Strengths And Weaknesses Of Treaty Of Versailles History Essay

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23 February 2016

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On the 28th June 1919, Germany resentfully signed the most famous treaty ever, Versailles. Although years of readjusting the treaty followed, this essay will focus mainly on the strengths and weaknesses of the 440 articles in 1919. The Treaty followed a massive war, with huge human sacrifice. It was supposed to be the Treaty to end all wars and give security to the countries involved. The overwhelming task that laid ahead for Woodrow Wilson (America), Lloyd George (Great Britain), Clemenceau (France) and Orlando (Italy) was on a bigger scale than any previous delegates had had to deal with.

One of the biggest interpreted weaknesses was the economics and reparations. Firstly, it highlighted the weaknesses of the delegates forming the Treaty, as they had to listen to public demand which had been exaggerated due to the scale and length of the war. An example was Lloyd George who was pressured from conservatives for harsh reparations, Geddes, a conservative politician hailed the words ‘we shall squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak.’ [1] Packer declared Lloyd George did not believe in harsh reparations [2] , but George added extras to the original reparations such as war pensions to please the conservatives because the original amount based on war damage gave Britain a very little. Kitchen showed and I agree that there was little Lloyd George could do about the situation as ‘no politician would have survived if he had suggested that Germany should be forgiven.’ [3] However, Lentin disagreed, thinking that public opinion created pressure but had no impact on the Treaty. He later contradicted himself by proclaiming that the one of the causes of the delay in announcing reparations because the delegates believed that the public would never be satisfied with the guaranteed amount. [4] Therefore, public opinion had to be acknowledged and satisfied to a certain extent. This meant the Treaty did not always accomplish what was needed such as lower reparations.

The biggest weakness with the reparations was the total amount (£600 million) Germany had to pay. Keynes, who scathingly criticised the Treaty of Versailles, heavily condemned the reparations as Britain depended on the revival of trade, especially with Germany, [5] but Germany needed to increase their exports and decrease their imports. This would decrease trade with Britain and lose Britain money. Feldman, although I disagree, supported Keynes believing that the economic and financial settlements were ‘horrendous failures.’ [6] This was an extreme view and seemed to ignore the circumstances the delegates were dealing with. There were poor decisions but Feldman over-exaggerated. Nicolson argued that it was not excessively harsh economically to Germany. [7] However, although it was not excessively harsh, I believe it was too harsh for Germany to even begin to comprehend, especially when territory and economics are combined. Germany lost 13.5% of their territory including 8% of German coal production. Germany lost 10% of her population as well as 1.7 million people in the war. Population creates manpower for industry. This might not seem a lot however, when you add £600 million in reparations, the loss can seem great and perhaps the Treaty harsh. This shows another weakness of the Versailles Treaty, as no suitable amount for Germany to pay was reached discrediting the treaty. However it could be deemed an unavoidable weakness as the reparations were decreased in the 1920s but the Germans still felt it was unfair.

Another weakness of the Treaty of Versailles was the disarmament hypocrisy. The League of Nation’s articles asserted that any discrepancies would be sorted through the League and not by war. Therefore there was no need for any country to have large armies; however Germany was forced to disarm to a 200,000 volunteer army, showing how the points were used selectively. During the revisionist period Germany complained about the unjust nature of disarmament. Therefore disarmament can be viewed as a weakness as it highlights the unjust part of the Treaty but it shows that Germany was always going to come back with revenge. Germany was unified in its pride in its military. Carr argued that Germany’s rise in 1920s was inevitable as ‘it was unreasonable to impose a position of permanent inferiority on a great power.’ [8] This was true, but unavoidable; France wanted to know that Germany could not attack them. However, if the hypocrisy previously mentioned did not exist, and everyone had disarmed, then the situation could have been different. Isolating Germany in disarmament and the League of Nations was a bad idea, as they used it as an excuse to break the Treaty later, which was one of the causes of the Second World War. The Treaty had the aim of prolonged peace, and the isolation through disarmament was one of the reasons it did not fulfil its aim.

The failure of the League of Nations was a huge weakness; it failed because America, Russia and Germany were omitted. The League could not make decisions about the world without three of the most influential countries. The League was bypassed when Italy seized Corfu, causing embarrassment for the League as it showed a lack of power. The League might not have been certain to succeed, but if the League had put its countries beliefs behind, and the worldwide affairs first, it would not be deemed such a weakness. The League of Nations had strengths too, it was the first time the idea have been put into practise trying some ideologically and practically new to keep the peace worldwide. The League introduced medical measures that had not been in states before 1914. This was a very credible strength from the Treaty of Versailles. It really was evidence of the Versailles Treaty trying to keep prolonged peace.

