The Paris Peace Conference involved much more than negotiating a peace between Germany and the victorious allies. Similarly harsh treaties were concluded with the other defeated powers and Austria and the Ottoman Empire suffered significantly due to the dismantling of the empire. The Paris Peace Conference pitted the ideal of a peaceful world promoted by Woodrow Wilson against the harsh treaty demanded by the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. The peace that concluded the war shaped developments for decades to come including providing a platform for the rise of fascism and decolonization. The borders created in Paris in 1919 still cause issues in the Middle East and Europe today.    

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had outlined his idea of a “peace without victory,” which then had not received much favoritism by the allied powers. With the war situation deteriorating, the German Empire had assumed the best chance for peace would be by asking for Wilson’s peace program as basis for the peace. On January 8, 1918, Wilson announced his peace without victory plan and the Fourteen Points on which to build the post war settlement. The Fourteen Points included freedom of the seas, arms limitations, economic interdependence and removal of trade barriers, fair settlement of colonial claims, restoration of Belgium, Russian right to self determination, as well as for many other nations in Eastern Europe, no secret treaties and alliances (“open covenants, openly arrived at”), and most important as the fourteenth point a general association of nations to guarantee political independence and territorial integrity of all state.

In January 1919, the allied powers started the Paris Peace Conference. The meeting was off to a chaotic start and took a while before the various nations represented were ready for business. In Paris, 27 nations and 4 British Dominions were present. In addition, delegates from new nations and colonies also appeared to voice their interests. Somewhat famous is Ho Chi Minh’s presence and request for sovereignty of Indochina. Most of the attention was on the so-called Big Four: Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson, and Vittorio Orlando. All four agreed on the necessity to punish Germany, but they differed significantly on how to achieve peace and the amount of punishment. Clemenceau wanted a harsh treaty because even a weakened Germany with its economic power and large population was still a danger to France. He required a dramatic reduction of the German military capacity and preferable the occupation of the Rhineland by French troops. Lloyd George’s nation had sustained less suffering and understood that a general European recovery required a reasonable strengthening and reindustrializing of Germany. Orlando wanted all territory promised by the London Agreement of 1915, including Trentino, Trieste, Istria, and Northern Dalmatia. Wilson insisted on his Fourteen Points.

The delegations quickly realized that the plenary meeting did not work. The acoustic of the room was miserable. There were simply too many people to work out a treaty in a reasonable amount of time. The delegated decided to shrink the size of the body responsible for working out the various treaty terms. A few smaller bodies were set up among them the Supreme Council and Council of Ten. Most of the work was done by the Big Four in private sessions. Initially, the delegated focused on working out the preliminaries for the peace and Wilson made sure to push his League of Nations on the other three. He was aware that if he allowed them to push the League of Nations off to the end, he would never get the league. He also made sure that the League Covenant would be part of the peace treaty. Wilson however could not remain steadfast because to reconcile the London Agreement with his high moral goals he had to compromise. It required him supporting some territorial concessions in order to get his league passed. Nevertheless, the territorial question would cause major disagreements.