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First World War Diplomacy

First World War Diplomacy
The ideas of Wilson and Lenin

Although many countries in Europe, prior to the emergence of hostilities in July 1914, had featured a profound ideological and political rivalry between conservatively inclined "parties of order" and liberalist and socialist "parties of movement" once it became evident that war had irrupted it happened that societies seemed to "gel" in support of the defence of the state. There were widespread effective declarations of a "civil truce" within each of the contending countries of Europe accompanied by the reformist parties agreeing not to press their domestic case and effectively recognising that the "parties of order" (who in any case tended to have closer links with the military traditions of the state) should be entrusted with arranging for the states participation in the emergent conflict.

Arising out of these developments it followed that the way was open for the diplomatic arrangements entered into by the governments of the respective combatants in framing their war policy and aims to include many provisions that were consistent with the traditions of "Balance of Power" diplomacy. That is to say that the members of each alliance could contract - between themselves - to recognise each others claims upon the territory and wealth of adversary states should their own alliance prove "victorious".

There was a very long tradition in Europe whereby states that were deemed to have "won" wars were recognised as being entitled to annexe territories from and / or demand indemnities from states that were deemed to have "lost" wars. Said recognised entitlements however often being moderated by considerations of preserving the European "Balance of Power" and of not leaving defeated states with a pronounced feeling of grieviance in relation to lost territories or over-burdensome indemnities.

At the onset of hostilities in July 1914 the "Central Powers" - Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary - were immediately at war with Belgium (due to Imperial German invasion), Serbia (due to an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war), France and Russia (Russia being simultaneously a protector of Serbia and a full treaty ally of France). The Imperial German invasion of Belgium was followed by Britain, as a treaty guarantor of Belgian neutrality, deciding to enter into the conflict as an ally of France and Russia.

Members of the contending blocs tended to repectively frame "war aims" which defined what they hoped to achieve at the end of the hostilities.
By September 1914 the German Chancellor (Prime Minister) Bethmann-Hollweg seems to have intended that in order to guarantee German security both France and Russia were to be broken as great powers, Belgium was to become a vassal state and post-war Germany was to be the guiding power in an extensive European economic association of states.

In November 1914 the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith declared in a speech that:-
"We shall never sheathe the sword, which we have not lightly drawn, until Belgium receives in full measure all and more than she has sacrificed, until France is adequately secured against the menace of agression, until the rights of smaller nationalities of Europe are placed upon an unassailable foundation, and until the military might of Prussia is wholly and finally destroyed."
These aims, as respectively framed by the German and British establishments, are clearly contradictory in nature. The French, Russians, Belgians, Serbians and other powers also devised aims which, for them, were seen as being of the greatest relevance to their own futures as states.
In terms of International politics the way was open for the contending parties to seek to secure further adherents to their respective causes by offering to support their own annexation of territories or other significant gains at the end of a victorious war.

A Treaty of London concluded early in 1915, for example, contained assurances to the Kingdom of Italy (which now joined the Franco-Russian-British alliance) that it would gain some "Italia Irredenta" - hitherto unredeemed Italy - and other territories at the expense of Austria-Hungary.

As Ottoman Turkey had sided with the Central Powers another example of such wartime diplomatic arrangements saw Britain and France agreeing to Russia gaining control of the ancient and strategic city of Constantinople (then the Ottoman capital) and also of the long series of narrow straits and sea-ways that linked the Black Sea with the Mediterranean. Constantinople was an historic source of Orthodox civilization and the Bosphorous - Sea of Marmora - Dardanelles Straits were an absolutely vital warm water route through which Russian trade flowed. A route moreover that had been very much open to being closed off by the Ottoman Empire at any time of crisis with Imperial Russia.

Within the Central Powers meanwhile similar plans were being laid for mass annexations of territory by Imperial Germany, Austria-Hungary and also such powers as could be encouraged to join with their war effort. The "Parties of Movement" within the contending powers were still effectively entrusting the direction of the state to the "Parties of Order" and it was left to tiny minority liberal and socialist interests within several European states and also to International Socialism to impotently protest about any perceived injustice. Said perceptions being limited by the fact that these treaty arrangements, although often the subject of rumour, were effectively secret arrangements.

