Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920)

The Paris Peace Conference was the formal meeting in 1919 and 1920 of the victorious Allies after the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers. Dominated by the leaders of Britain, France, the United States and Italy, it resulted in five controversial treaties that rearranged the map of Europe and parts of Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands and imposed financial penalties. Germany and the other losing nations had no voice which gave rise to political resentments that lasted for decades.

Johannes Bell of Germany is portrayed as signing the peace treaties on 28 June 1919 in The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, by Sir William Orpen.

The conference involved diplomats from 32 countries and nationalities, and its major decisions were the creation of the League of Nations and the five peace treaties with the defeated states; the awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as "mandates," chiefly to Britain and France; the imposition of reparations upon Germany; and the drawing of new national boundaries, sometimes with plebiscites, to reflect ethnic boundaries more closely.

The main result was the Treaty of Versailles with Germany; Article 231 of the treaty placed the whole guilt for the war on "the aggression of Germany and her allies." That provision proved to be very humiliating for Germany and set the stage for the expensive reparations that Germany was intended to pay (it paid only a small portion before its last payment in 1931). The five great powers (France, Britain, Italy, Japan and the United States) controlled the Conference. The "Big Four" were French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, US President Woodrow Wilson, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. They met informally 145 times and made all major decisions before they were ratified.[1]

The conference began on 18 January 1919. With respect to its end, Professor Michael Neiberg noted, "Although the senior statesmen stopped working personally on the conference in June 1919, the formal peace process did not really end until July 1923, when the Treaty of Lausanne was signed."[2]

It is often referred to as the "Versailles Conference," but only the signing of the first treaty took place there, in the historic palace, and the negotiations occurred at the Quai d'Orsay, in Paris.