germany lost a large amount of land, it was not forced to break apart like the Austro-Hungarian empire (Barnett, 1998). Furthermore, while Germany’s military was restricted, Economist Max Hantke argues that efforts to limit Germany’s arms allowed it to comply with the reparation payments (Hantke & Spoerer, 2010). Still, others point to Germany’s treaty with Russian in 1918 as more evidence the Versailles Treaty was too lenient. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk required Russia to cede the Baltic states to Germany and pay Germany six billion marks for German losses during the war. The negotiation terms Germany handed to Russia were so harsh that it shocked their lead diplomat Richard von Kuhlmann (Kalic & Brown, 2017, p. 21).
The Treaty of Versailles went against the precedent set by the Treaty of Paris in 1814 and the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The agreement reached at Vienna; the Concert of Europe ended over two decades of war in Europe. The countries involved reached a peace agreement that maintained the status quo and did not humiliate France in the process. They understood that if they humiliated France, she might return revengeful, throwing the entire continent back into war. Congress of Vienna helps to usher in nearly 100 years of peace on the European continent (Vec, 2014). However, its lessons were not learned by the post-World War One leaders. Rather than redo the Congress of Vienna and allow Germany to slowly work its way back into the European establishment or create a system similar to the Post World War Two Marshall Plan, the World War One victors decided to make Germany pay.
The failure to help rebuild a defeated Germany, forcing it to pay reparations and taking large chunks of its territory, left Germany humiliated and seeking revenge. The payments left Germany with an enormous financial burden and their once strong economy on the brink of collapse (Danieri, 2017, 2–6b). The people of Germany held the democratic government of the Weimar republic responsible for the hasher terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The resentment led them to regard their neighboring states as enemies fueling nationalist pride and distrust of democratic forms of government. During the 1920s and 30s, Germany saw unprecedented hyperinflation, the start of the great depression, and the birth of the National Socialist Workers Party. They promised to bring Germany back to its former glory. By 1932 over six million Germans were out of work. Adolf Hitler used the fear and anger of the German people to rise to power in 1933.
In 1991 Saddam Hussein invaded his neighboring country of Kuwait. That invasion was quickly defeated by a coalition of the thirty nations who quickly drove the Iraqi army back over the border. As part of the cease-fire agreement, Hussein agreed to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 687. The resolution declared that Iraq was financially responsible for the damages caused during the invasion of Kuwait. Claims were filed against Iraq totaling $350 billion (Sand & Payne, 2011, p. 2). The United Nations Security Council also passed resolution 661. It established sanctions and imposed a trade embargo excluding medical supplies, food, and other items of humanitarian necessity. The aftermath of the War left Saddam Hussein weakened in the region and restored Kuwait’s sovereign borders. Like Germany after World War One, the people of Iraq were hit the hardest. Left to deal with defeated Saddam Hussien and economic sanctions, they suffered through hyperinflation, widespread poverty, and malnutrition (Gordon, 2020).
Countries that launch offensive wars should be held liable for the damages caused. The statesman at the Treaty of Paris in 1815 who established the Concert of Europe was moral and aligned with Christian teaching. France lost the territory it gained during the war and was forced to pay reparations. The treaty allowed them to rejoin the great powers after a set period. It kept France from building up resentment and seeking justice. The Treaty of Versailles was intended to leave Germany and the other Central Powers, namely the Austro-Hungarian Empire, weakened. They were forced to pay large reparations, and in the case of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, forced to break apart. Both Iraq in 1991 and Germany after World War One should have faced the same fate as a defeated France. Pay reparations for launching an offensive war, with a timetable to reenter the global community.
Barnett, C. (1998). The consequences of the great war. The RUSI Journal, 143(6), 70–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/03071849808446334
Danieri, P. (2017). International politics + coursemate with international relations newswatch, 6-month … access: power and purpose in global affairs. Wadsworth.
Gordon, J. (2020, June 15). The Enduring Lessons of the Iraq Sanctions. MERIP. https://merip.org/2020/06/the-enduring-lessons-of-the-iraq-sanctions/.
Hantke, M., & Spoerer, M. (2010). The imposed gift of Versailles: the fiscal effects of restricting the size of Germany’s armed forces, 1924–9. The Economic History Review, 63(4), 849–864. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0289.2009.00512.x
Kalic, S. N., & Brown, G. M. (2017). Russian Revolution of 1917: the essential reference guide. ABC-CLIO.
Magana, C. (2015). The Versailles Treaty. http://marcuse.faculty.history.ucsb.edu/classes/33d/projects/1920s/VersaillesTreatyCarlos.htm.
Marks, S. (2013). Mistakes and Myths: The Allies, Germany, and the Versailles Treaty, 1918–1921. The Journal of Modern History, 85(3), 632–659. https://doi.org/10.1086/670825
Sand, P. H., & Payne, C. R. (2011). Gulf war reparations and the Un Compensation Commission: environmental liability. Oxford University Press.
U.S. Department of State. (0AD). PAPERS RELATING TO THE FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, THE PARIS PEACE CONFERENCE, 1919, VOLUME XIII. U.S. Department of State. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1919Parisv13/ch17subch1.
Vec, M. (2014). The power of peace: Diplomacy between the Congress of Vienna and the Paris Treaties 1919: Impressive progress, structural shortcomings and a tragic failure. UN Chronicle, 51(3), 16–19. https://doi.org/10.156/52b845e1-e