Some of these arrangements proved to be of enduring influence e.g. the Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916 where Britain and France, with the assent of Russia, agreed that each should embark, after the war, on a period of administration of extensive areas of the middle east that were then under the rule of the Turkish-Ottoman Empire.
It is not necessary to go beyond merely outlining the nature of these arrangments entered into because things did not go to plan.

The military technologies of the day (the machine gun and barbed wire entanglements) facilitated a defence that was usually sufficient to dissipate the effectiveness of any attempted attack across no-man's-land made by uniformed Human Beings bearing light arms.

In 1916-7 in a period of on-going military stalemate on the western front (where the predominantly French and British forces opposed those of Imperial Germany) there were truly grievious levels of mutual attrition which allowed voices to begin to be more widely raised calling for the securing of a "just peace" rather than the continuance of an appalling war in pursuit of sweeping territorial objectives.

On the eastern front Russian armies suffered particularly high casualty rates. The Tsar "Father of the Russian People" had taken personal command of the Russian armies from September 1915 without this leading to any improvement in the situation and also leaving the way open for a full association of Tsardom itself with any future military failure.

There were several other causes of dissention within Russia not least the way in which the Tsarina (who was by birth a German Duchess and who exercised many govermental powers) seemed to be under the influence of a dissolute holy man named Rasputin. In early March 1917 there were a series of revolutions arising out of bread shortages and workers strikes in several Russian cities that contributed to a swift undermining of Tsardom and Tsarist rule. The Russian Duma (parliament) opted to ignore orders of March 11 for its dissolution made by the Tsar and the next day elected an Executive Commitee of Duma members that was intended to assume dictatorial powers as a Provisional Government.

The Duma had been based in Petrograd's Tauride Palace and the new would-be government opted to continue its proceedings from this same location. It happened however that leftist political interests also established a Soviet (council) of Soldiers and Workers Deputies in another wing of the palace. The Soviet thereafter increasingly vied with the Provisional Government for influence and power - On March 14 it issued its Order No. 1 which requested military units in the Petrograd area to elect deputies to the Soviet and to only obey the orders of the Provisional Government if these did not conflict with the orders of the Soviet.

On March 16 the Provisional Government indicated that it intended that Russia would continue to participate in the war in alliance with the western powers. This was largely accepted by Russian society generally at a time when "Central Power" armies were occupying many traditionally Russian territories.

The United States of America had hitherto not become actually involved in the wars. Its President Woodrow Wilson had, on several occasions, attempted to mediate between the belligerent powers. One such effort being that of asking them, on 18 December 1916, to state the terms under which they would deem it possible to make peace. In a major speech to the U.S. Senate of 22 January 1917 President Wilson stated that in future. There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.

To quote a substantial section of this speech more fully:-

... it must be a peace without victory. It is not pleasant to say this. I beg that I may be permitted to put my own interpretation upon it and that it may be understood that no other interpretation was in my thought. I am seeking only to face realities and to face them without soft concealments. Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor's terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last, only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit. The right state of mind, the right feeling between nations, is as necessary for a lasting peace as is the just settlement of vexed questions of territory or of racial and national allegiance.

The equality of nations upon which peace must be founded if it is to last must be an equality of rights; the guarantees exchanged must neither recognize nor imply a difference between big nations and small, between those that are powerful and those that are weak. Right must be based upon the common strength, not upon the individual strength, of the nations upon whose concert peace will depend. Equality of territory or of resources there of course cannot be; nor any other sort of equality not gained in the ordinary peaceful and legitimate development of the peoples themselves. But no one asks or expects anything more than an equality of rights. Mankind is looking now for freedom of life, not for equipoises of power.

And there is a deeper thing involved than even equality of right among organized nations. No peace can last, or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property. I take it for granted, for instance, if I may venture upon a single example, that statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a united, independent, and autonomous Poland, and that henceforth inviolable security of life, of worship, and of industrial and social development should be guaranteed to all peoples who have lived hitherto under the power of governments devoted to a faith and purpose hostile to their own.

