Foreign policy and domestic policy are always
closely related. This was particularly true of the Weimar Republic, because
it emerged within the context of a lost war, armistice and peace
negotiations, accompanied by demobilization and economic difficulties.
Throughout the 1920's elections and domestic political developments were
closely linked to the final liquidation of the war. In a sense, the motive
force behind the entire foreign policy of the Weimar Republic originated in
the nature of the peace concluded at Versailles.
So, we have to look back at that peace-making procedure to explain the
gradual reinstatement of Germany within the European family of nations.
Harold Nicolson, a member of the British delegation in Paris has left us his
appraisal of the reasons why Versailles was a failure. "We came to Paris,"
he wrote, "confident that the new order was about to be established. We left
it convinced that the new order had merely fouled the old. We arrived as
fervent apprentices in the school of President Wilson. We left as renegades.
It was the misfortune of democratic diplomacy."
Nicolson goes on to elaborate the prevailing disillusionment of the experts
at Paris. The treaties which were imposed on the enemies of the Allies,
Nicolson believes, were neither just nor wise. "Never in the history of man
has such vindictiveness cloaked itself in such unctuous sophistry." That
there was an increasing moral deterioration in the course of the conferences
is unquestionable. Greed and revenge soon raised its ugly head and vitiated
the noble and idealistic principles which Wilson sought to embed in the new
political structures. Although it should be evident, that this kind of
hypocrisy is found in all postwar settlements and probably could not have
been entirely avoided in Paris either.
There was a definite contrast between the new world concept symbolized by a
vigorous America emerging into great power status and the old European world
weighted down by tradition and resistance to change. Evidence of a new
scheme of things was, of course, also found in the European countries, but
mostly in Russia, Germany and Austria, were revolutionary forces sought to
restructure the social and political system. But these powers were not
represented at Paris in 1919.
Wilson talked about a new diplomacy and so did the Soviets in Russia, but at
the peace conference the old diplomacy seemingly prevailed. Wilson got his
League of Nations, but it was accepted grudgingly by the other allies. The
attempt to reconcile the old world and the new world was the essential error
and misconception of the conference and the root cause of all resultant
falsity, according to Nicolson. The suspicion that America was asking Europe
to make sacrifices to righteousness, which America would never make, and had
never made herself, produced a mood of diffidence, uncertainty and
increasing despair. The League of Nations, which was to make Wilson's new
order work, lost its significance and viability when the U. S. Congress
rejected American participation.
The only thing which Europe could do was to save the face of the American
president. The only thing that Wilson would do was to save the face of
The face of Europe may have been saved, but it was subsequently marred and
scarred by persistent controversy and conflict over the kind of compromises
made at Versailles with regard to defeated Germany. The Germans were quick
to realize that the hurt conscience of the Allies could be exploited for
their own benefit. The critics of Versailles in the Western countries
provided propaganda for the domestic German foes of the government and its
policy of compliance with the Versailles settlement.
The early years of Weimar foreign policy were therefore rancorous times.
They were provoked mostly by the implacable reparations issue, and
culminated in the disastrous French occupation of the Ruhr. With the
adoption of the Dawes Plan, thanks to American initiative, there was some
hope of coming to reasonable terms between Germany and her former enemies.
But the central fact of these years was the Locarno Treaty, which finally
promised to bring Germany into a workable system of European politics. With
that Treaty the bad boy of Europe seemingly was accepted by the European
family on fairly equal terms.
The idea for a security pact designed to allay French fears and guarantee
Germany's western borders originated with the Germans. The Cuno government
suggested it in December, 1922. The subject was broached again in May 1923,
September 1924 and February 1925. That this persistent effort finally
resulted in triumph was largely due to the courage and tenacity of Gustav
Streseman, the Weimar Republic's most important foreign minister and Lord
D'Abernon, the British Ambassador to Berlin.
Stresemann, the architect of Locarno, was motivated by fear of independent
British action to provide the shaky French with security at Germany's
expense. He sent a memorandum in January 1926 to test English policy. At
this time London was unwilling to make an agreement that carried French
evacuation of the Rhineland as a corollary. So Streseman moved in the other
direction and opened negotiations with the French government in February.
When the Geneva Protocol, which was to strengthen the League of Nations and
give France greater security, was rejected by a new conservative British
government, Stresemann saw an opportunity for a border agreement which the
British were now willing to consider.
But Germany flatly refused to guarantee the Polish frontier as well, while
French opinion was equally adamant on its absolute necessity. London leaned
towards the German argument, being willing to underwrite a guarantee of
Germany's western frontier but had little interest in the East. Stresemann
was undoubtedly responding to prevailing German opinion, vociferously
expressed by the rightwing parties, that refused to reconcile itself to the
current boundaries with Poland. Stresemann's primary goals were
1) the protection of Germans abroad;
2) the readjustment of the eastern frontiers and
3) a union with German Austria.
