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The impact of the first world war on international relations in the decade after 1918 Essay

In the fall of 1918, the allied forces won victorious on all fronts. An Armistice ended the fighting on November 11th 1918.During the four years of war between 1914 and 1918; there were immeasurable devastations, which left no aspect of civilization untouched. It was described by German General Erich Ludendorff as “totalitarian war”1 with human casualties, social consequences and economic consequences.

These consequences made Allied leaders to meet in Paris from January through June 1919to draft peace terms; so that such wars should not happen in future.2In order to achieve this, they agreed in creation of new world order to replace the four great Empires and satisfy expectations that this could be a worldwide settlement and would be permanent. Because of the devastations this war inflicted on humanity, nations were eager to form relations to avoid the future world war. This essay therefore attempts to look at factors that contributed to international relations, as seen by the new world order which was central to the fear of Bolshevism and autocratic government and the leadership during the mid 1920s.

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One of the agendas at the Peace Conference was the creation of International order to replace the four great empires. These were; the German, Russian, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman, that had previously structured Central Europe, the Balkans and the principle of self determination so as to liberate the wrongly supposed aspirations of nationality groups, “whose struggles for independence was a cause also to war.”3 Some new states which were created are; Estonia, Latria, Lithuania, and new Poland. After assuring their own stability in the summer of 1919, these nations were to act according to General Rudiger Vonder Goltz as the fluid borderlands of Eastern Europe.

Apart from gaining their own independence, these nations were to help remove border conflicts that would have emerged between German and Russia. This is true when one examines Lenin’s reasons for accepting the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which was for the benefit of Bolsheviks. He wanted the Bolsheviks to gain peace so that there could have been a time to organize and strengthen itself within Russia.4Frankly speaking, the Russians were not happy with it and it was very likely that they would reclaim their land as seen by Stalin’s aims of recouping most of the Rest Russia’s 1917 losses in the summer of 1940.5

Apart from states that were created between the borders of Germany and Russia, there were also other states created from Austria, Hungary and Ottoman Empire. These states are Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Croatia and Yugoslavia. One of the aims of Paris Conference was to remove secret diplomacy and give way to free and open discussions to international issues. In this way, the beneficent influence of the public opinion would be taken advantage of, and secretive intrigues of Imperialistically inclined national leaders would have their rows minimized.6 Although there was this advantage, some states created by the Peace Settlements made little economic sense. For example; the new countries of Austria and Hungary, which were small ad weak and unable to support themselves.

They had most of their population, resources and markets. Austria’s largely German population had wanted to unite with Germany, but the Peace treaties forbid that Union.7This was because the peacemakers did not want German to gain territory after the war. On the broader view, these problems cemented the relationship between powerful states (like Britain and France) with these smaller states in that there was dependability between these states. For example in the case of France whose major eastern ally since 1892, Russia materially weak and politically hostile, French’s security needs would be doubly served against Germany and against Bolsheviks.8

The other reason for new international order was that all internal political institutions of Europe would be democratized so as to remove autocratic constraints on public opinion that had permitted the ruling elites of the central powers to wage their war of aggression. For example, the Reichstag (German Parliament) was to be elected by universal suffrage and proportional, and the government was made responsible to it. The President was to be directly elected by the people in U.S.A and he was given wide emergency powers. The first elected President was Albert.9 In Constantinople where the allied military administered until the treaty of Sevres, which guaranteed the Greeks to stay in Turkey for fie years until it was democratized.10 Although the Sultan was ready to accept the treaty term, Turkish nationalities werenot.

This is what led to nationalism led by veteran General Mustafa Kemal backed allied assistance to demand the retention by Turkey, of all territory inhabited by an Ottoman Moslem majority and to capitulate. General Mustafa’s main aim was to transform Turkey from Asiatic into a European country. By Europeanizing, it meant that Turkey was to democratize its all institutions in accordance to Britain or France. Because of these ideas of modernizing Turkey, she stood on a good relationship with her neighbors (Greece, Romania and Yugoslavia) who formed a common front to combat fascist threat as it was increasing.11From this it can be said the new international implemented by the League, of free and independent nations empowered to solve disputes by negotiation and compromise in the process maintaining international relations and peace.

