January 18, 1919: Paris Peace Conference begins

Diplomats and leaders of about 32 states came together to end the War that left atleast 37 million people dead.

Published: 18th January 2012 05:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:16 PM   |  A+A-

Following the end of World War I, diplomats and leaders of about 32 states representing about 75 per cent of the world’s population came together at the Paris Peace Conference to draft a general treaty to end the state of war and to redraw the map of Europe.

The conference opened on January 18, 1919, and ended on January 20. Various meetings were held in and around Paris.

The War left at least 37 million people dead and around 16 million wounded. By the end of the war, the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires ceased to exist. When Germany signed the armistice on November 11, 1918, it was largely based on the Fourteen Points put forward by American President Woodrow Wilson. This caused confusion as Britain and France, who were wartime allies of America, had not made any commitment to undertake the negotiations as suggested by Wilson. Hence it was agreed that a peace conference would be held in Paris to discuss the structure of the world post the war.

However, the five major powers — the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Japan — responsible for the defeat of the Central Powers, dominated all negotiations.

The important figures at the meeting were Woodrow Wilson of the USA, David Lloyd George of Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France and Vittorio Orlando of Italy. Representatives from the defeated powers — Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey — were not invited. The date was chosen by the French as the start of the conference as it was on this date that the French had surrendered to Germany in 1871.

However, formulating the peace process was not easy during the conference due to the several disagreements over the terms and conditions and the peace process at every step.

Eventually five treaties emerged from the conference that dealt with the defeated countries. The five treaties — Treaty of Versailles, Treaty of St Germaine, Treaty of Trianon, Treaty of Neuilly, and Treaty of Serves (Turkey) — were named after suburbs in Paris. These treaties imposed territorial losses, financial liabilities, and military restrictions on all members of the Central Powers.

Almost immediately after the conference diplomatic relations changed dramatically as the signing countries began to have second thoughts about the severity of the peace treaties, especially the Treaty of Versailles. Historians have pointed out that the latter was the cause of the rise of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, eventually leading to World War II.

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