The Cabinet Papers banner

Wilson's Fourteen Points

Start of negotiations

In 1919 Britain, the USA, France and Italy attended the Paris Peace Conference. Approximately 100 other countries were represented and Japan was included for part of the deliberations. At the time the peace negotiations were proceeding, areas that had been occupied by Germany and controlled by Turkey Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary before the war were in a state of economic dislocation and political disorganisation.

The 'Fourteen Points'

The US President, Woodrow Wilson, devised a 'Fourteen Point' proposal providing an idealistic approach to settlement. The president proposed that the principles of national self-determination and autonomy should guide the division of national boundaries. He recommended that an international organisation should facilitate international relations and mediate in international disputes.

Despite British doubts about the practicalities of applying the principle of nationality, the 'Fourteen Point' approach was agreed upon. The armistice of October 1918 demanded the immediate withdrawal of the German Army from all occupied territory.

In reality, delegates to the Paris peace conferences had their own objectives:

  • The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, wanted to protect Middle East interests (key to the security of the Indian Empire), as well as to secure German colonies and limit commitment in Europe. Britain responded to demands for reparations by promising the punishment of Germany. Later Lloyd George adopted a more conciliatory approach towards the payment of reparations, but his ability to negotiate was limited by his previous promises.
  • The French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, was intent upon punitive measures and determined to weaken Germany decisively. French reconstruction would be funded through the payment of reparations.
  • The Italian Prime Minister, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, wanted to expand Italy's territory north west along the Adriatic into Slav territory, but this plan never came into fruition.

The victors negotiated five treaties and the defeated central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey) were only summoned after the terms had been agreed upon.