June 28 1919, Versailles–After more than five months of negotiations, the terms of the peace treaty with Germany had been signed by Germany and (almost) all the Allies.
The first article of the Treaty was dedicated to the League of Nations, which Wilson saw as its most important feature. Initial members of the League would be all the Allied signatories of the treaty, as well as most neutral countries. Not initially invited were the defeated Central Powers (including Hungary), as well as Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Albania, Ethiopia, or any part of the former Russian Empire (including Finland).
The League’s overall structure was largely similar to the later United Nations’; an Assembly with one vote per country, and a Council with the Big Five (the UK, the US, France, Italy, and Japan) as permanent members and four other members chosen by the Assembly (to begin with, Belgium, Brazil, Spain, and Greece). Decisions, by default, had to be unanimous; like with the UN, this gave the permanent members veto power, but it also gave it to the temporary members as well, and to any country for matters to be considered by the Assembly; this would prove to be a problem in the decades to come. The League would be headquartered in Geneva.
The Council was charged to formulate plans for arms reductions. League members would "undertake to respect and preserve as against external
aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence
of all Members…the Council shall advise upon the means by which this
obligation shall be fulfilled.“ Disputes between members were to be submitted to inquiry by the Council or arbitration, rather than war. If war should occur anyway, it would be considered an act of war against all other League members, resulting in (at least) an embargo and blockade against that country; the Council would recommend what forces countries would contribute in any military effort.
German colonies, as well as Ottoman territory in the Middle East, would officially fall under the auspices of the League. However, the day-to-day governance would fall to one of the Allied powers, holding a mandate over them on behalf of the League. The degree to which the local population was to have any say in their self-determination would vary; more so in the Middle East, less so in Central Africa, and very little in Southwest Africa [Namibia] (which South Africa effectively annexed) and in Germany’s former colonies in the Pacific.
Additionally, League members were to endeavor to “maintain fair and humane conditions of labour,” ensure “just treatment” of their colonial subjects, help to prevent and control the spread of disease, and “secure and maintain freedom of communications and transit and equitable treatment for the commerce of all Members.” Furthermore, the League was to supervise agreements against drug and human trafficking, to regulate arms trading, and the Council was to draw up plans for arms reduction.
The rest of the treaty dealt with Germany more directly. Alsace-Lorraine was to be returned to France. A large swath of territory was to be given to Poland in the east (cutting off East Prussia except by sea), and small regions were awarded to Belgium and Czechoslovakia. A plebiscite would be held in northern Schleswig, in areas annexed by Prussia in 1864, to decide whether the region would rejoin Denmark or stay with Germany; if it decided to rejoin Denmark, another plebiscite would be held in southern Schleswig. Three other plebiscites (two in East Prussia and one in Upper Silesia) would be held in territories disputed between Germany and Poland. Danzig would become a free city; while it would govern itself, Poland would have free use and service of its port, and full control of its railroads, waterways, and communications. The territory around Memel, near Lithuania, was to be handed over to the Allies, who would determine its final disposition.
France was to receive ownership of the coal mines in the Saar basin. The Saarland itself would be under League control, and in 1934 would hold a plebiscite on whether to join France, join Germany, or continue under League administration indefinitely. If it chose to join Germany, Germany would have to buy the mines back from France in gold within a year. Luxembourg would exit the German customs union.
Germany was prohibited from building, mobilizing, or maintaining any military forces, fortifications, or infrastructure west of the Rhine or 50 km to the east of it. Doing so would be considered a “hostile act…calculated to disturb the peace of the world.” All already-existing fortifications in that area were to be dismantled. Additionally, fortifications and harbors on Heligoland and Dune (in the North Sea) are to be destroyed, and Germany will dismantle all fortifications on her Western Baltic coast, to ensure that she cannot disrupt the free passage of trade there. Germany is to allow all countries’ ships, civilian or military, passage through the Kiel Canal on equal terms.
Germany was to respect Austrian independence unless the League Council said otherwise. Germany was to completely repudiate the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest that it had signed with Russia, Ukraine, and Romania the previous year.
