To what extent was the Paris Peace Settlement shaped by the principle of self-determination?

When the war started none of the participant nations had any specific idea as what they hoped to achieve. As the war carried on these participating nations had to device clear objectives to encourage troops to continue fighting. The principle of self-determination was included in the war aims of Britain and USA.

  • The British Prime Minister mentioned self-determination for the German colonies, democratic self-government for the citizens of Austria and Hungary, an independent Poland, and restoration of Serbia and Belgium.
  • The famous fourteen point forwarded by the President Woodrow Wilson in January 1918 included inter alia: restoration of Belgium, self-government for the people of Austria-Hungary, self-government for the non-Turkish people of Turkish Empire, and an independent Poland with secure access to sea.

The fourteen points achieved wide publicity in Germany and they had expected that peace terms would be based on these points. However, this was not the case as these points were never officially recognized by participating states including Germany who themselves ignored them in 1918. There were disagreements among the victor, whether to go for harsh peace or less severe settlement. Out of victor only France was for harsh peace. The treaty of Versailles was one of the most controversial treaty ever signed. It was criticized on the grounds that it was too harsh for Germany even in the allied countries. Some of the terms particularly related to self-determination included:

  • North Schleswig was given to Denmark after plebiscite.
  • Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were taken away from Germany and were set up and independent nations.

Thus, the principle of self-determination played a major role in determining the terms of Paris Peace Settlement.

Question for UPSC Mains:
To what extent was the Paris Peace Settlement shaped by the principle of self-determination?

Published: March 19, 2017 | Modified:June 27, 2019

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