The latter was specifically prohibited by the Versailles Treaty, but the
idea refused to die in German minds. However, Stresemann was shrewd enough
to realize that these goals would have to be achieved by using "finesse," as
he put it, and by avoiding any "great decisions." This presumably meant that
a piecemeal approach was more likely to succeed than the more typically
German sledgehammer method. He seems to have entertained the notion that
Danzig, under League of Nations supervision, could be fully recovered.
Other former German territories ceded to Poland could also be
reincorporated, once Germany's diplomatic position was strong enough. To
Stresemann's way of thinking the essential issue was not really compliance
or non-compliance with the stipulations of the Versailles Treaty, but
whether equality could be denied to Germany forever. He was intent upon
raising Germany once more to full power status. It is probably wrong,
therefore, to call Stresemann's diplomacy "fulfillment policy."
The French seemed to sense this basic orientation, when they insisted that
peace in Europe could only be guaranteed if Germany made accords with her
eastern neighbors, who would not be part of the proposed security pact. But
the French were not the only ones who created problems for Stresemann.
At home the Nationalists and the Communists, on the the extreme poles of the
political spectrum, violently opposed his policy-even threatened his life.
Both parties-for different reasons-wanted a more definite eastern
orientation. This combined opposition forced Stresemann to raise some
reservations about article 16 in the League of Nations Covenant. This
article implied that Germany might have to participate in a League action to
defend Poland, if the latter were attacked by Russia. German entrance into
the League was generally held to be part of a security package. But the
French insisted on unconditional German entrance into the League if she
wanted a security pact.
The problem engendered by article 16 was discussed at Locarno, among
representatives from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Poland and
Czechoslovakia. The German government was very quixotic about this. While it
accepted an Allied invitation to Locarno, the government at the same time
unleashed a broadside on the issue of war guilt and the evacuation of the
Cologne zone of occupation. This did not sabotage the conference, however,
and a compromise was achieved, whereby members of the League would cooperate
against aggressors, but each country would do what was compatible with its
military and geographic situation. The upshot of this was that Germany
signed arbitration treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia and agreed to
maintain the territorial status quo determined by the Versailles Treaty. The
French thus gained a renunciation of the claim to Alsace-Lorraine and the
desired security guarantee from Britain. But the real gainer was Germany,
since she made only a nominal sacrifice, a change in the territorial status
quo being wholly unrealistic.
It was now incumbent on Germany to convince the Allies of her good will. The
Rightist parties said it would mean the permanent acceptance of the
Versailles Diktat. In fact the Nationalists left the Reichstag in protest.
But Stresemann remained firm. He told his countrymen that Locarno meant the
Versailles methods had finally been replaced by conciliation. The Allies
made it easier for the Reichstag to approve the treaty by immediate
evacuation of the Cologne zone. The vote was 271 to 174 and passage was
assured mostly because the Social Democrats decided to back Stresemann.
However, the "Locarno spirit" did not create an era of universal amity. In
March 1926 complications arose over Germany's permanent seat on the Council
of the League, since Poland, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Brazil also demanded
permanent seats on the Council. Britain backed Spain and France supported
the Poles. Sweden opposed Poland. Spain finally gave up, but Brazil stuck to
The reaction to these unseemly wranglings were violent in Germany, whose
honor seemed to be aroused again. The Nationalists now accused Stresemann of
treason, but the SPD once more saved the government. The Soviet Union now
feared isolation and a reversal of the Rapallo policy, initiated by the
famous treaty of 1922. The Reichswehr, so dependent on the secret military
arrangement with Russia, was also worried. Stresemann quickly assured Russia
that Germany would never be a party to an anti-Bolshevik crusade, and that
article 16 was nothing to worry about. To confirm Rapallo, the Berlin Treaty
with Russia was signed in April 1926. This treaty assured neutrality if
either one of them were attacked by a third power. The same arrangement
applied to a possible economic boycott. Germany even promised to oppose any
anti-Bolshevik movement on be international scene.
The Berlin Treaty created a sensation in Europe, since many felt that it had
virtually converted German-Soviet friendship into an alliance. France,
Czechoslovakia and Poland, understandably enough, were particularly
concerned. Poland and Rumania proceded to renew their alliance. France also
made an alliance with Rumania to adumbrate what was known as the French
alliance system. So, 1926 was a turning point in the early history of the
Weimar Republic. It ushered in what has generally come to be known as the
good years of the Weimar Republic. Some, like Dietrich Orlow, have called
this period "Fool's Gold."