I speak of this, not because of any desire to exalt an abstract political principle which has always been held very dear by those who have sought to build up liberty in America, but for the same reason that I have spoken of the other conditions of peace which seem to me clearly indispensable -- because I wish frankly to uncover realities. Any peace which does not recognize and accept this principle will inevitably be upset. It will not rest upon the affections or the convictions of mankind. The ferment of spirit of whole populations will fight subtly and constantly against it, and all the world will sympathize. The world can be at peace only if its life is stable, and there can be no stability where the will is in rebellion, where there is not tranquility of spirit and a sense of justice, of freedom, and of right.


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The United States had on several occasion protested to the Imperial German Government about its policy of authorising submarines to sink merchant ships. Following such protests such sinkings were discontinued for a time but a renewal of an unrestricted submarine warfare early in 1917, (with the view of starving Britain into submission), caused President Wilson to seek the consent of the United States Congess, in an extraordinary session of 2 April, 1917, for the United states entry into the wars against the "Central Powers".

To quote some brief excerpts from President Wilson's speech on this occasion:-

I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because there are serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made, and made immediately, which it was neither right nor constitutionally permissible that I should assume the responsibility of making.

On the third of February last I officially laid before you the extraordinary announcement of the Imperial German Government that on and after the first day of February it was its purpose to put aside all restraints of law or of humanity and use its submarines to sink every vessel that sought to approach either the ports of Great Britain and Ireland or the western coasts of Europe or any of the ports controlled by the enemies of Germany within the Mediterranean. That had seemed to be the object of the German submarine warfare earlier in the war, but since April of last year the Imperial Government had somewhat restrained the commanders of its undersea craft in conformity with its promise then given to us that passenger boats should not be sunk ....

....When I addressed the Congress on the twenty-sixth of February last I thought that it would suffice to assert our neutral rights with arms, our right to use the seas against unlawful interference, our right to keep our people safe against unlawful violence. But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable. Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German submarines have been used against merchant shipping ...

.... With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it, and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war ...

.... We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war. It was not with their previous knowledge or approval. It was a war determined upon as wars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow men as pawns and tools ...

.... Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia? Russia was known by those who knew it best to have been always in fact democratic at heart, in all the vital habits of her thought, in all the intimate relationships of her people that spoke their natural instinct, their habitual attitude towards life. The autocracy that crowned the summit of her political structure, long as it had stood and terrible as was the reality of its power, was not in fact Russian in origin, character, or purpose; and now it has been shaken off and the great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty and might to the forces that are fighting for freedom in the world, for justice, and for peace. Here is a fit partner for a League of Honor.

One of the things that has served to convince us that the Prussian autocracy was not and could never be our friend is that from the very outset of the present war it has filled our unsuspecting communities and even our offices of government with spies and set criminal intrigues everywhere afoot against our national unity of counsel, our peace within and without, our industries and our commerce. Indeed it is now evident that its spies were here even before the war began; and it is unhappily not a matter of conjecture but a fact proved in our courts of justice that the intrigues which have more than once come perilously near to disturbing the peace and dislocating the industries of the country have been carried on at the instigation, with the support, and even under the personal direction of official agents of the Imperial Government accredited to the Government of the United States. Even in checking these things and trying to extirpate them we have sought to put the most generous interpretation possible upon them because we knew that their source lay, not in any hostile feeling or purpose of the German people towards us (who were, no doubt, as ignorant of them as we ourselves were), but only in the selfish designs of a Government that did what it pleased and told its people nothing. But they have played their part in serving to convince us at last that that Government entertains no real friendship for us and means to act against our peace and security at its convenience. That it means to stir up enemies against us at our very doors the intercepted note to the German Minister at Mexico City (i.e. the Zimmermann Telegram) is eloquent evidence.

We are accepting this challenge of hostile purpose because we know that in such a Government, following such methods, we can never have a friend; and that in the presence of its organized power, always lying in wait to accomplish we know not what purpose, there can be no assured security for the democratic Governments of the world. We are now about to accept gauge of battle with this natural foe to liberty and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power. We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretense about them to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve.

We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them. Just because we fight without rancor and without selfish object, seeking nothing for ourselves but what we shall wish to share with all free peoples, we shall, I feel confident, conduct our operations as belligerents without passion and ourselves observe with proud punctilio the principles of right and of fair play we profess to be fighting for.


