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Paris Peace Conference, Greek and French proposals

The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors in World War I to set the peace terms for Germany and other defeated nations, and to deal with the empires of the defeated powers following the Armistice of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 30 countries. They met, discussed and came up with a series of treaties (Peace of Paris Treaties) in an attempt to maintain a lasting peace throughout the world. At its center were the leaders of the three "Great Powers": President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain , and Georges Clemenceau of France. Germany were not allowed to attend, and Russia could not attend due to their going through a revolution, but thousands of others came, each with a different agenda. Kings, prime ministers and foreign ministers with their crowds of advisers rubbed shoulders with journalists and lobbyists for a hundred causes, ranging from independence for the countries of the South Caucasus to women's rights. For six months the city was effectively the center of a world government, as the peacemakers wound up bankrupt empires and created new countries. The most important results included a punitive peace treaty that declared Germany guilty, weakened it militarily, and required it to pay all the costs of the war to the winners. This was known as the War Guilt Clause that was included in the Treaty of Versailles. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was also dissolved and its disparate peoples created new states. The Conference also created the League of Nations.

Historians debate whether or not the terms imposed on Germany helped the rise of the Nazis and cause World War II, or whether the terms were the best that could be expected, given the mood of the victors.


The conference opened on 18 January 1919. It came to a close on 21 January 1920 with the inaugural General Assembly of the League of Nations.

The following treaties were prepared at the Paris Peace Conference (with, in brackets, the affected countries):

The disposition of the lands of the former Ottoman Empire were also considered. These discussions included competing European and American aims generally, and competing nationalist Zionist and Arab claims in Palestine. The latter were conditionally agreed to previously by the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement on 3 January 1919. On 30 January the Conference decided that the Arab provinces should be wholly separated from the Ottoman Empire and the newly conceived mandate-system applied to them. This decision clashed with the expectation of Faisal's Arab delegation that his state would include Palestine, and the conditional understandings reached in the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement.

On 3 February Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the Zionist delegation, presented its case in a Statement, together with a map of the proposed country. The statement supported the creation of a mandate entrusted to Britain, it detailed this affinity and stated the Jewish historical connection with the area. It also declared the Zionist’s proposed borders and resources “essential for the necessary economic foundation of the country” including “the control of its rivers and their headwaters”. It included statements by others. On 6 February, Faysal addressing the Conference noted previous Allied promises, demanded independence of the whole of Arab Asia, and suggested the establishment of a confederation. He stated that the Arabs needed help but not at the price of their independence. Subsequently a dispute between Great Britain and France concerning the geographical area of Syria and the previously secret Sykes-Picot Agreement delayed decision on various claims.

The Paris peace treaties, together with the accords of the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922, laid the foundations for the so-called Versailles-Washington system of international relations. The remaking of the world map at these conferences gave birth to a number of critical conflict-prone international contradictions, which would become one of the causes of World War II.

The decision to create the League of Nations and the approval of its Charter both took place during the conference.

The "Big Four" — Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France; David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain; Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States; and Vittorio Orlando, Prime Minister of Italy — were the dominant diplomatic figures at the conference. The conclusions of their talks were imposed on the defeated countries.

Australia's approach

The Australian delegates were Billy Hughes (Prime Minister), and Joseph Cook (Minister of the Navy), accompanied by Robert Garran (Solicitor-General). John Greig Latham later Sir, was also part of the delegation. Frederic Eggleston had been invited, but left in disgust at Hughes' behaviour. Indeed, Latham was to run successfully for the Federal seat of Kooyong on a policy of 'Get Rid of Hughes', so appalled was he at Hughes' behaviour. Their principal aims were war reparations, annexation of German New Guinea and rejection of the Japanese racial equality proposal (see below). Hughes had a profound interest in what he saw as an extension of the White Australia Policy. Despite causing a big scene, Hughes had to acquiesce to a class C mandate for New Guineamarker.

President Wilson asked Hughes if Australia really wanted to flout world opinion by profiting from Germany's defeat and extending its sovereignty as far north as the equator; Hughes famously replied: "That's about the size of it, Mr. President".

China's approach

The Chinese delegation was led by Lou Tseng-Tsiang, accompanied by Wellington Koo.

Before the Western powers, Koo demanded that Japan return Shandongmarker to China. He further called for an end to imperialist institutions such as extraterritoriality, legation guards, and foreign lease holds. Despite American support and the ostensible spirit of self-determination, the Western powers refused his claims. Thus the Chinese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference was the only one not to sign the Treaty of Versailles at the signing ceremony.

