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The origins of the League of Nations

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The 19th century is called the "long 19th century".[6][7] This century is marked by many elements that can characterize it in the following way. There is an ideological confrontation between liberalism, conservatism and socialism leading in 1917 to the October Revolution which will play an important role in the League of Nations concerning the Soviet Union. There is the adoption of the idea of the rule of law and the establishment of a state duty based on increasingly developed laws and constitutions that also begin to protect privacy. The nineteenth century is a century strongly marked by the process of industrialization. The appearance of new structures at the economic level will lead to the emergence of class struggle, consumption and social mobility. The 19th century was also marked by a process of democratisation and parliamentarisation, as in Great Britain. There is a strong movement towards democratization which is a grassroots process affecting only men in this period. School education becomes compulsory and new social strata are integrated into the political system. The 19th century is also marked by a globalisation of communications with the invention of telegraphy and the construction of a world telegraph network. This leads to a European dominance over this world marked by colonialism. The rivalry between states is growing and is not necessarily conceived as war. The 19th century is the century of science too with the invention of the gross national product which allows comparisons to be made in the context of competition.

These are new elements because the state, which sees itself as a nation-state, has more legitimacy no longer through the grace of God, it is a new conception of the nation. The great empires such as Austria-Hungary, but also the German Empire had many minorities, the Ottoman Empire, but also the Russian Empire contained many different peoples. The awakening of nationalism and nations brought about an enormous explosion in development which was to be found in the second half of the First World War with the implosion of the great empires brought about by the disruptive force of the awakening of these small nations. Researchers speak of the awakening of small peoples in particular Miroslav Hroch who sees three separate phases for the creation of a nation in the context of 19th century nationalism: the creation of a nation from the point of view of culture which is the phase of the intellectual awakening of nations, namely the historians who invent an often imaginary past in order to create an identity for a cultural and linguistic group [1], the phase of political unrest [2] and the creation of a nation as a political entity [3]. The people will internationalize the notion of nation through the school, but also through institutions such as the army. Today we could add the media, which leads to a homogenization of languages. The notion of nationalism in this double vision of the creation of the very concept of a nation is based on the idea of the national state, which is a state that is homogenous internally and competing externally, leading to the race for colonies as well as for trade. The historical sciences speak for this 19th century of a century of modernization.

Great changes are taking place within society, but also affect the community of states. In addition to the European concert that is establishing itself as global governance, there are other elements that are being established. The phase from 1815 to 1923 is a repressive phase where the great powers concisely a restoration of the regimes overthrown at the end of the French Revolution, from 1823 to 1848 there is a pragmatic phase and from 1848 to 1914 there are liberal revolutions. The concept of the "terra nullius" is a European doctrine that will open the door to the European powers for the establishment of a European government practically all over the world.

In the second half of the 19th century, a new governmental institutionalism was established. This parallel movement established cooperation between states. It is a paradigm next to the traditional paradigm. In the majority of cases, there are semi-official grey areas between official and private activities. There is also interference in these different sectors. Madeleine Herren's research shows that the separation typical for science-politics does not work for the 19th century.

The new internationalism has created a modern foreign policy. Until then, foreign policy was the policy of kings who fought wars to make their empire bigger. This new internationalism reflects a new modern process that will clearly impose itself in the 20th century with the creation of the League of Nations. This movement was not only linked to the liberal movement, but was also attached to all other political fields, not only to liberalism, but also to conservatism and socialism. The affirmation that internationalism is not only linked to liberal force is very important because between the two wars there was going to be an internationalist movement under the control of fascism and socialist internationalism. These countries are going to try to establish networks in direct competition with the network of the League of Nations. For the period between the two wars, there is an international system marked by at least three different galaxies. In 1946, the United Nations will be able to attract all these different universes and put them at the centre of the network of specialized organizations of the United Nations. In the inter-war period, there will be an old system of international relations that will remain outside the League of Nations, in particular because the United States will not join it.

In the 19th century, there is a new development, but at the same time the idea of nation and nationalism remains very strong determining the development of international relations with the First World War. We must understand that the ideas of internationalism were not just peaceful and cosmopolitan intellectual ideas. There is often a tendency to interpret these ideas as the ideas of philosophers contrary to nationalisms with, for example, the idea of universal peace. It is true that there is a very marked and very strong discourse, but it is the expression of very powerful interests, such as the expression of a capitalism that needed to create new rules and new standards. There are different roots for a phenomenon which, depending on the perspective used, but in the foreground different elements.

Precursors of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

It is possible to distinguish more or less four lines of development: there are federative ideas, the European concert, the development of international conferences and congresses, technical cooperation and what will be launched as the peace movement.

The federative ideas[edit | edit source]

There are several intellectual roots that have developed for a peaceful organization of the world. There is a long philosophical tradition linked to the idea of peace. One of the most famous examples is Montesquieu with his book "De l'esprit des lois" published in Geneva in 1748, develops the idea of universal peace.