The compromises in the Treaty created strengths and weaknesses. These compromises had left historians to debate as to whether the Treaty would have been stronger if it had been harsher or softer. Marks perfectly described the Treaty as ‘too soft to restrain Germany… yet too severe to be acceptable to…Germans.’ [9] It was viewed too harsh in terms of reparations, disarmament and territory. The consequence of this was Germany convincing others it was too harsh bringing the revisionism viewpoint of the 1920s which had been adopted by Britain. Revisionism allowed the Germans to undo some of the Treaty’s main clauses such as self-determination, reparations and disarmament. Revisionism has been linked to the rise of Nazism and also the Second World War. The Versailles Treaty aimed to keep prolonged peace, the weakness of the compromise shows a failure of the Treaty. A soft treaty would have been impossible, the after war feeling was to enforce a vindictive peace to help restore some of the hurt caused during the war that Germany was blamed for starting. However , it seemed that no matter how soft the Treaty would have been Germany would have wanted to change it. I agree with Kitchen that ‘ultimately no amount of revision would have satisfied the Germans.’ [10]

The strength of the Versailles Treaty compromises was that most of the clauses were very just, especially considering the circumstances. An example of this would be the Rhineland, France wanted to occupy it, however the other delegates knew that it would only cause outrage in Germany, and would strike revenge, therefore they created a compromise where the Rhineland would remain unoccupied and demilitarized. Another way to view the compromises as strength is looking at Germany’s Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, an obviously overly harsh Treaty imposed on Russia after they withdrew from the war. This strength does not disregard mistakes in the compromises and in the Treaty; however it highlights that within the circumstances it was a commendable agreement. However, the strengths and weaknesses could be argued to be unavoidable. The Treaty regardless of its content was never going to last. Mattrl pointed out the undeniable point that ‘before the ink had dried on the Treaty of Versailles, the movement to destroy it…had begun.’ [11] Therefore the weaknesses mentioned would not have been weaknesses had German accepted losing the war and the terms.

The Treaty would not have been so heavily criticised and littered with failures if it had been enforced. The Treaty could have been successful but once the Treaty had been signed; the alliance had crumbled, worsened by different ideas on how to enforce the Treaty. France wanted to make sure the clauses were imposed on Germany as harsh as possible; however Britain began to revise the Treaty. Germany complained about the Treaty, believing it was unjust, when in reality it was mainly fair. For example, if disarmament had been enforced, Germany would not have been able to annex Czechoslovakia, which was a cause of the Second World War. Germany was also left to decide about whether they could afford the reparations, and obviously, as they did not want to have this article imposed on them, they often escaped doing it, to a standard that could easily create weaknesses in the Versailles Treaty. Marks correctly explained that the delegates ‘erroneously believed that Germany would abide by their decisions,’ [12] this highlighted one of the many reasons why enforcement of the Treaty failed. Another reason for the lack of enforcement was that the allies were not loyal to each other; they just won the same war that they fought for different reasons. Therefore, the Treaty could be argued to have exposed weaknesses due to the lack of enforcement as opposed to the original articles.

It can be argued that there are less strengths than weaknesses in the Treaty of Versailles but it is often forgotten that the biggest strength is far more significant than most of the weaknesses. The momentous task that lied ahead of the delegates was incomprehensible; 10 million people lost their lives alongside the new style of warfare. The war came to an abrupt end and there were complex issues alongside contradicting viewpoints. The short amount of time they had, and the amount they had to handle creates the strength as they were able to form a Treaty which although has been criticised with many weaknesses, also has commendable articles and decisions. It must never be forgotten that the Treaty was produced attempting long-term peace whilst punishing the losers of the war, as most Treaties do. If the Treaty had been accepted by the Germans, it could have been an established peace settlement.

In conclusion, there are many strengths and weaknesses of the Treaty of Versailles, from the ideological revolution in the League of Nations, to the lack of considered economics in the reparations and loss of territories. However, the Treaty should be commended as one of its own time, that regardless of its contents would have been changed and adjusted as no Treaty had ever involved so many world and European powers. Marks convincingly summed up the Treaty by rightly claiming that the Treaty was a product of its time representing the feelings of the time; therefore its duration was limited seeing as the reality of the feelings of 1919 was limited. [13]

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