Another factor that made the nations to come together after the First World War was the fear of Bolshevism. By 1917,protracted war was producing revolutionary strains on all the belligerent countries. For example, in Russia, they could no longer contain the pressures of war weariness, social conflict and national separitism. These were the reasons, which made Lenin to organize the Bolsheviks who overthrew the provisional government in what is commonly known as “the October revolution” of 1917.12 In the years that followed, there was a civil war from 1918 to 1920.In this civil war; the Allied forces actively supported the Mensheviks, though they never took direct combat roles in this war.

The unsuccessfulness of the Mensheviks was because they were disorganized and that workers who believed that the allied forces were helping the Mensheviks so that they should maintain that old system of landlords and tenants did not support them. Because of their disorganization and little support they received from workers, the Bolsheviks used this weakness, successfully won, and established themselves. The triumph of the Bolsheviks created a second European center of attraction and aspiration. There was fear of Bolshevisms and this made premier Clemenceau to understand that a harsh peace with Germany would spread Bolshevism into Germany.

13 Even though the relationship between Germany and the Allied nations was not good during this period of time, there were also some Germans who were asked by Allied nations to volunteer themselves under Rudiger Vonder Goltz to remain in the borderlands of Eastern European 1919.These acted as de facto allies of the western powers against Bolsheviks.14From this, it can be deduced that the fear of the Bolsheviks was bringing nations together. According to historians, the first five years after the war were years of hostility between Allied nations and Germany. Because of these Bolsheviks, Germany even volunteered herself to work hand in hand with Allied nations to avoid spread of Communism. This shows that despite the hostility that was there, they all had a common enemy to fight against and this eventually brought them close to the Allied nations.

The change in leadership helped to ease international tensions which were there before 1924.The period between1918 and 1924 can be described as a period of tensions which would have disturbed the relationship among nations in the aftermath of world war One. There were problems that arose from the Paris Peace settlements and the League of Nations struggled to sort out the problems. For example, Turkey and Italy were dissatisfied with their treatment. The Turkish people were prepaid to defy the settlement because of huge territorial losses. The Italians who later came under the rule of Mussolini in1922, showed their resentment by seizing Fiume, which was previously given to Yugoslavia.

15 The problems in questions can be attributed to leaders who shaped the Peace Conferences in work as a national and self-interest of principal victors. Premier GeorgesClemenceau, in particular represented France with keen awareness that his people had withstood the worst of the Allied war effort and must withstand the worst of enforcing the peace terms on the continent of Europe. He was determined that the peace terms should favor the French.16To prove that the peace conference was for their self-interest (victorious nations), the defeated powers were not invited during the drafting of the peace terms, for there was a role that called merely for signing of the completed documents. Because some nations were not consulted but were forced to sign, some commentators have described it as a dictated, not negotiated peace.

Furthermore, when Germany raised the question of Moratorium after experiencing greater inflation of the currency, just after the first payment, a partial of it was granted. When she attempted to make her revised payments, the mark again sank and she requested a moratorium on all cash payments until January 1925.Because the then leaders were not ready to help each other, the reparations problem for a time ceased to be merely a question between Allied forces and Germany and resolved itself into a diplomatic conflict between the British and French government.The problems arise because Britain wanted Germany to regain her prosperity and with it, her ability to purchase British commodity and improve her economy.

While France wanted immediate reparations to resolve the region which was devastated by the war, she believed that Germany’s fiscal difficulties were chiefly caused by its bad administration of finance and by bad faith of her nationals who were deliberately evading taxation and sending millions of dollars in gold and security out of the country. Because of these differences and their uncompromising attitude, a conference was called and it was held at Genoa in April 1922to discuss world economic problems and to try to get the Soviet Union to repay tsarist debts to Allied nations.( ) Because of France’s attitude towards Germany at the Conference, it helped to push the two main outsider nations; Weimer Germany and Soviet Russia into each other’s arms, hence Rapallo treaty between Russia and Germany.