John Bellers was a Quaker, a religious pacifist of Protestant profession who developed several interesting and progressive ideas during the 18th century. Among all these plans that he launched in his activism, he also launched in 1710 the idea of dividing Europe into 100 cantons. The idea is to keep the state borders of the time, namely to keep the great empires with the concept of legitimacy, but to seek to share these great empires in cantons in order to create the New Europe to be conceived in a "fair" and "correct" way based on objective criteria. This raises many issues, as the reality on the ground is more complex.

At Bellers, there would also be a European Parliament where each canton would send a delegate to this European Parliament. Bellers is also the first thinker whose written sources call for the creation of an international military troop.

In his texts, Kant called on humanity to create a world confederation based on the three principles of democracy, the rule of law and free trade in 1795 in his book Towards Perpetual Peace. Kant defines principles designed to create the conditions for perpetual peace. It seeks to create something more stable than a simple cessation of hostilities. Perpetual peace is linked to the idea of a state of nature that must prevail between states. Kant distinguishes six conditions:

  • No peace treaty can be considered as such if it secretly reserves something to start a new war.
  • No independent state (small or large, it doesn't matter here) can be acquired by another, by inheritance, exchange, purchase or donation.
  • Standing armies (miles perpetuus) must completely disappear over time.
  • National debts should not be contracted for the external interests of the State.
  • No State shall forcibly interfere in the constitution and government of another State.
  • No State shall allow itself, in a war with another State, to engage in hostilities which would make it impossible, upon the return of peace, to build mutual trust, such as, for example, the use of assassins (percussores), poisoners (venefici), the violation of a surrender, the arousal of treason (per-duellio) in the State in which it is at war, etc.

The war continues to be a legitimate element, but this war must be resolved. Kant also defines the term "cosmopolitical juice" which is a cosmopolitan law designed as a principle to protect peoples against war. This idea of cosmopolitan law is based on the moral principle of universal hospitality. The surface of the Earth, in Kant's vision, belongs in common to the human race. In this context, there is a universal cosmopolitan constitution that is a universal right. This is important because the law at that time was still shared among very few entities. There were several authorities that could exercise their power, so that there was no homogeneity between political and royal spaces. There is the concept that is verbalized, which is that of cosmopolitan internationalism, which is a universal cosmopolitan vision of a peaceful humanity. It is interesting to note that the research of Craig Murphy and Madeleine Herren takes up the discourse related to cosmopolitan internationalism but for other reasons. At Kant, the term "Völkerbund" is used in his book Towards Perpetual Peace. This is the first pillar and the first perspective.

The European concert[edit | edit source]

The national boundaries within Europe as set by the Congress of Vienna, 1815.

The European concert is an idea of a pacification of international relations. It is true that the idea, plans and motivations for a pacification of international relations are present in philosophical thought from the Middle Ages onwards. What is about to begin as a European concert is already conceived as an assembly of heads of state and kings who meet regularly in order to regulate international policy between different nations and kingdoms. In the Holy Roman Empire there was the concept of the elector prince. It was the idea that seven German princes were tolerated who had the privilege of electing the king of the Holy Roman Empire to be emperor. From the embryonic point of view, there was something where they were trying to settle and fix international relations. This system was settled in the Golden Bull of 1356, which established a system where the emperor was elected by a majority of the prince electors. In the very idea of the concert of nations, there is an idea that is interpreted as a factor in the race to colonialism and a factor in the First World War, while at the same time providing elements that make it possible to conceive of a potential League of Nations, i.e. to bring about multilateral diplomacy.

International conferences and congresses and technical cooperation[edit | edit source]

Conferences and congresses add a new dimension to technical cooperation. In the nineteenth century, a governmental internationalism was established that settled new issues and established new forms of cooperation in new thematic areas. Even if there are grey areas between governmental and non-governmental fields, it should be noted that this development leads to a broadening of the very conception of what is to be regulated from the point of view of international society. There is a real explosion in international meetings.

Between 1815 and 1833, the Association for Navigation on the Rhine regulated navigation on the Rhine. From the 1860s onwards, international unions appeared with the International Telegraph Union in 1864, the Universal Postal Union in 1879, the International Sanitary Bureau in 1890 and the International Hygiene Bureau in 1904. The field of health is an interesting field to see the establishment of a parallel international network since there will be a development in this office with long-term activities within the League of Nations, but also outside. In 1870, the metric system was established, which raised the question of setting standards as essential for the economy and industry that wanted to export their products.

The Peace Movement[edit | edit source]

After the Napoleonic wars, there were wars with new dimensions, notably through the idea of mass levée and leading to the fall of Napoleon, resulting in the creation of peaceful European associations. It is at the level of the bourgeois strata that pacifist thinking will emerge, which puts human rights first, but also social development and the question of the abolition of slavery. This movement is always linked to religious and ethical motivations. It is a Christian morality of Anglo-Saxon continental Europe rather than the ideas of the French Revolution. In 1815 the American Peace Society was founded as an association against military service, in 1816 the London Peace Society was founded in the United Kingdom, in 1830 the Geneva Peace Society was founded in Geneva.