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Although the United States now entered into the wars it was made plain that she did so as an "Associated" rather than an "Allied" power. This distinction being based on President Wilson's distaste for the secret diplomacy, and ambitious territorial re-arrangements, to which the British, French, Russians, Italians and others had committed themselves by Treaty.

On April 11, the Petrograd Soviet proclaimed a "defensive war"; it opposed any territorial annexations (i.e. both by Russia or any other belligerent power).

The Germans at in these times were contemplating how they might further divide and dissipate Russian participation in the war by arranging for the repatriation of recognised political radicals who had gone into exile from Tsarist Russia. Over several weeks they facilitated the repatriation of several hundred such political radicals including one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov a "Bolshevik" (revolutionary Marxist) who had adopted the revolutionary name of Lenin. Lenin was already involved with the so-called Zimmerwald Movement which called on workers everywhere to oppose the war and end it by revolting against their bourgeois governments. When he arrived at Petrograd's Finland station on 16 April he made several fiery speeches outlining his policies and shortly thereafter published his "April Theses" which proclaimed that:-

(a) Russia was already in transition from a bourgeois-capitalist revolution to a socialist revolution.
(b) the Bolsheviks must not support the government, but constantly criticize it;
(c) they must call for "all power to the Soviets," and;
(d) they must work to achieve majorities in the Soviets.

Lenin's slogans of: "Bread, Land, and Peace," and "All Power to the Soviets," were popular with the war-weary Russian masses.

On 15 May the Petrograd Soviet issued a "Peace Formula" which called for a "Peace without annexations or indemnities, on the basis of the self-determination of peoples". It may have been the case that the Petrograd Soviet was a power focus of undecided magnitude within the Russia of the day but politicians at home and abroad could not but take into account the strength of support for pre-war domestic "Parties of Movement" together with the added effects of a general social dislocation and war weariness in making estimates as to how much weight to give to the Petrograd Peace Formula (given that it quite possibly would be taken up by International Socialism) in their counsels.

The stage was now effective set for a most critical "battle for hearts and minds" in a Europe and the wider world where "millions of bayonets were in search of a progressive idea". Across Europe millions of people were looking for peace, for a peace with justice. The existing governments increasingly recognised that old style "Balance of Power" diplomacy and "War Aims" did not enjoy the support of wide sections of their own populations and, importantly, did not enjoy the support of the United States as a formidable new entrant into the conflict.

Alongside such direct misfortunes as injuries, mortalities, and economic dislocation as wars visit upon any involved people the "Central Powers" position was also very critically impaired by the effects of a trading blockade maintained by their adversaries which further contributed to dire shortages of food, clothing and fuel.

The traditionally powerful Social Democrat interest in Germany was faced, since the fall of Tsarism, with the reality that it now operated in the least constitutionally democratic state in Europe. There was an Electoral System operating in the German Empire which dated from before 1870 and which placed effective power in the hands of the Kaiser and his Chancellor rather than with the people represented in the Reichstag (parliament).

Russia had democratised, President Wilson had condemned the Prussian Autocracy (i.e. the Kaiser) rather than the German people. It seemed imperative to many, both progressives and conservatives, in Germany that constitutional reform was necessary to ensure the continued identification of all sections of society with the state and also necessary to the eventual agreement of a peace. Socialist progressives meanwhile were increasingly inclined to call for the adoption of a limited programme of war aims as this would be a surer road to peace.

In Austria-Hungary the traditional ethnic dissentions within a markedly multi-national Empire-Kingdom allowed many Slav soldiers to desert or to consent to being captured with some of these electing to join "Legions" within the Russian Army. The Imperial-Royal authorities were greatly fearful of a revolutionary decay of their Dual Monarchy should the wars be long continued.

A relatively liberal Peace Resolution that had been drafted by a steering committee was placed before the consideration of the Imperial German Reichstag on 19 July 1917 and was passed by 212 votes to 126 with 17 abstentions. This result signalled something of a curtailment of the Political Truce within Imperial Germany as those in favour included the Social Democrats, the (predominantly Catholic) Center Party and some Progressives and those opposed included those who were the firmest supporters of the German High Command that had been in effective control of Imperial German policy for many months.

