Significance and fate of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 point agreement at the Versailles peace conference

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Woodrow depicted as a musician

Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points:

The 14 points are “war aims”(what they hoped to accomplish through a victory-for Woodrow it was ‘world peace’)  of US. It was meant to gain support for US’s involvement at home and support for Woodrow’s vision among allies. US was forced to issue the war-aims document as the Bolshevik party in Russia released secret documents that exposed the imperialistic designs of some European countries with which US was allied with. US joined the war in April 1917. It is also seen as a response to Lenin’s “Decree on Peace” shortly after the October revolution(1917) which proposed an immediate withdrawal of Russia from World War I and called for immediate end of the war.

He gave the 14 points with this statement in Jan 1918: “The programme of the world’s peace, therefore, is our programme; and that programme, the only possible programme, as we see it, is this”:

  1. Open diplomacy: Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
  2. Freedom of the seas: Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
  3. Removal of economic barriers/Free trade: The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
  4. Mutual disarmament: Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest points consistent with domestic safety
  5. Political freedom in colonies for self-determination/Adjustment of colonial claims: A free, open-minded and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty, the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined. *later it was “clarified” that this provision applies only to the colonial claims which have been created by the war.
  6. Conquered territories in RussiaThe evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their goodwill, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.
  7. Preservation of Belgian sovereignty: Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.
  8. Restoration of French territory: All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
  9. Redrawing of Italian frontiers:  A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
  10. Division of Austria-Hungary: The people of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.
  11. Redrawing of Balkan boundaries: Rumania, [Serbia], and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.
  12. Limitations on Turkey: The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development; and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.
  13. Establishment of an independent Poland:  An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenants.
  14. Proposal for an Association of nationsA general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small [states] alike.

*Only 1-5 and 14th are important


Aftermath-dilution of 14 points:

  • Allied governments paid lip service to the Fourteen Points while the fighting continued as they wanted US’s support. They viewed the 14 points as idealistic and not realistic.
  • The French and British were particularly unhappy with Wilson’s plan as it went soft on Germany
  • Britain convinced Woodrow to accept this: The delegates would not be committed to accepting a provision guaranteeing freedom of the seas
  • France added this: the provision having to do with German evacuation from French territory (Point 8) be interpreted to allow for the collection of compensation (reparations) for civilian damages incurred in the war.

Treaty of Versailles:

Paris Peace conference

The war ended in November 1918 and negotiations went for 6 months between Allied forces and the defeated central powers to conclude a peace agreement at the Paris peace conference. One of the result of those negotiations is the “Treat of Versailles” signed between the Allied forces and Germany in June 1919. Four other peace treaties were concluded with other central powers. The main negotiators(big four) at the conference was heads of US, Britain, France and Italy.

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Major decisions at the Paris peace conference:

  • Treat of Versailles and other treaties with defeated countries(Hungary, Turkey and Austria).
  • Awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as “mandates”, chiefly to Britain and France
  • Reparations imposed on Germany
  • The drawing of new national boundaries (sometimes with plebiscites) to better reflect the forces of nationalism

German’s reaction after Peace conference: 

  • When they saw the document-the result of the peace negotiations, Germans were outraged as its terms were harsh and were not in line with Woodrow’s 14 points.
  • They believed that they had been lured into an armistice with the promise that the Fourteen Points would serve as the backbone of the peace treaty. What they found instead bore little resemblance to Wilson’s even-handed proposals.

Harsh terms:

  • War Guilt clause: One of the most important and controversial required “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war
  • The treaty forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers
  • Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France.
  • German colonies were assigned to victorious nations as ”mandates” under the League of Nations.
  • The Saar Basin was assigned to France for 15 years, then a plebiscite was to be held to determine the area`s allegiance.
  • Poland was reestablished as an independent nation and granted access to the sea through a strip of land that came to be known as the Polish Corridor.
  • In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks (then $31.4 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion in 2015)
  • At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes, predicted that the treaty was too harsh — a “Carthaginian peace”, and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive
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