Jean-Jacques de Sellon.

In Switzerland, pacifism has a long tradition and for tradition can be distinguished in three streams:

  • Jean-Jacques de Sellon founded the Geneva Peace Society in 1830. A link is created between the education of the citizen and fundamental human rights without calling into question national integrity ;
  • The Peace Congress of 1867 saw the creation of the League for Peace and Freedom. This branch sees the peaceful as less religious and more linked to the law.
  • The International Association of Workers is a socialist organization which aims to be pacifist and internationalist. This pacifism also has anarchist tendencies, but this tendency.

It is rather in the bourgeois milieu that an elite is formed by professors, journalists, lawyers and freemasons. It is these men who will give institutions to pacifism. In 1891, the International Peace Bureau was set up with headquarters in Berne. From 1924 onwards, the International Peace Bureau was based in Geneva. In 1892, the Inter-Parliamentary Union was founded as an institution which seeks contact between the various parliamentarians of the different countries created within the framework of Bernese internationalism, but which will be established in 1921 in Geneva underlining the importance of Geneva as the place for the League of Nations. Some pastors originally saw Christian pacifism as a Christian pacifism, such as the theologian Ragazze, a Christian Socialist-oriented theologian who developed this context from social pacifism to Christian pacifism.

This led to the establishment of international congresses linked to the establishment of pacifism, such as in 1843 in London, in 1848 in Brussels, in 1849 in Paris and in 1860 in Frankfurt. These congresses began to make links between the different movements in the different countries, putting on the agenda questions that had not been discussed until then from an international point of view. The aim of these pacifist congresses is to codify international law, a law of peoples and the creation of new instruments related to international arbitration in order to avoid war even if war continues to remain a legitimate means as the continuation of politics by other means. The aim of these peace organizations is to establish rules to prevent the outbreak of armed conflict. In 1891, there was the Third World Congress for Peace which led to the creation of the International Peace Bureau whose mission was to create and organize future peace congresses. It is a process that seeks to create institutions so that we can continue at the international level to keep an agenda to deal with these issues. Henri Dunant is one of the eminent members of this congress which will later found the Red Cross.

The First International Peace Conference in 1899.

The 1892 Hague Conference, also known as the International Conference for Peace, was organized at the initiative of Tsar Nicolai II. These are developments initiated by civil society, but in order to find some legitimacy, it is necessary to try to engage a higher authority. This conference advanced international humanitarian law leading to the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Among the various treaties adopted was the Convention on the Laws and Customs of War on Land. A second international peace conference was held in The Hague in 1907. The two peace conferences of 1892 and 1907 in The Hague are very important in the history of international relations because it was the first time that plans for the maintenance of peace at the international level were put in place and put into practice. One of the focal points is the issue of arms reduction. In 1907, most of the world's states took part in this conference. The main point was to settle land warfare and in particular the protection of civil and armed forces that had laid down their arms. There was a convention prohibiting the use of poisons and toxic weapons which was not respected during the first world war. These conferences settle the question of neutrality in wartime.

Art. 1

With a view to preventing as far as possible the use of force in relations between States, the Contracting Powers agree to use all their efforts to ensure the peaceful settlement of international disputes.

Art. 2

In the event of serious dissent or conflict, before calling upon arms, the Contracting Powers agree to have recourse, as circumstances permit, to the good offices or mediation of one or more friendly Powers.

Art. 9 In international disputes involving neither honour nor essential interests and arising from a difference of assessment on points of fact, the Contracting Powers consider it useful and desirable that Parties which could not have reached agreement through diplomatic channels should, as circumstances permit, set up an International Commission of Inquiry to facilitate the settlement of such disputes by clarifying, through an impartial and conscientious examination, questions of fact.

There is a desire to avoid wars through good offices, but we also see that this convention does not prohibit the use of war. Strong principles are established, but these will be followed by compromises.

Art. 10

International Commissions of Inquiry are constituted by special agreement between the Parties in dispute. The inquiry agreement specifies the facts to be examined, it determines the method and time frame for the formation of the Commission and the scope of the Commissioners' powers.

Art. 37

The purpose of international arbitration is to settle disputes between States by judges of their choice and on the basis of respect for the law. The use of arbitration implies a commitment to submit in good faith to the award.

Art. 38

In legal matters, and in the first place, in matters of interpretation or application of international conventions, arbitration is recognized by the Contracting Powers as the most effective and at the same time the most equitable way to settle disputes that have not been resolved through diplomatic channels. Consequently, it would be desirable that, in disputes on the above-mentioned matters, the Contracting Powers should, where appropriate, have recourse to arbitration, as circumstances permit.