France's approach

The French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau's chief goal was to weaken Germany militarily, strategically and economically. Having personally witnessed two German attacks on French soil in the last forty years, he was adamant that Germany should not be permitted to attack France again. In particular, Clemenceau sought an American and British guarantee of French security in the event of another German attack. Clemenceau also expressed skepticism and frustration with Wilson's Fourteen Points: "Mr. Wilson bores me with his fourteen points," complained Clemenceau. "Why, God Almighty has only ten!" (referring to the Ten Commandments)

Another alternative French policy was to seek a rapprochement with Germany. In May 1919 the diplomat René Massigli was sent on several secret missions to Berlin. During his visits Massigli offered on behalf of his government to revise the territorial and economic clauses of the upcoming peace treaty. Massigli spoke of the desirability of “practical, verbal discussions” between French and German officials that would lead to a “collaboration franco-allemand”. Furthermore, Massagli told the Germans that the French thought of the “Anglo-Saxon powers”, namely the United States and British Empire, to be the major threat to France in the post-war world. He argued that both France and Germany had a joint interest in opposing “Anglo-Saxon domination” of the world and warned that the “deepening of opposition” between the French and the Germans “would lead to the ruin of both countries, to the advantage of the Anglo-Saxon powers”. The Germans rejected the French offers because they considered the French overtures to be a trap to trick them into accepting the Versailles treaty “as is” and because the German foreign minister, Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau thought that the United States was more likely to reduce the severity of the peace terms than France. In the final event it proved to be Lloyd George who pushed for more favourable terms for Germany.

There were also some strange intrigues with President Wilson playing the delegates off against one another in order to increase their trust and dependence on him.

Italy's approach

Italy had been persuaded first to join the Triple Alliance and then to join the Allies in order to gain land. In the Treaty of London, they had been offered the Trentino and the Tyrol as far as Brennermarker, Triestemarker and Istriamarker, all the Dalmatian coast except Fiumemarker, full ownership of Albanian Valonamarker and a protectorate over Albaniamarker, Antalyamarker in Turkey and a share of Turkish and German Empires in Africa.

Vittorio Orlando was sent as the Italian representative with the aim of gaining these and as much other territory as possible. The loss of 700,000 Italians and a budget deficit of 12,000,000,000 Lire during the war made the Italian government and people feel entitled to these territories. There was an especially strong opinion for control of Fiume, which they believed was rightly Italian due to the Italian population.

Nevertheless, by the end of the war the allies had made contradictory agreements with other nations, especially in Central Europe and the Middle-East. In the meetings of the "Big Four," in which Orlando's powers of diplomacy were inhibited by his lack of English, the Great powers were only willing to offer Trentino to the Brenner, the Dalmatian port of Zara, the Island of Lagosta and a couple of small German colonies. All other territories were promised to other nations and the great powers were worried about Italy's imperial ambitions. As a result of this, Orlando left the conference in a rage (Jackson, 1938).

Japan's approach

The Japanese delegation was headed by Prince Saionji Kinmochi (former Prime Minister), with Baron Makino Nobuaki (fomer Foreign Minister), Viscount Chinda Sutemi (ambassador in Londonmarker), Matsui Keishiro (ambassador in Parismarker) and Ijuin Hikokichi (ambassador in Romemarker) and others making a total of 64. Neither Hara Takashi (Prime Minister) nor Yasuya Uchida (Foreign Minister) prioritised travelling so far away from Japan so shortly after their election. The delegation focused on two demands: (a) the inclusion of their racial equality proposal and (b) territorial claims for the former German colonies; Shandongmarker (including Jiaozhou Bay) and the Pacificmarker islands north of the Equator i.e., the Marshall Islandsmarker, Micronesiamarker, the Mariana Islandsmarker, and the Carolinesmarker. Makino was de facto chief as Saionji's role was symbolic, limited by ill health. The Japanese delegation became unhappy after receiving only one-half of the rights of Germany, and walked out of the conference.

The racial equality proposal

After the end of seclusion, Japan suffered unequal treaties and demanded equal status with the Powers. In this context, the Japanese delegation to the Paris peace conference proposed the "racial equality clause" in the Covenant of the League of Nations. The first draft was presented to the League of Nations Commission on 13 February as an amendment to Article 21:

The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.

It should be noted that the Japanese delegation did not realize the full ramifications of their proposal, and the challenge its adoption would have put to the established norms of the (Western dominated) international system of the day, involving as it did the colonial subjugation of non-white peoples. In the impression of the Japanese delegation, they were only asking for League of Nations to accept the equality of Japanese nationals; however, a universalist meaning and implication of the proposal became attached to it within the delegation, which drove its contentiousness at the conference.