The Peace Resolution insisted that Imperial Germany was fighting a war of self defence and stated that:-

... The Reichstag strives for a peace of understanding and the permanent reconciliation of the peoples. With such a peace forced acquisitions of territory and political, economic, or financial oppressions are inconsistent. The Reichstag also rejects all schemes which aim at economic barriers and hostility between the peoples after the war. The freedom of the seas must be made secure. Only economic peace will prepare the ground for a friendly intercourse between the nations..."

In October 1917 a Bolshevik Revolution occured in Russia which was followed by something of a withdrawal of Russian participation in the wars - there was a spate of mass desertion from the Russian armies. Governments in other European states had reason to consider how this withdrawal, if fully confirmed, would tend affect the conflict on the western front. They also had reason to deliberate upon that more revolutionary Bolshevik policy line whereby the International Working Class was to avail of its opportunities to exploit the unsettled situation by turning their arms on the Capitalist oppressors in the interests of International Socialism.

On January 8 1918 President Wilson, in an address to the U.S. Congress, outlined a fourteen point Peace Programme that called for such things as:-

Open covenants of peace openly arrived at
Freedom of the seas
Removal of barriers to trade
Reductions in armaments
Adjustment of colonial claims
The evacuation of Russian territory
The evacuation of Belgian territory
The freedom of France / return of Alsace-Lorraine
The adjustment of Italian frontiers along lines of nationality
Autonomous development to be allowed for the peoples of Austria-Hungary
Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated and Serbia allowed free access to the sea.
The Turkish portions of the Ottoman Empire to be assured a secure sovereignty with subject nationalities being allowed autonomous development.
An independent Polish State with access to the sea.
A general association of nations must be formed

Although the suggestions for reform that are also contained in this speech do exhibit some ambiguities, inconsistencies, and impracticalities given the realities of the situation in eastern and central Europe in particular the high principles enunciated by President Wilson in this speech markedly set a headline for the diplomacy of the day. Wilson's fouteen points became widely influential in terms of crystallising people's aspirations for a just end to the ongoing conflict. Wilson was widely praised and came to effectively seize the moral initiative in relation to most of the western world's hopes for the future.

The enthusiastic reception given to his fouteen-point program encouraged President Wilson to follow up with a a number of speeches that further outlined Principles and Particulars towards a post war settlement. A key principle endorsed by Wilson in these speeches was that of "self-determination" where peoples should be regarded as being entitled to form their own nations if they so determined. In practical terms, given the level of war weariness and disenchantment, this tended to further dissolve the ties of several constituent peoples of Austro-Hungary with the tradition of Habsburg dynastic statehood.

In Spring 1918 it became clear that Austria-Hungary was most reluctant to make a separate peace. Wilson now endorsed the Czechoslovak, Polish and Yugoslav separatist movements, as concerns for the stability and preservation of the Dual Monarchy were sacrificed to other considerations.

The departure of Bolshevik Russia from the wars and the Bolshevik's signing of a truly penal peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk, (In signing the peace of Brest-Litovsk at a time when the Petrograd based revolution was in imminent danger of being overwhelmed by a Central Power advance Lenin and Trotsky seemed to expect that a spate of Bolshevik Revolutions would take place widely in Europe allowing the provisions of Brest-Litovsk to be undone), allowed the central Powers to concentrate their entire efforts on the western front at a time when the forces of the United States were only just on the point of being significantly present in Europe but needed weeks of final training and organisation before active deployment.

The German armies deployed on the western front made significant advances after March 1918 such that the British and French both had serious worries about being militarily defeated. These worries continued, at the highest levels, well into July 1918 even prompting the British to unprecentedly offer to place their armies under the overall command of a French general in the hope that this would secure a more effective approach towards addressing the serious military situation.
It happened however that the morale, and discipline, of the German armies was undergoing a significant decay. Soldiers who were themselves existing on meagre rations were becoming more aware of the semi-starvation being endured in most German homes. They had been told that the submarine campaign was causing starvation in the Allied countries too but the extent of the stores that they found during their recent significant advances gave the lie to these assertions. They were losing faith in their leaders who had as yet to find an adequate response to the recently developed "tanks" (so-called because they had been labelled as "water tanks" in order to divert discovery during transit to the front) that had recently made a formidable entry to the battles. Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers were in fact recently released prisoners from Russian captivity after Brest-Litovsk and tended to feel that they had already done their share of fighting. The Imperial German armies were not functioning evenly in that that Empire was in fact of recent origin being a somewhat federal structure with a Prussian core but with other historic German components; whilst units of Prussian origin tended to be fairly committed those units drawn from other historic German Heimats or provincial lands tended in cases to resent the Prussian miltary traditions that they could blame for involving them in the terrible wars. The soldiers were also aware that the offensive of March 1918 had been something of a last gasp vastly expensive of lives and resources and that American forces, in truly formidable numbers, were in the process of being introduced into the combat. Given these and other causes of discontent socialist revolutionism, communist inspired pacifism, and general disillusionment had begun to take a serious hold.

By July 1918 the American presence and preparedness was such as to allow for the participation of a distinct contributuion of an American army to the contest. It happened that, largely through the effective use of tanks, the Allied and Associated forces were able to force unprecendented gains of territory after August 1918 where the demoralisation and disillusion that were increasingly widespread amongst the German soldiery caused markedly less resolution to be shown in defence and where there were even cases of mass surrender or unusually prompt retreat.

The German High Command eventually decided, after August 1918, that the war could not be "won". In September the Bulgarians, allies of the Central Powers, sought separate peace terms after receiving reverses at the hands of mixed Serbian, British and French force. It also became apparent the Austria-Hungary was seeking peace terms. Given the collapse in the overall position of the Central Powers as combatants Ludendorff and Hindenburg, who had hitherto effectively been "military dictators" responsible for organising Germany's participation in the wars, became persuaded that an armistice, or suspension of active hostitliies, must be sought. In order to facilitate such an armistice they therefore supported the formation of a "liberal" administration with a Prince Max of Baden, a cousin of the Kaiser, being settled upon as a suitable "liberal" Chancellor and being offered this post in early October.

After being briefed on the critical military situation, and on the possibility of domestic socialist revolution in Germany, Prince Max (7 October via Swiss channels) sounded out President Wilson about the possibility of a peace agreement based upon his fourteen points. It would seem that this sounding out was done in the hope that the Americans would sponsor a less punishing peace settlement than the British and the French. During the negotiations leading up to an armistice being accepted by both sides Wilson pressed the Germans to surrender some of their military capability such that they would find it difficult to renew the combat. Given the moral ascendency he then enjoyed, (and the suggestion that the United States might make a separate peace with Germany), President Wilson was also able press the French and British to accept that his fourteen-point programme was to substantially provide the basic outline of the future peace settlement. The Allied and Associated powers insisted on dealing with genuinely constitutional representatives who were the real masters of Germany - effectively insisting upon the abdication of the Kaiser and the resignation of Ludendorff and Hindenburg. In the event an armistice was agreed to take effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

Inside the Habsburg Empire, national independence movements had proceeded on their own, without obligation to Wilson or the Allies. Czech, Polish and Croatian National Councils organized new state structures. In Czechoslovakia and Poland, new regimes had to be built from scratch, but in the Balkans the existing Romanian and Serbian governments soon stepped in. After Romania re-entered the war and occupied Transylvania, local leaders there arranged union with Romania. Something similar happened in Bessarabia.

A National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs met in Zagreb and called for the unification of all the South Slavs in the Habsburg lands. The Croatian Sabor combined with the National Council. Fearful of Italian territorial aspirations, the National Council then pledged allegiance to Serbia. In this manner a unified Yugoslav state came into existence before formal peace talks began.

The Paris Peace Conference began in January 1919, the initial proceedings of the conference were largely shaped by American, French, British, Italian and also Japanese interests. A large number of variously qualified delegates meanwhile tended to make representations urging the consideration of claims to "self-determination of peoples." Established states, and states in the process of establishment, also tended to make what could only be competing claims as to the extent of their national territories. The Paris Peace Conference dragged on for more than a year operating as an arena for competing forces: Wilson's Fourteen Points, Leninism, the old-style diplomatic demands of the European allies, and the state-building demands of the new national regimes created on the ground. Some concern was also expressed for the position of minority populations in the new and modified states of post-war Europe.
Several peace treaties were eventually arrived at by this Paris Peace Conference. The treaty with Germany itself - the Treaty of Versailles - included an explicit clause where Germany had to take upon itself blame for the irruption of the war in 1914. Although several states had each contributed, in varying degrees, to the series of misjudgements that had brought about the outbreak of hostilities this clause, deeply resented by German opinion, was necessary in order to allow other states to claim vast sums by way of reparation payments from post-war Germany under international laws.

Wilson's "Democratic" administration was, in terms of U.S. domestic political realities, an anomaly which had only occurred as a result of a split within the traditionally preponderant "Republican" interest. Rivalries between Democrats and Republicans, (although the Republican interest in the United States had been generally supportive of the war effort Wilson caused great offence to said Republican interest by effectively ignoring it as potential contributor of worthwhile advice in selecting representatives to attend the Peace Conference!!!), and opposition from liberal and diverse European-American interests denied the attainment of the two-thirds majority in the U.S. Congress necessary to the formal acceptance of U.S. participation in the League of the League of Nations that was supposed to act to inhibit future conflicts. Germany was excluded from the League as being the officially perceived instigator of the recent ruinous wars and Russia was excluded because of the large amount of power held by Lenin's Bolshevik party which was fully committed to the revolutionary establishment of Communism at home and abroad.

Although the recent state of general war had been suspended by way of armistice, a state not necessarily implying the victory of either side, the very real distress caused to the civilian populations within Germany and Austria by the blockade tended towards allowing the Allies to feel that they had prevailed.
In defining the peace terms the Italian interest was disappointed in not receiving all the additions of territory (e.g. Fiume and the Dalmatian coast) to which it felt entitled under the (now somewhat discredited) "secret" Treaty of London. This disappointment however was not in the same category as the acute despair felt by the German interest who found themselves faced with sweeping losses of territory, deep restrictions on future military establishments, and with the requirement to pay truly prodigious sums by way of war reparations.

The French, who had seen much of their country being occupied by German armies in 1870-1 and again between 1914-8 were particularly anxious to see that close restrictions being placed on future German military capacity.

Given the dramatic re-organisation associated with the fragmentation of the former European multinational states and the newly recognised legitimacy of the "self-determination of peoples" it was deemed that European security should no longer be seen as a matter of preserving a "Balance of Power" but should now be organised as a system of "Collective Security" where a "League of Nations" would endeavour to resolve disputes peaceably with the possible imposition of trading sanctions as a deterrent to disruptive activities. It should also be recognised that the recent Great War was seen by many as having been an outcome of the former "Balance of Power" system in that power blocs that were poised in an armed rivalry had blundered into a situation where that rivalry had become active with immense loss of life, injury, and destruction resulting.

In these times Russian political life featured an outbreak of civil war between the anti-communist "whites" and the Bolshevik "reds". There was also some western, and Japanese, intervention in support of the whites for several months. These turmoils, and the post-war weakness of Germany and Austria facilitated the re-emergence of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as independent states largely at the expense of the former Russian Empire.

A dire post-war slump, and also indignation with the terms of the Peace, facilitated the growth of Communist, National-Socialist, and Nationalist, political movements in several countries. As Communism was deeply repudiated by Fascists and National-Socialists events developed such that one Benito Mussolini leader of Italian Fascism (National Socialism) became Prime Minister of Italy in late October 1922 in the wake of a so-called "March on Rome" by his supporters.

National Socialism made only limited headway in German politics until after 1929 when the Wall Street Crash and its aftermath crippled international trade. The German economy was particularly vulnerable being concentrated upon export industries and also being supported by American capital that now tended to be withdrawn as a result of the Great Crash. Mass unemployment and misery ensued and people who had had little enough confidence in the democratic parties of the German Republic variously looked to the Communists and to the Nazi's (i.e. to Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers Party) as potential champions of their cause. Despite a fall in support for National Socialism in elections of November 1932 Hitler was able, in these unsettled times, to secure the post of Chancellor of the German Republic, a Nazi subversion of the state ensued.