There is an attempt to set up mechanisms to avoid war.

Art. 41

In order to facilitate the immediate recourse to arbitration for international disputes which have not been settled through diplomatic channels, the Contracting Powers undertake to maintain, as established by the First Peace Conference, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, accessible at all times and functioning, unless otherwise provided

contrary to the Parties, in accordance with the rules of procedure inserted in this Convention.

Art. 42

The Permanent Court shall have jurisdiction in all cases of arbitration unless there is an agreement between the Parties to establish a special jurisdiction.


Article 41 establishes a Court of Arbitration and Article 24 completes the institution of arbitration.

The First World War as the mother of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

The First World War, which was a prelude to the fall of multi-ethnic empires, showed the world the impossibility of maintaining a system of lawless rivalry and domination. The horrors of war showed the need to establish a new international world order based on international law, the sovereign equality of States and the right of peoples to self-determination. Nevertheless, imperialism had not entirely left the mentality and reality of international relations and was manifested in the new order of the League of Nations and even in the United Nations after the Second World War. This shows the compromise between abstract ideas and reality. The First World War is the inaugural event of the 20th century, which is a concept found in the historical sciences.

The Western empires as they were in 1910.

The causes of the First World War lie in structural issues of the 19th century. The main elements for the outbreak of the First World War were surely nationalism, which functioned within multi-ethnic states in a disruptive manner. On the one hand nation states fall from nationalism to homogeneity by excluding minorities. The nation state is a new concept based on criteria such as language and culture wants and has a tendency to be homogeneous systematically excluding minorities. National minorities retain an awareness of their value and seek to obtain their State.

Imperialism is the competition between European states with the rush to Africa. The construction of fighting fleets makes this conquest possible. Once the world has been shared, it becomes difficult to have a potential for expansion. The place that there is no longer for the race for colonies makes the crisis return to Europe.

Industrialization generates tensions between workers and bourgeoisies that grow in magnitude. The workers are going to found their own socialist party which is gradually asserting itself with the acquisition of the right to vote. New social classes can gain influence in politics. In 1912, the German Social Democratic Party was the strongest in the Reichstag. The international orientation of socialism was seen by the bourgeoisie as a threat.

Parallel to the already prepared military plan and the alliance system, an extreme tension was created. The trigger was the attack in Sarajevo and the inability of the great powers to control the July Crisis. The situation in 1914 was that the tragedy of Europe was due to the technical development of Europe. This technical development led to the fact that this European war was able to destroy the continent with unprecedented armament. The only way out of this situation was to find political answers. That is where the ideas for the League of Nations come from, but war remains a legitimate instrument for politics. Another disruptive element is the ethnic situation in Europe, which was extremely complex before the war. The great empires are ethnically and linguistically mixed. In Germany, for example, there are many Slavic and Polish minorities. The concept of the self-determination of peoples is an explosive concept that will have far-reaching consequences for Europe.

Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas, etching and aquatint by Otto Dix, 1924.

The cataclysm of the First World War began in 1914 with a certain lightness. There was a great fervour for war. The perception was that the war was a way to resolve the crisis that had been present since 1900. In August 1914, it was volunteers thinking of going to a short war. The war was going to be a stationary war, of trenches and exhaustion different from what was imaginable. Gas will be used as a new deadly weapon. The strategy of the blockade is an economic war to exhaust civilians. New technologies such as the submarine will expand the battlefields. In order to understand this mentality that will weigh on Europe and the world, it is possible to try to understand it through the history of art. In 1914, the artist Otto Dix joined the German artillery. The following year, he became a machine gunner and took part in numerous military campaigns from which he came out alive. From his images of horror, he will turn them into paintings. The war will overshadow everything known so far in history and is a total break with the development of the 19th century.

Total war is practiced not only by military means, but also with the weapons of the economy, but also of society. The whole society was turned towards war. This war is truly global, with battlefields on every continent. It is a war of the industrial age with enormous efficiency of industry and research completely at the disposal of this war. The home front is a legitimate goal. Armies are not only in the classical framework, civil society is a legitimate goal. The boundary between the military and the civilian domain as set out in the Hague Convention of 1907 will almost completely disappear. It is trench warfare for which generals and officers were unprepared, leading to massacres. It is possible to speak of a war of attrition. With the new weapons, it was possible to kill industrially. The war has had devastating effects on the societies concerned with 10 million soldiers dead, the fertile generation will practically disappear with a high birth rate deficit which causes structural distortion. Many of the repatriated soldiers were wounded or traumatized. This war brought enormous economic costs and destruction which will significantly determine the negotiations at the Paris peace talks.

