Q. Discuss critically the treaty of Versailles. How far was it unjust? [BPSC History Optional, 1999, 40 Marks]
The Treaty of Versailles was peace document signed at the end of World War I between the victor Allied Powers and defeated Germany.
Provisions of the Treaty of Versailles
(1) Germany lost territories in Europe. For example: Alsace-Lorraine to France, North Schleswig to Denmark, West Prussia and Posen to Poland, some parts to Belgium and Lithuania. Danzig (main port of West Prussia) was made free city under League of Nations.
(2) Saar valley was to be administered by the League of Nations for 15 years, after which plebiscite was to be held to decide to live in Germany or France. France was to use its coalmine for 15 years.
(3) Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were taken away from Germany and set up as a independent states. This was an example of principle of self-determination.
(4) Union between Germany and Austria was forbidden.
(5) Germany’s African colonies were taken away and became ‘mandates’ under League of Nations.
(6) German armaments were strictly limited to 100000 troops and no conscription; no tanks, military aircraft, submarines. Rhineland was to be permanently demilitarised.
(7) The War guilt clause fixed the blame for the war solely on Germany.
(8) Germany was to pay reparation for damage done to the Allies.
(9) A League of Nations was set up.
How far the Treaty was unjust?
(1) It was a dictated peace
The Germans were not allowed into the discussions at Versailles. There is justification in this objection as it would have been reasonable to allow Germans to present their case in the discussion, which would have toned down some of the harsh terms of the treaty. But, on the other hand, Germans could have hardly expected any better treatment after harsh way they dealt with Russia during signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk during the war.
(2) Several provisions were not based on the 14 points of Wilson
The Germans claimed that they had been promised terms based on Wilson’s 14 Point but not all provisions of the treaty were based on that. For example: the principle of self-determination in 14 points was not applied for unifying Austria and Germany.
But this can’t be valid objection as the 14 Points had never been accepted officially by any states involved including Germany (when the world war was about to end, Germans had rejected it).
(3) Loss of territory in Europe
Alsace-Lourraine was captured by Germany during Franco-Prussian War, 1871 and it was given back to France in the Treaty of Versailles which was totally justified. Also, most of the German losses in Europe could be justified on grounds of nationality.
So, German objections regarding loss of territory war largely unjustified.
(4) The loss of African colonies
German colonies were mandated to Allied powers for administration under mandate system, but in reality Allied powers like Britain and France distributed German colonies among themselves, without admitting that they did. Here German objection was justified.
(5) The disarmament clause
Germans claimed that 100000 troops are not enough to keep law and order at the time of political unrests. The objection was justified upto certain extent, though the French desire for a weak Germany was understandable for her security.
Germany laid down arms in the hope that her action would be followed by a general limitation of the armaments of all nations as proposed in Wilson’s 14 points, but it did not happen and Germany had good reason to complain, though practically all round armament was not possible.
(6) The ‘War Guilt’ clause
Germans objected to solely blamed for the outbreak of the World War.
The objection was justified upto certain extent. Although Germany was a major factor in the outbreak of the war, she was not solely responsible. It was hardly possible to arrive at the conclusion in the span of six weeks during 1919, which is what the ‘Special Commission on War’ responsibility did.
The Allies in fact wanted to blame Germany for war so that payment of reparation could be justified.
Though there is validity of the principle of reparations, the amount decided was too high, which was not possible for Germany to pay.
While a huge indemnity was imposed on Germany, her natural resources were reduced. One cannot starve a goose and expect it to lay golden eggs.
The Germans did have some cause for complaint. However, the treaty could have been much harsh. If Clemenceau had had his way, the Rhineland would have become an independent state, the Saar would have become part of France, and Danzig would have become part of Poland.
Also, compared to the treaties which Germany had imposed on defeated Russia and Rumania in 1918, the Treaty of Versailles was quite moderate.