Makino announced at a press conferenceWe are not too proud to fight but we are too proud to accept a place of admitted inferiority in dealing with one or more of the associated nations. We want nothing but simple justice.

The proposal received a majority vote on 28 April 1919. 11 out of the 17 delegates present voted in favor to its amendment to the charter, and no negative vote was taken. The votes for the amendment tallied thus:

  • Japan (2) Yes
  • France (2) Yes
  • Italy (2) Yes
  • Brazil (1) Yes
  • China (1) Yes
  • Greece (1) Yes
  • Serbia (1) Yes
  • Czechoslovakia (1) Yes
Total: 11 Yes

  • British Empire (2) - Not Registered
  • United States (2) - Not Registered
  • Portugal (1) - Not Registered
  • Romania (1) - Not Registered
  • Belgium (2) - absent

The chairman, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, overturned it saying that although the proposal had been approved by a clear majority, that in this particular matter, strong opposition had manifested itself, and that on this issue a unanimous vote would be required. This strong opposition came from the British delegation. Though the proposal itself was compatible with British stance of equality for all subjects as a principle for maintaining imperial unity, there were significant deviations in the stated interests of its Dominions, notably Australia. As it risked undermining the White Australia Policy, behind the scenes Billy Hughes and Joseph Cook vigorously opposed the proposal, and so advocated against it through the British delegation. Without the support of its Dominions, the British delegation could not take such a stand on principle. According to Cecil, the delegate representing the British Empire at the Conference, in his is curious how all the foreigners[sic] perpetually harp on principle and right and other abstractions, whereas the Americans and still more the British are only considering what will give the best chance to the League of working properly. Though in a diary entry by House it says that President Wilson was at least tacitly in favor of accepting the proposal , but in the end he felt that British support for the League of Nations was a more crucial goal. There is not much evidence to show that Wilson agreed strongly enough with the proposal to risk alienating the British delegation over it . The Japanese media fully covered the progress of the conference, leading to an alienation of Japanese public opinion towards the United States of America, leading to broader conflicts later on.

As such, this point could be listed among the many causes of conflict which lead to World War II, which were left unaddressed at the close of World War I.The rejection of the racial equality clause provoked important factor in turning Japan away from cooperation with West and toward nationalistic policies. It is both ironic, and indicative of the scale of the later changes in the mood of the international system, that this contentious point of racial equality would later be incorporated into the United Nations Charter in 1945 as the fundamental principle of international justice.

Territorial claims

The Japanese claim to Shandong was disputed by the Chinese. In 1914 at the outset of First World War Japan had seized the territory granted to Germany in 1897. They also seized the German islands in the Pacific north of the equator. In 1917, Japan had made secret agreements with Britain, France and Italy as regards their annexation of these territories. With Britain, there was a mutual agreement, Japan also agreeing to support British annexation of the Pacific islands south of the equator. Despite a generally pro-Chinese view on behalf of the American delegation, Article 156 of the Treaty of Versailles transferred German concessions in Shandongmarker, China to Japan rather than returning sovereign authority to China. The leader of the Chinese delegation, Lu Zhengxiang, demanded that a reservation be inserted before he would sign the treaty. The reservation was denied, and the treaty was signed by all the delegations except that of China. Chinese outrage over this provision led to demonstrations known as the May Fourth Movement. The Pacific islands north of the equator became a class C mandate administered by Japan.

Britain's approach

The British Air Section at the Conference
Maintenance of the British Empire's unity, holdings and interests were an overarching concern for the British delegates to the conference, but it entered the conference with the more specific goals of:
  • Ensuring the security of France
  • Removing the threat of the German High Seas Fleet
  • Settling territorial contentions
  • Supporting the Wilsonian League of Nations
with that order of priority.

The Racial Equality Proposal put forth by the Japanese did not directly conflict with any of these core British interests. However, as the conference progressed the full implications of the Racial Equality Proposal, regarding immigration to the British Dominions (specifically Australia), would become a major point of contention within the delegation.

Ultimately, Britain did not see the Racial Equality proposal as being one of the fundamental aims of the conference. The delegation was therefore willing to sacrifice this proposal in order to placate the Australian delegation and thus help satisfy its overarching aim of preserving the unity of the British Empire.

Britain also managed to rebuff attempts by the envoys of the newly-proclaimed Irish Republic to put its case to the Conference for self-determination, diplomatic recognition and membership of the proposed League of Nations. The envoys' final "Demand for Recognition" in a letter to Clemenceau, the Chairman, was not replied to. Britain had planned to legislate for two Irish Home Rule states, and did so in 1920.