All German colonies would be handed over to the Allies, who would determine their final disposition as mandates under the League of Nations. Japan would receive the German concession in Shantung (around Tsingtao); all China would receive is an end to the indemnity payments owed Germany due to the Boxer Rebellion, and a return of the German concessions in Hankow [Hankou] and Tientsin [Tianjin]. It is little surprise China refused to sign the treaty.
The German army was to be reduced to no more than 100000 men and 4000 officers, with civilian support staff no more than a tenth of pre-war levels. There would be no conscription and no system of mobilization. Military missions could not be sent abroad. The treaty also made attempts to prevent paramilitary organizations: “associations of every description…must not occupy themselves with any military matters.” This proved exceedingly difficult to enforce. Severe limits were placed on stores of munitions and ammunition; any manufacture thereof would have to be approved by the Big Five. Import of any war materiel was prohibited. Germany was forbidden to have any chemical weapons, and would disclose the full details of their wartime chemical weapons program to the Allies. The manufacture or import of armored cars or tanks was prohibited. After October 1, 1919, Germany could not have any military air force whatsoever.
German troops in the Baltic were to be returned to Germany when the Allies deemed it fit; in the meantime, they were not to interfere with the Baltic states’ defense nor seize supplies to send back to Germany.
The German Navy would be reduced to no more than 6 pre-dreadnought battleships, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 12 torpedo boats–no submarines, no battlecruisers, and no dreadnoughts. Any ships beyond this number were to be handed over to the Allies or scrapped. The Navy could consist of no more than 15000 men. Any German ships outside of Germany now no longer belonged to Germany; since the scuttling of the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow, however, there were far fewer ships in this category than anticipated. Germany would sweep all the mines in the North Sea east of 4° E.
All remaining prisoners of war and interned civilians (by this time, mostly German) were to be repatriated “with the greatest rapidity;” the French and British ultimately had different ideas as to what that phrase meant, and many would not be returned from France until 1920. Some prisoners who had been kept in Siberia would not be returned until after the end of Allied intervention there in 1922.
The Allies were to hold military tribunals to try Kaiser Wilhelm II and other German war criminals. These provisions were largely moot, however; the Netherlands refused to extradite the Kaiser, and the Allies did not really attempt to make Germany extradite other war criminals. A few were tried in Germany; fewer were convicted; none served more than a few days of their sentence.
As justifications for war reparations, “Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.” Germany was to compensate the Allies for all the damage done to the Allied civilian population and property, for Belgium’s war loans (including interest), pensions to disabled veterans and their dependents, wartime payments to relatives of mobilized soldiers, and any expenses relating to the occupation of the Rhineland. The amount to be paid was not specified in the treaty, but was to be determined by an Allied commission by May 1921; in the meantime, the Germans were to pay 20 billion marks.
General Smuts signed the treaty on behalf of South Africa, but left an official note in protest of the harsh reparations terms–this despite the fact that he authored the pension-related terms.
The Germans were also to make in-kind payments of farm equipment, animals, and merchant ships, to replace wartime losses. Additionally, Germany was to provide large amounts of coal and chemicals to France, Belgium, Italy, and Luxembourg. Louvain’s library was to be replenished with works from Germany. Loot seized during the Franco-Prussian war was to be returned (though many French battle flags were burned in Germany in the days before the signing of the treaty, to the consternation of the French). The control of most German submarine cables was to be given to the Allies.
The payment terms (though not technically the overall sum) could be modified based on Germany’s ability to pay. Germany would also receive credit for the in-kind payments, as well as property lost due to Germany’s border changes (Alsace-Lorraine excepting).
Germany was not to impose higher customs duties on the Allies than they would on any other country. Germany was to take action against counterfeit goods, and recognize “regional appellation” of wine and spirits. In other words, the Treaty of Versailles codified that Champagne refers only to sparkling wine from Champagne. The Elbe, Oder, Niemen, and Danube were made international rivers; Czechoslovakia was to be given 99-year leases for free zones in Hamburg and Stettin to give that country some form of access to the sea.
The occupation of the Rhineland and three bridgeheads across the Rhine would continue to ensure German cooperation with the terms of the treaty. The northern region would be evacuated after five years, the central after ten, and the southern after fifteen; these could be extended if “the guarantees against unprovoked aggression by Germany are not considered sufficient.”
Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.