The birth of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

In the United States, the League to Enforce Peace was founded in 1915 for the explicit promotion of the creation of an international organization for world peace. The League to Enforce Peace was founded by American citizens concerned about the war in Europe. The first president is William Taft who was the former president of the United States. The founding congress proposes an international treaty for the participants to use their economic and military strength together for each member entering into war or perpetuating acts of hostility. There is the concrete idea of having strong instruments to prevent wars - an alliance between countries to prevent with force that it is possible to start wars. This principle will find its application with the Blue Helmets after the Second World War. In Great Britain, there is the League of Nations Association whose purpose is the creation of a League of Nations.

Dickinson was a British historian and political activist. After the outbreak of the war, Dickinson had sketched out a plan for a League of Nations developing the ideas that would found this institution, which would play a leading role with pacifist intellectuals. This association was to play a key role in the creation of the League of Nations. The means at its disposal was propaganda through the publication of pamphlets in particular with the magazine "The International Anarchy". Hobson was a British journalist and essayist and a fervent critic of British imperialism. Together with Dickinson, Hobson elaborated the first idea of the League of Nations with concrete concepts in "Towards International government". Soon, we also see that it will be impossible to create perpetual war and international peace without addressing the economic inequalities between countries. The peace that will take place after the First World War must also address social and economic issues.

The scale of the war was so great that its peaceful settlement had to be of this size as well. Hundreds of diplomats and experts would meet in Paris to propose peace. It is possible to identify the following general conditions:

  • the experience of war has made the people of eastern Europe and the world nostalgic for peace. This is a different situation from 1914 when there were poets and philosophers who longed for war with war being seen as a possibility to change things and bring order to the old construction of imperialist Europe. The war was seen as a regenerative force that would be completely lost in 1919.
  • the number of actors reflects a drastic increase in the number of actors. There is a quantity of nation-states in Central Europe and in addition to the extra-European powers with the United States making the most important contribution in order to win against the central powers, but also Japan which is a power that is not "white" becoming an important factor in international relations, but also China and dominions like India. We are beginning to see a completely different world from the one we knew when we had the concert of European powers.
  • With the October Revolution, the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, but also the November Revolution in Germany, there is an alternative to the liberal system.
  • the entry of the United States into the war radically changed the relations between powers in the liberal field. Wilson is going to devote himself to the mission of democracy which cannot be fought discursively by the European nations, but which lays down the principle of self-determination of peoples. The beginnings of decolonisation already begin at this point through the concept of self-determination and Wilson's Fourteen Points.[8]
  • the United States and the Soviet Union have a strong ideological dimension. It is no longer the old question of political hegemony, but it is increasingly becoming a question of ideological dimension. It will mark the inter-war period and the post-World War II period with the Cold War.
  • with the end of the war, there is in many states a process of democratization. There is an expansion of male suffrage and the beginnings of female suffrage as in Germany. During the war, politicians had made all kinds of promises, especially to the working class. In order to obtain the support of certain social classes, it was necessary to promise certain concessions during the war.

Associations and intellectuals had begun to develop ideas leading to organization and a new way of thinking about international relations. Wilson's role was central to this. Wilson knew at the right time to take the ideas that were on the way. Thanks to his enormous weight and figure, he condensed them and embodied them in a concrete project. For Wilson, the creation of the League of Nations was fundamental.

Bushnell cartoon about Kaiser Wilhelm considering Wilson's 14-point plan.

Nicolson, at the peace conference, said that Wilson was convinced that the League of Nations was his own revelation and remedy for all the problems of humanity. In order to settle conflicts peacefully, Wilson had created the fourteen points. The Fourteen Points were formulated at a time when the war was not yet over:

  • "Just peace without annexations, but with adjustments of frontiers."
  • "The end of secret diplomacy": this is a break with the diplomatic traditions and practices set in motion by the concert of European powers. Lenin had also declared the end of secret diplomacy.
  • "freedom of the seas": creating the possibility of trade.
  • "open door", "trade equality".
  • "general disarmament".
  • "self-determination of peoples".
  • "creation of an LON to guarantee the independence and borders of states".

The specifics:

  • "Settlement of the colonial question taking into account the wishes of the peoples concerned".
  • "Evacuation of all the territories occupied by the central powers".
  • " Return of Alsace-Lorraine ".
  • Free access to the sea for Poland, free Polish state".
  • "autonomy for the non-Turkish peoples of the Ottoman Empire".
  • Free access to the sea for Serbia".
  • Rectification of the Italian borders".
  • Restoration of free Belgium".
  • Free choice of government for the Russian people'.
  • " Autonomy of the peoples of Austria-Hungary ".

The Fourteen Points are drawn up at a time when the Allies have not won the war, while Lenin also advances a number of proclaimed points. Wilson is going to become a hero in all the peoples of Central Europe who want to achieve self-determination. With such expectations, the results will create frustration. In addition, France and Great Britain will remain on more traditional positions, especially with regard to Germany.