United States' approach

Prior to Wilson's arrival in Europe, no American President had ever visited Europe while in office. Wilson's Fourteen Points, of a year earlier, had helped win the hearts and minds of many as the war ended; these included Americans and Europeans generally, as well as Germany, its allies and the former subjects of the Ottoman Empire specifically. Wilson's diplomacy and his Fourteen Points had essentially established the conditions for the armistices that had brought an end to World War I. Wilson felt it was his duty and obligation to the people of the world to be a prominent figure at the peace negotiations. High hopes and expectations were placed on him to deliver what he had promised for the post-war era. In doing so, Wilson ultimately began to lead the foreign policy of the United States toward interventionism, a move strongly resisted in some domestic circles.

Once Wilson arrived, however, he found “rivalries, and conflicting claims previously submerged.” He worked mostly trying to sway the direction that the French (Georges Clemenceau) and British (Lloyd George) delegations were taking towards Germany and its allies in Europe, as well as the former Ottoman lands in the Middle East. Wilson's attempts to gain acceptance of his Fourteen Points ultimately failed, after France and Britain refused to adopt some specific points and its core principles.

In Europe, several of his Fourteen Points conflicted with the other powers. The United States did not encourage nor believe that the Article 231 placed on Germany was fair or warranted. It would not be until 1921, when the United States finally signed separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary.

In the Middle East, negotiations were complicated by competing aims, claims, and the new mandate system. The United States hoped to establish a more liberal and diplomatic world, as stated in the Fourteen Points, where democracy, sovereignty, liberty and self-determination would be respected. France and Britain, on the other hand, already controlled empires, wielded power over their subjects around the world, and still aspired to be dominant colonial powers.

In light of the previously secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, and following the adoption of the mandate system on the Arab province of the former Ottoman lands, the conference heard statements from competing Zionist and Arab claimants. President Woodrow Wilson then recommended an international commission of inquiry to ascertain the wishes of the local inhabitants. The Commission idea, first accepted by Great Britain and France, was later rejected. Eventually it became the purely American King-Crane Commission, which toured all Syria and Palestine during the summer of 1919, taking statements and sampling opinion. Its report, presented to President Wilson, was kept secret from the public until the New York Times broke the story in December 1922. A pro-Zionist joint resolution on Palestine was passed by Congress in September 1922.

France and Britain tried to appease the American President by consenting to the establishment of his League of Nations. However, because isolationist sentiment was strong and some of the articles in the League's charter conflicted with the United States Constitution, the United States never did ratify the Treaty of Versailles nor join the League of Nations, which President Wilson had helped create, to further peace through diplomacy rather than war and conditions which can breed it.

The United States had proved itself to be a major world player and a dominant military and economic power, but it had still failed to win the peace at Paris. The separate treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary in 1921 reserved for the United States all reservations it might have had if it had joined the League of Nations, but accepted none of the obligations, because of the constitution. By this time, Warren G, Harding was President of the United States, and these separate treaties broke the deadlock on the League of Nations. These separate treaties kept the United States out of the League.

Statement of the Zionist Organization regarding Palestine

The Zionist Organization submitted their draft resolutions for consideration by the Peace Conference on February 3, 1919. This shortly followed the Conference's decision that the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire should be separated from it and the newly conceived mandate-system applied to them.

The statement included five main points:

  • Recognition of the Jewish people's historic title to Palestine and their right to reconstitute their National Home in Palestine.
  • The boundaries of Palestine were to be declared as set out in an attached Schedule.
  • The sovereign possession of Palestine would be vested in the League of Nations and the Government entrusted to Great Britain as Mandatory of the League.
  • Other provisions to be inserted by the High Contracting Parties relating to the application of any general conditions attached to mandates, which are suitable to the case in Palestine.
  • The mandate shall be subject also to several noted special conditions.


The statement reiterates the historic title Zionist Jews claim regarding Palestine. It sets out five main considerations.
  • The land is the historic home of the Jews. It is the place where they achieved their greatest development and spiritual and moral influences of value to mankind. They were driven from Palestine by violence and have long hoped for a return.
  • Millions of Jews in some parts of the world have experienced deplorable conditions. The need for new opportunities is urgent. Palestine is chosen “above all others in which they would most wish to cast their lot.” With economic development, “Palestine can be made now as it was in ancient times, the home of a prosperous population many times as numerous as that which now inhabits it.”
  • Palestine is not large enough to contain more than a portion of the Jews of the world. The majority of the approximately fourteen million Jews scattered throughout the world must remain in their present locations, and it will be one of the concerns of the Peace Conference to ensure for them equal rights and humane conditions. A Jewish National Home in Palestine will be of high value to the Jews; its influence will permeate the Jews of the world, it will inspire millions, often despairing, with a new hope and a higher standard; it will help to make them even more useful citizens in the lands in which they currently reside.
  • Such a Palestine would be of value also to the world at large, whose real wealth consists in the healthy diversities of its peoples
  • The land of Palestine needs redemption and development; much of it is desolate and its present condition is poor. Two things are necessary for that redemption - a stable and enlightened government, and additional people to the present population, which shall be energetic, intelligent, devoted to the country, and backed by the large financial resources that are indispensable for development. The Jews alone can supply such a population.

The statement notes that the historic title of the Jews to Palestine was recognized by the British Balfour Declaration, 1917 and quotes it in full. The Boundary Schedule set out the general lines of the boundaries of Palestine from a point on the Mediterranean Sea near Sidonmarker in the north and following the watersheds of the foothills of the Lebanon, east and then south to Hermonmarker, then east following the northern watersheds of the Nahr Mughaniye to just west of the Hedjaz Railway; south along the railway to the Gulf of Akabamarker; west along a frontier to be agreed with the Egyptian Government, to the Mediterranean Sea.

The statement notes that Palestine must have its natural outlets to the seas, the control of its rivers and their headwaters and secure water resources. The boundaries were those considered essential for the necessary economic foundation of the country.

The sparsely populated lands east of the Jordan were proposed as an area for economic development. Free access to the Hedjaz Railway was seen as important for both Palestine and Arabia. Intensive development of agriculture in Trans-Jordania would require access to the Red Sea by Palestine. The ports to developed in the Gulf of Akaba were to be free ports to support commerce.

See also


  1. "Asia: Journal of the American Asiatic Association" ,1919, Published by Asia Pub. Co., Volume.19 page 327
  2. Zionist Organization Statement on Palestine, Paris Peace Conference, (3 February 1919)
  3. US Dept of State; International Boundary Study, Jordan – Syria Boundary, No. 94 – December 30, 1969, p.10
  4. First World War - Willmott, H. P., Dorling Kindersley, 2003, pp. 292-307.
  5. Jan Morris Farewell the Trumpets (Penguin, London 1978) p.209.
  6. Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979 page 42.
  7. Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979 page 42.
  8. Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979 page 43.
  9. Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979 page 43.
  10. Naoko Shimazu, Japan, Race, and Equality (Routledge, 1998), p. 115.
  11. Japan, Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, Documents Distributed to the Public, "Interview du Baron Makino, 2 avril 1919", located at the Hoover Institution. "Japan May Bolt World League" San Francisco Chronicle, 3 April 1919. as cited in Paul Gordon Lauren (1988), Power And Prejudice: The Politics And Diplomacy Of Racial Discrimination Westview Press ISBN 0813306787 p.90
  12. Shimazu (1998), p. 30-31.
  13. H.V.W.Temperley (ed.), A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, vol.6, London: Henry Frowde and Hodder Stoughton, 1924, p.352
  14. Diary, 4 February 1919, Add.51131, f.33, Cecil Papers, as cited in Shimazu (1998), p.119
  15. Shimazu (1998), pp. 14-15, 117.
  16. "Ireland's Demand for Recognition" text, June 1919
  17. MacMillan (2001), p. 3.
  18. MacMillan (2001), p. 6.
  19. King and Cranes Long-Hid Report on the Near East
  20. MacMillan (2001), p. 83.
  21. Wikisource
  22. []
  23. []
  24. Statement of the Zionist Organization regarding Palestine
  25. Zionist Organization Statement on Palestine, Paris Peace Conference, (February 3, 1919), Boundaries


  • Hampden Jackson (1938), The Post-War World: A Short Political History, Fourth edition, The Camelot Press Ltd,
  • Hunt, Lynn. et al. "The Making of the West: People and Cultures 3rd ed. New York: Bedford/ St. Martin's, 2009.
  • Dimitri Kitsikis (1963), Propagande et pressions en politique internationale. La Grèce et ses revendications à la Conférence de la Paix, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Margaret MacMillan (2001), Peacemakers: Six months that changed the world, John Murray (Publishers) Ltd.. ISBN 0-7195-6237-6 (Also released as "Paris 1919: Six months that changed the world".)
  • Naoko Shimazu (1998), Japan, Race and Equality, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-17207-1
  • Emile Joseph Dillon, The Inside Story of the Peace Conference, Harper, New York, 1920
  • Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparations at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979.

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