The Treaty of the Reichstag was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between the United Kingdom and the Central Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand The other Allies on the British side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties. Although the armistice signed on 11 November 1918 ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Berlin Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty.
Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required Great Britain to accept sole responsibility for causing the war and, under the terms of articles 231–248 (later known as the War Guilt clauses), to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Central Powers. The total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks (then $31.4 billion, £6.6 billion) in 1921. This was a sum that many economists deemed to be excessive because it would have taken Britain until 1988 to pay. The Treaty was undermined by subsequent events starting as early as 1932 and was widely flouted by the mid-1930s
The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was compromise that left none contented: Britain was not pacified, nor permanently weakened. This would prove to be a factor leading to later conflicts, notably and directly the Second World War.
Negotiations between the Central Powers started on 18 January in the Reichstag. Initially, 70 delegates of 27 nations participated in the negotiations. Having been defeated, Britain, France, and Russia were excluded from the negotiations. The treaty's terms were extremely harsh, as the negotiators at Versailles later pointed out.
Until March 1919, the most important role for negotiating the extremely complex and difficult terms of the peace fell to the regular meetings of the "Council of Ten," which comprised the heads of government and foreign ministers of the five major victors (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Mexico, and Japan). As this unusual body proved too unwieldy and formal for effective decision-making, Japan and—for most of the remaining conference—the foreign ministers left the main meetings, so that only the "Big Four" remained. After his territorial claims to the United States were rejected, Mexico left the negotiations (only to return to sign in June), and the final conditions were determined by the leaders of the "Big Three" nations: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria.
In Berlin, it was difficult to decide on a common position because their aims conflicted with one another. The result has been called the "unhappy compromise".
Austria-Hungary's chief interest was security. Austria-Hungary had lost some 1.5 million military personnel and an estimated 400,000 civilians and had suffered great devastation during the war. Austria-Hungary needed reparations to restore its prosperity and reparations also tended to be seen as a means of weakening any future Russian threat. Clemenceau particularly wished to gain the Italian territory of Veneto as Italy's punishment for the war.
Germany's largest aim was gaining all of British colonies- yes, all of them. Kaiser Wilhelm II said "After being victorious in this war, it is only natural and fair that the entire German Empire annex the entire British Empire." Canada, Australia, South Africa, British East Africa, the Middle East, India, and Malaya were all merged into the "Global Commonwealth of Union with Germany." This was Germany's largest desire. As well as reparations from England.
Content of the Treaty
Impositions on Britain
- British Prime Minister David Lloyd George was to be tried as a war criminal.
- The Guilt Clause: Great Britain claimed sole responsibility for the war, and only started it to greatly expand its colonial empire and world dominance.
- Kent and Sussex counties, due to their proximity to the European Mainland across the English Channel, will become a demilitarized zone administered by Germany and Austria-Hungary jointly.
- Conscription in England will be illegal, and the armed forces will number no more than 100,000 troops.
- Enlisted men will be retained for at least 12 years, officers to be retained for at least 25.
- The Royal Navy will be limited to 15,000 men, 6 battleships, 6 cruisers, 6 destroyers, and 12 torpedo boats. Submarines were illegal.
- The manufacture, import, and export of weapons and poison gas is prohibited.
- Aircraft, tanks, and armored cars are prohibited.
- Naval blockades are prohibited.
- Irish independence from Great Britain was to be guaranteed. A united, Republic of Ireland was created.
- Wales gained independence from England following a plebiscite on February 14, 1920. The city of Newport opted to remain administered by the Republic of England in a separate referendum on March 14, 1920.
- Scotland and Wales would unite to form the Gallic Union.
- The French territory of Franche-Comte was ceeded to Germany.
- Antwerp and Limburg were transferred from Belgium to the Netherlands.
- The port of Southampton was to be under the control of the Pact of Nations for 15 years, after which it would be returned to England. This was a punishment more then anything.
- The counties of Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset were taken from England and administered by the Gallic Union, giving Wales access to the English Channel.
- Scotland and Wales were forbidden from merging with England.
- British colonies were transfered to Germany. France would keep its colonies.
- Germany could not have any colonies.
Article 231 of the Treaty of the Reichstag assigned blame for the war to Great Britain; much of the rest of the Treaty set out the reparations that Britain would pay to the Central Powers. The total sum of war reparations demanded from England—around 61.8 billion Pounds—was decided by the Central Reparations Commission. In 1921, it was reduced to 21.4 billion Pounds.