Wilson brings an ideological dimension which takes up Lenin's radical program, but manages to integrate it into the American concept of New Diplomacy. In this concept, the creation of the League of Nations is central. Wilson will quickly understand that it is impossible to solve the complexity of the questions posed by Europe. Wilson sees the right to self-determination more as an autocratic reform of authoritarian multi-ethnic empires and as a response to national and ethnic criteria. On the other hand, in the creation of a League of Nations, there is the idea of equality of states, which implies a democratic idea between states that depart from the idea of European unity. The right to self-determination meant democratic decision-making power. This is a fundamental difference from Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who had a conception of self-determination of peoples linked to a delimited territorial and national concept that allowed the Soviet conception the right of secession.

During the negotiations, Wilson had to depart sharply from abstract claims. With the dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy, he was confronted with a new and unexpected situation. The proposed rules could no longer be applied.

In the beginning was Versailles[edit | edit source]

Detail from William Orpen's painting The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28th June 1919, showing the signing of the peace treaty by the German Minister of Transport Dr Johannes Bell, opposite to the representatives of the winning powers.

The Paris Peace Conference lasted from 18 January 1919, soon after the end of hostilities, until 10 August 1920. The plenary assembly of all the Member States met only eight times. All the rest of the discussions were done either in committees, the Council of Ten and later in the Council of Four between France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Italy. Not only the defeated states but also the Soviet Union were excluded from the conference involved in the creation of the Versailles Diktat of Peace. More than sixty commissions are assembled according to the wishes of the great powers, which define the themes to be discussed. This is the golden age of experts. In Paris, there is a veritable invasion of experts. The British delegation is made up of more than 200 experts, as are the States that are going to arrive with a huge staff. There is a difference with the small states that cannot arrive in Paris with many experts. There is a practical problem that gives the big powers an advantage.

The major powers decide which topics will be discussed in the plenary conferences, which are held after a consensus has been reached within them. There is a continuation of the thinking of the concert of powers. The subjects that will be touched upon are the responsibilities of war, the question of compensation, but also the question of ports, waterways and railways. There are also discussions on international law, working with the timing of the reactions against the October revolutions, but also an interest in having the same rules in order to avoid unfair competition, especially for Great Britain. There is also a plenary discussion for the creation of the League of Nations. The questions of great politics, of borders, concerning the creation of new states remain central. There is also a persistence of classical territorial questions.

The structure of peace: the redesign of the European map (1919 - 1920)[edit | edit source]

Map of Europe, according to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles (source : http://bv.alloprof.qc.ca/h1097.aspx)

The Paris Peace System tried to find solutions to try to remedy the causes of the First World War, but also tried to propose solutions to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. In the first case, there is the creation of nation-states. The countries that emerged from the Ottoman Empire could not achieve independence, but were placed under a system of mandates under the control of the League of Nations.

Territorial issues posed extremely tough negotiations even between the victorious powers. This discussion was truly controversial because it touched in a fundamentally different way on the post-war order in Europe. The most important disputes between the great powers included the creation of a Polish state, the issue of Danzig, which was to be defined as a free city under the control of the League of Nations. The rectification of borders also concerned France with Alsace-Lorraine and Italy with South Tyrol, Estrie and Istria with the town of Fiume. Yugoslavia will also be created. A whole series of questions about borders arise. It's an explosive situation.

There is the problem of national minorities. This new definition of the European borders is basically conceived as an attempt to make a just peace based on objective criteria brought to a situation where there are 10 million Germans who speak German and who live outside the German national state and there are 3 million Hungarians who are no longer part of the Hungarian part of the kingdom. Hungary suffers the greatest territorial losses as a result of the peace of Paris. Outside Europe, there is the issue of the former German colonies. Togo and Cameron go to France, Tanzania to Great Britain, Tanzania to South Africa and the Pacific Islands to Japan.

There is the tendency to see November 11, 1918 as the end of World War I, but also as the end of all conflicts. In the collective imagination, there is the idea of an armistice of the end of hostilities that opens into a period of peace. This is a false vision that focuses on Eastern Europe.

A whole series of conflicts continued after November 1918, such as the Greek-Turkish war of 1919 to 1922. In the 1924s, the European concert established an independent Greek state as part of the process of emancipation from the Ottoman Empire. Between 1912 and 1913, Greece conquered additional territories that belonged to the Ottoman Empire. In 1917, Greece joined the Entente and the Treaty of Sèvres enabled it to obtain the right to administer certain territories of the Ottoman Empire, such as Izmir. In the Peace of Paris, there is the conception that a whole series of territories can decide in the future through a popular vote to which state it wishes to belong. There is strong opposition from the Turks, and under the leadership of Mustapha Kemal, a war develops from 1919 to 1922 which will see the Turkish forces as the victor and Turkey will be able in 1923 to obtain with the Treaty of Lausanne a revision of the Treaty of Sèvres. In the pact of the League of Nations it was stipulated that it was possible to revise the peace that had been decided. There was also a Serbo-Bulgarian conflict. Since 1875 there has been a controversy over the borders in order to obtain direct access to the sea. Between 1919 and 1921 there is the Anglo-Irish war. In this context, there is also the Russian Revolution following an explosive social situation that runs through the 19th century. Great Britain, France, the United States and Japan intervene in Russia to safeguard the property of its own citizens expropriated by the revolution. There is a whole series of foreign interventions during the Polish-Russian War, a conflict between Poland and Lithuania. The Riga peace put an end to the war between Poland and Russia.

Alongside this war, which continues after the end of the First World War, there are all kinds of tensions within the domestic population with the social question, the social question of the working class. There is the great fear of the Western countries of the possibility of a revolution. From the point of view of internal politics, there is the question of women's rights. During the wars, women had taken over many of the tasks left behind by the men who had gone to war and the promise of emancipation, but there will be no great advances even if the introduction of the right to vote for women will take place in the Weimar Republic and in a whole series of other countries such as Austria, the USSR and Spain. In the United States, the question of the right of African-Americans was raised, which was to culminate in 1964 with the Civil Right.

The dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 - atlas-historique.net

In order to understand the peace of Paris, we must take into account the political reality. In the Middle East, the revision of the Treaty of Sèvres will lead to the Treaty of Lausanne with the imperialist dimension of things in the sense that former colonies and defeated territories are put under the mandate of the victorious powers. Syria goes to France, Palestine to Great Britain, as well as Jordan and Iraq. The question of borders also concerns Turkey and Greece. In 1923, the concept and policy of population exchange between Greece and Turkey was established, i.e. about 1.5 million Christians from Anatolia and the Eastern trace were expelled and had to go to Greece. 500,000 Muslims had to leave Greece and settle in Turkey.

Purposes and structure of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

The aims of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

From Wilson onwards, secret diplomacy was abolished and the idea that international issues should be discussed in a public arena with more transparency was introduced. This is also what Lenin does, who proposes to abolish secret diplomacy, opening the archives of the czars leading to a series of scandals because there are all kinds of secret treaties like the Treaty of London of 1915 where the Entente powers buy Italy's entry to their side. There is also the idea of the peaceful settlement of disputes, but this had already been put in place with the Hague conferences of 1898 and 1907. Wilson encountered difficulties with France, which wanted to obtain partial disarmament of the defeated states. There is a different conception of security between the United States and France. South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts proposes to push for international cooperation as he is a strong supporter of the League of Nations in order to rebalance relations with Germany. There are all sorts of interests that will clash, especially with President Wilson who wants to push free trade, but who will face general protectionism. The virulent issue of European imperialism is confronted with the anti-colonial conception of the United States, which had opted for a form of informal colonialism. The former colonies have always considered themselves discursively anti-colonial.

It is important to remember that in Paris there are representatives from all over the world with very high expectations, intentions and plans. Many of these countries were well prepared, like the United States, which had prepared the conference with the Inquiry.

On January 25, 1919 the proposal to create the League of Nations was made, in English the League of Nations and in German the Völkerbund. On 28 April 1919 Geneva was chosen as the seat of the League of Nations. This choice was made on the basis of Geneva's influence in the 19th century and Switzerland was considered neutral territory also from an ideological point of view. The Belgians wanted Brussels to become the seat of the League of Nations. On the other hand, Brussels was a city that was home to many international organizations. The Belgians also saw this choice as a form of compensation for the war, since it was invaded by Germany even though it was a neutral country. Predictably, Wilson came out in favour of Geneva. In the 19th century, Berne was the seat of the International Unions, and with the decision to locate the headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva, this changed the situation, with the result that Berne now played a secondary role as the international capital of Switzerland.

Peace Structure[edit | edit source]

General guidelines are defined as the indivisibility of peace, which is general. We no longer want to make separate peace, as was the case before, not to make a system of alliances that jeopardizes security. At the basis of the construction is the idea of solidarity. Articles 8 and 9 of the Treaty of Versailles will settle the issue of armaments, and the guarantee of territorial integrity is in article 10. Article 19 regulates the possibility of revising the decisions taken, referring to the different dynamic democratic element of static peace made by the concert of powers. In several treaties, the idea will be raised of making the population concerned vote, of making the national population vote on their future. The Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 is a negative revision for Armenia, which is no longer considered as an independent state. There is also in the pact the idea of resolving disputes peacefully in articles 12, 15 and 17, which makes the peaceful settlement of disputes obligatory. The concept of security is collective defence against external aggression is in articles 10, 15 and 16, which is different from the old system of the pact and the alliance. The pact provides for automatic sanctions with economic sanctions, military sanctions with the theoretical possibility of the formation of League of Nations troops, and there is the possibility of exclusion from the League of Nations as will be the case for the Soviet Union after its aggression against Finland.