Come the second half of 1920’s, there was a general improvement in the International atmosphere caused partly by a change in political leadership. In France, Edouard Herriot and Foreign Minister Aristide Briand, in Britain, Ramsy Mac Donald, and in Germany, Gustar Streetman came to power and all were keen to improve their relations. The result of this was Dawes plan. It was formed in London in 1924 and it was an attempt to break the dreadlock. Because leaders were eager to reconcile, they agreed that Germany should pay annually only what she could reasonably afford until she became more prosperous. Apart from the European leaders mentioned above, who were eager to reconcile, U.S.A. was also willing to help and it was in fact America, which granted loan of 800,000,000 (eight hundred million) gold marks to Germany.( )In1925, came the most important one in which Germany, France and Belgium promised to respect that joint frontiers.

Thus, if one of the three broke the agreement, Britain and Italy would assist the state that was being attacked. This agreement was greeted with wild enthusiasm all over Europe and the reconciliation between France and Germany was referred to as the “Locarno honeymoon”( )The most significant feature of the Locarno agreements was the spirit of hope they had awakened in Europe. In heady mood, the major European State, U.S and Japan (with other countries totaling 65), included with the Kellogg-Briand Pact on August 27th, 1928.The signatories promised to ‘renounce war as an instrument of national policy’, ( )although no means of enforcing this promise were included in the pact.It is also sufficed to note that the dying out of tensions in Europe not only encouraged international relations, but also economic boom in these European states. Long at last, European states returned to normal.

This essay has assessed the impact of world war one on international relations. Among other things, international relations were disturbed by the Peace settlements.

Some nations were not happy with the terms of the Versailles treaty. However, despite this, other factors helped to cement the relations. These were: the new world order, fear of Bolsheviks and change of leadership during the second half of 1920s.Governments continued to deal with each other in secret and the interest of the states (as perceived by each, of course) continued to be the driving force of international relations. The First World War had nevertheless profoundly and permanently altered foreign relations. The tensions relaxed and a period of calm and prosperity followed in the late 1920s.


1.World Book Encyclopedia (1994) (W-X-Y-Z) Vol 21, PG 469

2. Paxton. R. Europe in the Twentieth Century 4th Ed (London: Harcourt college publishers) pg 157

3. Ibid pg 158

4. Curtis, M. Western European Integration (New York: Harpers and Row) pg 1

5. Roberts J.M. Europe 1888-1945 (London: Longman, 1967) PG 164

6.Ibid PG 165

7.Paxton, R. O. Europe in the Twentieth Century. Pg 461

8.MR. Jawali. Class Lecturer. October 2004

9.World Book Encyclopedia. Pg 468

10. Paxton.R.D. Europe in the Twentieth Century

11Cornwell R.D. World History In the Twentieth Century (Harlow: Longman) 1983

12.Ibid pg 42

13.Benns .F.L. Europe since 1914 (London: Murry Publishers) 1967, pg 407-410

14.Curtis M.Western European Integration pg 126

15. Paxton R.O. Europe in the Twentieth Century. Pg163

16.Ibid 164

17. Mr. Jawali Class Lecturer

18.Paxton R.O.Europe in the Twentieth Century pg 187

19.Benns.F.L. Europe since 1914 pg 163

20.Lowe N. Mastering Modern World History (London: Macmillan Press LTD.) Pg 45

21.Ibid pp56-58

22.Paxton R.O. Europe In the Twentieth Century. Pg 190

23.Lowe N. Mastering Modern World History. Pg 45


Benns, F Lee (1967). EUROPE SINCE 1914. London: Murry


Cornwell R.D. (1983) WORLD HISTORY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. Harlow: Longman

Curtis M, (1965) WESTERN EUROPEAN INTEGRATION (New York: Harpers and Row LTD)

Lowe, N. (1997) MASTERINNG MORDEN WORLD HISTORY (London: Macmillan press)

PAXTON, R.O. (2002) EUROPE IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.(London: Harcourt college)

World BookEncyclopeadia (W-X-Y-Z) 1981 (New York: scottfetzer co.)

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