On the Century of Peacemaking at the 1919 Treaty of Versailles: Looking Back to Look Ahead

AuthorJay B. Desai,Bharat H. Desai
Date01 July 2020
Published date01 July 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Research article
On the Century of
Peacemaking at
the 1919 Treaty of
Versailles: Looking Back
to Look Ahead
Bharat H. Desai1 and Jay B. Desai2
This study seeks to make a modest effort to look back at the marathon
peacemaking ushered into by the Treaty of Versailles, during 1919–1922 periods,
after Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, bringing to an end the First
World War. It has sought to place under scanner the said arduous process of
peacemaking, resulting in an imposing corpus of five treaties comprising 1914
articles with Germany and its four other allies (Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and
Turkey). It presents an interesting role of the principal peacemakers therein
along with the advent of the era of ‘organizing’ through the League of Nations
and other entities such as International Labour Office and Permanent Court of
International Justice. Now, at the distance of 101 years from the main event
that heralded new milestones in international law and international relations, we
have sought to make sense of it so as to deduce lessons to look ahead for our
better world. Knowing well that alike human beings, any peacemaking cannot be
flawless, it has been our endeavour to provide an objective understanding of the
great peacemaking, its aftermath (1919–1939) and its relevance for the United
Nations–led world order in the 21st century.
Peacemaking, Treaty of Versailles, League of Nations, era of ‘organizing’,
international settlement of disputes, scourge of war, United Nations
1 Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
2 School of Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India.
Corresponding author:
Bharat H. Desai, Jawaharlal Nehru Chair, Centre for International Legal Studies, School of
International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India.
E-mail: desai@jnu.ac.in
International Studies
57(3) 201–222, 2020
2020 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020881720932105
202 International Studies 57(3)
It is now 101 years since the monumental peace at Versailles was crafted, after
marathon negotiations among the victorious powers turned peacemakers, came to
be known as the Principal as well as Allied and Associated Powers. On 28 June
1919, in an epoch-making event, the peacemaking process was concluded at the
historic Palace of Versailles, 20 km away from the city of Paris.
The Peace Treaty of Versailles1 was signed exactly five years after the
assassination (28 June 1914) of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand that had
directly led to the first Great War (Treaty of Peace, Versailles, 1919; Editors,
History.com. 2019a). The peacemaking process formally marked end of the First
World War when 27 Allied countries sealed the treaty with Germany after
protracted six-month-long parleys (Treaty of Peace, Versailles, 1919; Albrecht-
Carrie, 1958, p. 363). The same peacemaking process was followed subsequently
with the four German allies: Austria (Saint Germain), Bulgaria (Neuilly-sur-
Seine), Hungary (Trianon) and Turkey (Sèvres). Interestingly, this became the
last-ditch effort of the fading French Empire for its relevance in international
diplomacy. It also brought the United States of America (USA) on to the global
political scene (MacMillan, 2001, p. 83).
The Big Four—British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, President
Woodrow Wilson of the United States, French Premier Georges Clemenceau and
Premier Vittorio Orlando of Italy—became the principal architects of the historic
peacemaking process (1919–1922) triggered by the 1919 Versailles conference
(Editors, Encyclopedia Britannica; Editors, History.com, 2020). The final peace
treaty was signed by the USA, the British Empire (Australia, Canada, India, New
Zealand and South Africa), France, Italy and Japan (called Principal Allied and
Associated Powers) as well as other 22 Allied and Associated Powers (Belgium,
Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, The Hedjaz,
Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the
Serb–Croat–Slovene State, Siam, Czechoslovakia and Uruguay). Moreover, there
were 13 others (Argentine Republic, Chili, Columbia, Denmark, the Netherlands,
Norway, Paraguay, Persia, Salvador, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Venezuela)
who were invited to accede to the treaty. Interestingly, China, though mentioned
as a signatory, did not sign the treaty due to some territorial issues, and the Soviet
Union (as a successor state to the Russian Empire) was not even invited to
participate in the peace conference. It was an immediate reflection of the political
events in Russia following the seizure of power by the Communists from the Tsar
Nicholas II in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Ironically, it was the
Russian Tsar who initiated the pioneering Hague Peace Conferences that resulted
in the Conventions of 1899 and 1907, of which the Peace Palace (The Hague) is a
living testimony (Scott, 1921).
After more than 100 years of its formulation, the Versailles Treaty Process
continues to present us an engaging milestone in the annals of treaties as a tool of
peacemaking that provides insights into the penchant for drawing and redrawing
the boundaries of sovereign states as well as prevailing status of international

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