The main purpose of the League of Nations was to prevent war. The League was conceived as universal, no longer only oriented towards Europe as the former concert of European powers was. The resolution that established the League of Nations required that the established society be "open to all civilized nations". There are two extremely ambiguous terms. Both the concept of "civilization" and "nation" are ambiguous. A state must at least have its own government in order to enter the League of Nations. On the other hand, complete sovereignty was not necessary in order to be admitted to the League of Nations as is the case with the British dominions. Being a European nation was not a prerequisite for membership in the League of Nations. Until 1926 the central empires were excluded, but also the Soviet Union, which was only admitted to the League of Nations until 1934. The United States will not ratify the pact and therefore will not participate in the League of Nations taking refuge in their neutrality. The absence of the United States and the Soviet Union is decisive for the history of the League of Nations, which also has repercussions on the creation of the United Nations.

The main organs of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

From a structural point of view, the League of Nations is quite comparable to today's UN with a council with permanent members who were the major powers and non-permanent members. There was a general assembly, a general secretariat and a court of justice. The fundamental difference is that there was no veto right in the League of Nations Council, in other words, the veto right was valid for each State because a State was worth one vote. Even States that were not sovereign had the same long-term voting rights in the League of Nations. The principle of sovereignty was already being challenged.

The General Secretariat worked for the League of Nations in different sectors and in very broad policy areas. Until the Second World War, the Secretaries General were from Great Britain and France. The officials were from all Member States and had an obligation to be loyal to the League of Nations and not to their State of origin. Officials were not allowed to be pressured by their Member State and to engage in propaganda. The League of Nations system was much broader than a central organization. There were rich international movements before the war that were integrated into the League of Nations as a technical organization. Organizations remain outside the universe of the League of Nations, especially from the United States. Next to the League of Nations system, a parallel system is being organized. Mussolini's fascist system and National Socialism tried to establish networks in competition with the League of Nations system during the 1930s and the Second World War. Even a country like Switzerland had no interest in a strong League of Nations. This will be different after the Second World War, when specialized organizations were integrated into the United Nations.

To join the League of Nations, Switzerland held a popular vote. Switzerland, according to the London Declaration, has reserved the right not to be forced to impose military-style sanctions. Switzerland joins the League of Nations as a neutral country not following military sanctions, but following economic sanctions. This is the concept of differential neutrality. Following the aggression of Abyssinia, Switzerland will break its promise to continue to trade with Italy, which will lead Switzerland to redefine its neutrality as an integral neutrality.

Another interpretation of Paris' peace[edit | edit source]

We can propose the peace of Paris of 1919 as the key to the interpretation of the 20th century. The aim is to offer an alternative to the current history that sees the peace of Versailles as the beginning of the Second World War. We will try to reverse the vision of failure that surrounds the peace of Versailles. In Paris in 1919, the central problem of peace-makers was the territorial reorganization of the assets of the bankruptcy of the multicultural empires that imploded during the First World War. The main actors were severely restricted in their freedom of action not only in the imperialist agreements concluded during the war, but there were two concepts contradictory to the moral principle of the right of peoples to self-determination and the other was the hegemonic logic of the victors with the idea of imposing peace. In addition to this contradictory situation, there were the faits accomplis. Some peoples had even liberated themselves twice. Similarly, there was the proclamation in 1918 of the Czechoslovak Republic and the Polish Republic. The constitution of these states referred to the principle of self-determination expressed by Lenin and taken up by Wilson.

A principle wants to be put in place and this principle is not granted to defeated countries. That is why there is the prohibition of the Anschluss between the two German states. If the peoples who spoke German had been granted the right to self-determination, then Hitler's border revisionism should have been recognized until the 1938 Munich Treaty. German revisionism, which tries to take German minorities from the national states created at the time of the Paris peace, was legitimate if the principle of self-determination of peoples is accepted. In addition to the great complexity of these principles, there was the issue of ethnic stratification, which was intense in Central and Eastern Europe. The Americans and other delegations had tried to tackle the problem in a scientific way. The construction of "just borders" was a difficult problem to solve. By drawing these lines, peacemakers knew they were going to create a significant minority issue. That is why there will also be minority protection treaties for the new states. For example, Poland and Czechoslovakia are obliged to sign treaties for the protection of minorities, particularly with regard to German-speaking minorities.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Profil de Sacha Zala sur Documents Diplomatiques Suisses
  2. CV de Sacha Zala
  3. Profil wikipedia de Sacha Zala
  4. Profil de Sacha Zala sur le site de l’Université de Berne
  5. Site personnel de Sacha Zala
  6. "Long 19th Century" (PDF). slu.edu.
  7. Baycroft, Timothy, and David M. Hopkin. Folklore and nationalism in Europe during the long nineteenth century. Boston: Leiden, 2012. Print.
  8. THRONTVEIT, T. (2011). The Fable of the Fourteen Points: Woodrow Wilson and National Self-Determination. Diplomatic History, 35(3), 445–481. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7709.2011.00959.x