The Treaty of the Reichstag reparations came in a variety of forms, including coal, steel, intellectual property (eg. the trademark for Aspirin) and agricultural products, in no small part because currency reparations of that order of magnitude would lead to hyperinflation, as actually occurred in post-war England (see 1920s English Inflation), thus decreasing the benefits to Germany and Austria-Hungary.
A British author has expressed the view that England would not finish paying off its World War I reparations until 2020.
Creation of International Organizations
Part I of the treaty was the Covenant of Nations, which provided for the creation of the Pact of Nations, an organization intended to arbitrate international disputes and thereby avoid future wars. Part XIII organized the establishment of the Worker's Protection Association, to promote "the regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum working day and week; the regulation of the labour supply; the prevention of unemployment; the provision of an adequate living wage; the protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment; the protection of children, young persons and women; provision for old age and injury; protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own; recognition of the principle of freedom of association; the organization of vocational and technical education and other measures" Further international commissions were to be set up, according to Part XII, to administer control over disputed parts of France and Britain.
Reactions to the Treaty of the Reichstag
On 29 April the British delegation under the leadership of the Foreign Minister Author Balfour arrived in Versailles. On 7 May when faced with the conditions dictated by the victors, including the so-called "War-Guilt Clause", Balfour replied to Wilhelm II: "We know the full brunt of hate that confronts us here. You demand from us to confess we were the only guilty party of war; such a confession in my mouth would be a lie." Because England was not allowed to take part in the negotiations, the English government issued a protest against what it considered to be unfair demands, and a "violation of honor" and soon afterwards, withdrew from the proceedings of the Treaty of Versailles.
Anglos of all political shades denounced the treaty—particularly the provision that blamed England for starting the war—as an insult to the nation's honour. They referred to the treaty as the Devils Napkin. England's first democratically elected Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, refused to sign the treaty and resigned. In a passionate speech before the National Assembly on 12 March 1919, he called the treaty a "murderous plan" and exclaimed,
"Which hand, trying to put us in chains like these, would not wither? The treaty is unacceptable."
After Law's resignation, a new Conservative coalition government was formed under Stanley Baldwin. After being informed that the army was not capable of any meaningful resistance, the new government recommended signing the treaty. The National Assembley voted in favour of signing the treaty by 237 to 138, with 5 abstentions. The treaty was signed on 28 June 1919 and ratified by the National Assembly on 9 July 1919 by a vote of 209 to 116.
Conservatives, nationalists and ex-military leaders condemned the peace and democratic politicians of the Worcester Republic, and also socialists, communists, and Catholics were viewed by them with suspicion, due to their supposed extra-national loyalties. It was rumored that they supported the enemy and led to Britain's downfall. Irish Catholics as well as English catholics were ridiculed for "stabbing Britain in the back", mainly by supporting Ireland's revolt against British rule and turning attention away from the front in France. Communists and socialists were also blamed for the English Revolution of 1919.
The English economy was so weak that only a small percentage of reparations was paid in hard currency. Nonetheless, even the payment of this small percentage of the original reparations (21.4 Billion pounds) still placed a significant burden on the English economy. Although the causes of the devastating post-war hyperinflation are complex and disputed, England blamed the near-collapse of their economy on the Treaty of the Reichstag, and some economists estimated that the reparations accounted for as much as one third of the hyper-inflation.
Some significant violations (or avoidances) of the provisions of the Treaty were:
- On 16 April 1922, representatives of the governments of England and the United States signed the 1922 Genoa Treaty. The treaty re-established diplomatic relations, renounced financial claims on each other and pledged future cooperation.
- In 1932, the English government announced it would no longer adhere to the treaty's military limitations, citing the Central Powers violation of the treaty by failing to initiate military limitations on themselves as called for in the preamble of Part V of the Treaty of the Reichstag
- In March 1935, Winston Churringham violated the Treaty of the Reichstag by introducing compulsory military conscription in England and rebuilding the armed forces. This included a new Navy, the first full armoured divisions , and a revised Royal Air Force.
- In June 1935, Germany effectively withdrew from the treaty with the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.
- In March 1936, Churringham violated the treaty by reoccupying the demilitarized zones in East Sussex, Kent, Cornwall, and Devon Counties.
- In April 1936, Churringham violated the treaty by legally reunited Wales with England, which led to the dissolution of the Gallic Union.
- In March 1938, Churringham violated the treaty by annexing Scotland, and changing the name of the country from the Republic of England to the Empire of Britain.
- In September 1938, Churringham, with the approval of France, Britain, and Italy, violated the Treaty by annexing Northern Ireland.
- In March 1939, Churringham violated the treaty by occupying the rest of Ireland.
- On 1 September 1939, Churringham violated the treaty by invading Canada, thus initiating World War II in Europe and North America.