WW1 Peace Settlements: Germany and Russia

Past Questions:
Paper 3
  • Analyse the successes and failures of one post-First World War treaty. (May 2010)

Paper 2

  • Analyse the results of one twentieth century treaty or peace settlement. (May 2008)
  • ‘Peace settlements create conditions for new conflicts.’ With reference to at least two settlements explain to what extent you agree with this statement. (Nov 2005)
  • "Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace." Select one peace treaty and, by examining its clauses, explain how the winners treated the losers, and if you agree with the quotation. (specimen)


Treaty of Brest-Litvosk (1918)

Background context and attitudes informing the settlement:
  • Russia; October 26, 1917: Decree on Peace signed by the Bolsheviks, with the hope of a just peace settlement based on "no annexations, no indemnities".
  • Bolshevik imperative to end the war - their rise to power had, to a degree, depended on the promise of "peace". Difficulty facing Lenin: 'peace at any price' to save the revolution at home (not possible to carry on fighting Germany and build socialism!) vs peace at any price that causes so much opposition (Tsarist Generals, Mensheviks, SRs, nationalists, etc.) that the revolution is overthrown anyhow! Lenin: "All other demands can and should be granted" - apart from the Bolshevik government being overthrown!
  • Trotsky's policy of "neither peace nor war" - hopes to stall negotiations long enough for German soldiers to revolt against their masters, and for the 'world socialist revolution' to spread amongst the other Western belligerents. Bolshevik naivety going into the talks about how aggressive Germany might be - belief that Germany did not want more territory. Lenin:1920, "we gained a little time, and sacrificed a great deal of space for it";

  • Germany: "establishing a good economic and political relationship with the new Russia, in order to keep our rear military completely free, while at the same time detaching huge areas from the present Russia and building up these districts into effective bulwarks on our frontiers" - Lebensraum? Fischer thesis.
  • "A peace which only assured the territorial status quo would mean that we had lost the war. Such a peace in the East has never been considered."

Terms of the Treaty:


  • Russia lost: 1/6 of population (62 million people); 27% of farming land (of highest quality in the Ukraine); 74% of iron ore and coal reserves; Germany set up 'semi-independent' governments in Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia, while Baltic states became independent republics. Russian-held area of Poland became part of the independent state of Poland, and Finland remained independent.

Strengths and weaknesses of the Treaty:
  • For Russia: + Lenin keeps his promise and ends the war, which allows focus on consolidation of power at home. On the one hand, it did lead to the civil war - i.e. increased problems for Lenin - but on the other hand, it allows Lenin to deal with his opposition and secure power over the entire country. Shows Lenin\s pragmatic flexibility in keeping power, and control over the Bolshevik party. - Loss of resources, territory, population - but on the other hand, he did not have control over these areas yet anyway, and by the end of 1918 Germany had lost the war and the treaty was annuled!; complete failure to spread world revolution!
  • For Germany: land, resources and military buffer-zone; Kaiser Wilhelm, described treaty as one of the "greatest successes of world history". Temporary boost to German morale.

Key results of the Treaty:
  • For Russia: Adam Ulam - "the most humiliating peace in Russia's modern history!": patriotic Russians horrified by loss of 'motherland', pushed them to join anti-Bolshevik forces (esp- Kadets); caused splits within the Bolshevik party (left wing wanted revolutionary war to spread Bolshevism, and not to end the war which allowed Germany to continue as an imperialist nation); Left SRs left sovnarkom in protest; increased opposition to Bolshevism leads to Russian Civil war.
  • For Germany - short term: Germany doesn't need to fight war on the Eastern front, and also can bolster their supplies with some of the new territiories and resources. longer term: Allies used this treaty in order to justify harsh settlement of Versailles; but on the other hand, it has also been noted that treaty did not give away any Russian territory!

Treaty of Versailles, part of the Paris Peace Settlements (1919)

Background context, aims and attitudes informing the settlement:

  • Britain:
- 1 million people killed and faced public demands at home to "Hang the Kaiser".
- Lloyd George though that the territory should go to the winners and colonies should be divided amongst the winners as well.
- Germany should not be smashed into pieces- needs to recover as a trading partner which would also favor the Allies' economy as Germany still remained a great economic power after the war.
- Reparations should be reasonable to allow Germany to recover and the money would be used to pay for war penions and pay debts to the USA.
- The German army should be reduced but not to the extent that she would be unable to defend herself from France but her navy however, should never threaten the British Empire again.
- Wanted to BLAME GERMANY!
- The attitude towards the League of Nations was indifferent but thought it was a good way to preserve peace- Germany would be allowed to join when she was proven to seek for peace instead of military actions.
  • France:
- Much of the fighting was fought on French soil so Clemenceau entered the negotiations reluctant to be diplomatic towards Germany.
- 1.5 million killed. The public at home sought for revenge.
- Clemencau also wanted the territory and colonies to go to the winners.
- The Saar which was rich in coal and iron should go to France for industrial reconstruction.
- The Rhineland should become an independent state.
- Alsace and Lorraine (stolen from France in the France-Prussian war in 1870) should be returned and Germany should be broken up altogether!
- Reparation payments should be massive to punish Germany and be used to rebuild homes and industry and pay debts to USA.
- Germany's army should be completely dismantled so she would never be able to threaten France again and the BLAME SHOULD BE PUT ON GERMANY!
- The attitude towards the League of Nations was this it was "a waste of time" and should be enforced as a way of enforcing the TOV- should definetely have an army. Germany should never be alllowed to join.
  • USA:
- The war had a limited impact on the US as they only joined the war in 1916 and the public demands on President Woodrow Wilson was to go into isolationism and leave Europe to its own problems.
- Wilson thought that the occupied territories should be allowed to vote on its won future ("self-determination") through plebiscites.
- Colonies should become mandates- supervised by the winners but under the control of the League of Nations.
- The reparation payments should be minimal so that Germany would not seek revenge - some interpretations have also been that the reparations should remain minimal so that Britain and France would have to stay in debt to the USA.
- Thought that the army should be dismantled by all countries, not just Germany, as this was the only way to preserve world peace and avoid another arms race.
- wanted to BLAME GERMANY!
- Attitudes towards the League of Nations was "obsessed" and this was the first thing to be set up under the TOV and Germany could join when proven to be peace-loving.

Terms of the Treaty:

external image map%20of%20versailles.jpg
  • Germany lost her colonial Empire which was shared among the winners.
  • Alsace-Lorraine (which consisted of 75% of Germany's iron resources) was returned to France.
  • The Saar was handed over to the League for 15 years- France was to run its coal mines.
  • West Prussia was given to Poland so that she could gain access to the sea (the Polish corridor) which split Germany into 2.
  • Actual sum of war reparations was not fixed at Versailles but Germany signed a "blank cheque" (later settled at £6,600 million in 1921).
  • Germany's army was limited to 100,00 men and conscription was banned as well as tanks and submarines.
  • The navy was limited to 6 warships and the airforce dismantled.
  • Rhineland was permanently demilitarised (German military permanently prohibited)!
  • Under Article 231, Germany was to be held fully to blame for the war.
  • The League of Nations was hoped to be able to solve international disputes and was the first issue dealt with at the conference.

Revision mnemonic for key terms of the Treaty: Territorial losses, Reparations, Army, War-guilt, League of Nations to be set up: TRAWL.

Revision mnemonic for territorial losses imposed on Germany in the Treaty: Saar, Colonies, Rhineland, Alsace-Lorraine, Polish Corridor: SCRAP.

Strengths and weaknesses of the Treaty:
- According to some historians, the treaty was successful because "Germany lost remarkably little territory, considering how thoroughly she had lost the war"- Sally Marks.

Historiography of the Treaty:

Orthodox view of settlement -
  • James Joll, "Europe was divided by the peace conference into those who wanted the peace revised (Germany, Italy, Japan and Hungary) and those who wanted it upheld (France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia), and those who were not that interested (the USA and Britain)".
  • E.H. Carr, self-determination and collective security as unworkable idealistic principles, and the settlement failed to settle the 'German problem'.
  • A.J.P. Taylor, Versailles as crushing, harsh and lacking in moral validity, as no Germans accepted it and all wanted to overturn it. From this perspective, the Second World War was "a war over the settlement of Versailles; a war which had been implicit when the First World War ended because the peace-makers had not solved the German problem."

Revisionist view of Versailles -
  • Sees the settlement as a brave attempt to deal with huge, long-term problems, and argues the problem was not with the Treaty but with the failure to enforce its terms!
  • Ruth Henig, treaty as a "creditable achievement", but one that failed because of economic and social problems, divisions between the Allies, and reluctance of leaders to enforce the treaty. The failure to do this meant a stronger Germany, and further indecision in the form of appeasement meant war.
  • Paul Birdsall, US refusal to commit to upholding the settlement undermined both the League of Nations and the idea of a united democratic front supplying 'collective security', and thus was crucial in explaining the failure of the treaty in the longer-term
  • Paul Kennedy, 1920s - the settlement worked, like the League of Nations; but 1930s - it was crushed by militarism of Italy, Japan and Germany, a collapse caused by the Great Depression and its effects.

Key results of the Treaty: