Henry White Papers

The Chargé in France ( Bliss ) to Mr. Henry White

Sir: I have the honor to send you herewith enclosed the plan of the preliminary sittings of the Allied Ministers which I have just received from the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the French text accompanied by an English translation.

I have [etc.]

Robert Woods Bliss
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Plan of the Preliminary Conversations Between the Allied Ministers

A preparatory meeting of the members of the Supreme Council of Versailles is necessary in order to settle several questions of form and substance.

Representation of belligerent and neutral States at the different stages of the negotiations.
Leading principles and the order in which questions should be examined.
Organisation of the work.

As soon as these points have been settled by the Great Powers, the States invited may be requested by the French Government to notify the names of their Delegates. It will then be possible to enter upon the study of the preliminaries.

I.—Representation of States

1. Number of Plenipotentiaries.

  • 5 for each Great Power (Great Britain, United States, France, Italy, Japan).
  • 3 for each small belligerent Power (Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Roumania, Serbia, Siam), or Power with a special interest (China, Brazil).
  • 2 for each recognized new State (Poland, Czecho-Slovak Republic).
  • 1 for each small Power theoretically belligerent (Cuba, Panama, Liberia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa-Rica, Haiti, Honduras), or having simply broken off diplomatic relations (Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Ecuador).
  • 1 for each neutral State.
  • 1 for each State in process of formation (the list of which will have to be settled).

As for the question of the representation of the Dominions, it was decided in London on the 3rd December, 1918, that their Delegates should be admitted as additional members (on the conditions in respect of numbers and participation adopted for small belligerent Powers).

The conditions of an eventual representation of Russia are of a special kind, and must likewise be settled by the Allied Ministers.

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Montenegro is also in a special situation on account of a recent decision of the Skuptchina to unite with the Serbians, the Croats, and the Slovenes in order to form a great Yugo-Slav State.

2. Conditions of the Delegates’ Participation.

The Great Allied and Associated Powers to be represented as of right at all sessions and commissions.

The small Allied Powers, or Powers with special interests, and new powers to be represented as of right at all sessions in which questions regarding them are discussed.

Neutrals and States in process of formation to have possible representation, either orally or in writing, at sessions devoted to the study of their interests and desiderata, if summoned thereto by the Great Powers.

3. Representation of Enemy Powers.

There can be no question of Enemy Powers being represented before the Allied and Associated Powers have agreed on the terms of the preliminaries of peace.

Thereafter we do not know, in the present and coming situation of Enemy States, who could validly negotiate on behalf of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Can we treat, either with these Powers considered as a whole or with the different States which hitherto constituted them (the same question confronts us in the case of States in process of formation), before they have established workable Governments and Constituent Assemblies?

Besides, one may imagine a different solution for Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria-Hungary.

If it be considered that the present German governmental congeries is, strictly speaking, able to treat on behalf of Germany (the question is analogous for Bulgaria), this is certainly not the case of Austria-Hungary, which no longer exists.

So far as the latter is concerned, the problem involved should be taken up successively with—

States already recognised—Bohemia, Poland;
States in a process of formation—Yugo-Slavs (represented either by a special Delegate or by Serbia, with which, as well as with Montenegro, they have fused, by the formation of a common Ministry), Magyaria, German Austria (new States whose frontiers and status cannot be definitely determined until after fixing the frontiers of the new States, already recognised, born of the former Dual Monarchy).

As for Turkey, she cannot evidently be called upon to treat on behalf of all the populations which composed her, since the Allied [Page 388] Powers precisely intend to free them from the secular oppression of the Turks.

4. Technical Delegates.

Owing to the great number of problems and to the special character of certain types of questions, States will be entitled to choose Technical Delegates apart from their Plenipotentiaries.

This decision will obviate the necessity of setting up a panel, drawn from a larger number of Plenipotentiaries, which would tend to increase excessively the number of the latter, and to complicate discussions.

II.—Principles and Methods

The Conference is entrusted with the task of preparing, through the settlement of the war, the new organisation of international relations, in accordance with the general principles stated in President Wilson’s speech of January 8, 1918,30 and in his speech of September 27, 1918,31 as well as in the Allies’ reply of November 5th, 1918.32

Consequently, the order of the debates might be as follows:

1. Establishment of the Leading Principles.

Publicity of treaties.
Freedom of the seas.
International economic system.
Guarantees against the revival of militarism and limitation of armaments.
Responsibility of the authors of the war.
Restitution and reparation.
Solemn repudiation of all infringements of the law of nations and of principles of humanity.
Right of self-determination of the peoples combined with the rights of minorities.
International arbitral organisation.
Statute of the League of Nations.
Guarantees and penalties.

2. Territorial Problems.

Establishment of frontiers between belligerents, newly-formed States, and neutral countries, determined according to—

The right to self-determination of peoples.
The right of nations, whether weak or strong, to be in principle on an equal footing.
The right of ethnical and religious minorities.
The right to guarantees against an aggressive renewal of militarism (rectification of frontiers, military neutrality [Page 389] of certain regions, internationalisation of certain highways, freedom of the seas, etc.)

3. Financial Problems.

Determination of the financial responsibilities of the enemy according to the right of plundered and devastated countries to obtain—

Guarantees for payment derived from an international organisation.

4. Economic Problems.

Institution of an economic system which will secure to nations which have suffered most from the enemy’s aggression, guarantees by means of international control—

On exports.
On imports.
On sea transport.

And by preparing for the future—

The economic basis of international relations,
The economic sanctions which the League of Nations must have at its disposal to enforce peace.

5. Working of the League of Nations.

These three classes of problems once solved, in pursuance of the aforesaid order and principles, the two results aimed at will have been severally and jointly attained:—

The settlement of the War will have been achieved.
The main foundations of the League of Nations will have been laid.

Two points will still have to be considered:—

How to secure the working of the League of Nations.
How to codify such measures arising out of the leading principles stated in paragraph 1 as would not have been applied in the solution of territorial, financial, and economic problems (e. g., publicity of treaties, international arbitral organisation, &c).

III.—Organisation of the Work

1. Regulations.

Rules for the conduct of the proceedings of the Preliminary Peace Conference, and subsequently of the Congress, will have to be established.

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These rules will formulate the decisions taken regarding the representation of States, the conduct of debates, the selection of a Bureau, of a General Secretariat, of a Drafting Committee, &c.

Draft regulations have been prepared by the French Government.

2. Commissions and Committees.

In order to avoid delay in the proceedings of the Preliminary Peace Conference, and afterwards of the Peace Congress, Commissions of Plenipotentiaries and Committees of Technical Delegates will be formed at once.

The following seem to be the main questions which should be dealt with forthwith in this preparatory way:—

League of Nations.
Polish affairs.
Russian affairs.
Baltic nationalities.
States born of the late Austria-Hungary.
Balkan affairs.
Eastern affairs.
Far Eastern and Pacific affairs.
Jewish affairs.
International river navigation (Rhine, Danube, Elbe, Scheldt, and Vistula).
International Railways (45th parallel: Adriatic to Baltic, Bagdad, Cape–Cairo and Cape–Algiers, Trans-African Railways).
Public legislation ensuring to peoples the right to self-determination, combined with the rights of ethnical and religious minorities.
International Legislation on Labour.
International Legislation on Patents and Trade-Marks.
Penalties for crimes committed during the War.
Economic system.
Financial questions.

IV.—Suggestions Relating to the Order in Which Territorial and Political Problems Should Be Examined

Among the territorial and political problems it is necessary to discriminate between—

  • Those which first require solution.
  • Those which only require subsequent treatment, because the previous settlement of the first ones should facilitate their solution.
  • Those in respect of which a certain delay is, on the other hand, more convenient.

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Having regard to the foregoing considerations, the questions might he examined in the following order:—

1. Territorial Settlement with Germany.

This is the paramount problem which dominates all others, while the terms of its settlement will re-act on the whole Peace Settlement.

The French Government have prepared a draft in this connection, which embodies the principles, and may serve as a basis and a starting point for the discussions of the Powers.

One general clause will contain the antecedent acceptance by the various States of Germany of the settlements to be made subsequently by the Allies with all the other States.

2. Organisation of Central Europe.

Questions arising out of the disappearance of Austria-Hungary, and the constitution of the different States which have sprung up out of the former Dual Monarchy.

Recognised States—
  • Poland.
  • Bohemia.
States in process of formation—
  • Yugo-Slavia.
  • Magyaria.
  • German Austria.

3. Eastern Questions—

Liberation of Nationalities oppressed by the former Ottoman Empire.
  • Armenia.
  • Syria and Cilicia.
  • Arab States.
  • Palestine.
The regime of Constantinople is a separate question.
Determination of the frontiers of the Ottoman States.

The existence of a population with a Turkish majority in the western and central portions of the Asia Minor Peninsula implies the preservation of a Turkish State; that population wishes to be governed by a National Government, and the Allies are bound by their principles to take into account the wishes of the peoples.

4. Status of the Balkan Peoples (Frontiers of Bulgaria, Roumania, Greece, Serbia.)

This is a most complicated question and one likely to give rise to the most heated discussions; it appears preferable to deal with it after reaching a settlement of the great German, Austrian, and Eastern problems, which clear the ground of a certain number of difficulties and leave the Powers a greater freedom of action.

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5. The Russian Problem.

By dealing lastly with this question, time will be given for the nationalities to organise themselves, at least partially, so that they may be able to formulate their wishes in more regular circumstances, and to make progress with the necessary understandings between the different ethnical groups.

V.—Direct Understandings

In order to alleviate the labour of the Conference and to facilitate the settlement of some special questions, the following practice might be laid down in principle:—

A direct understanding (or at least an attempt to come to a previous agreement) between belligerents, neutrals, and States in process of formation on matters which specially affect their own interests, but only concern other Powers secondarily, would precede any discussion of the questions by the assembled Plenipotentiaries.

This might, for instance, be done in the case of Slesvig (between Denmark and Germany); the Aland Isles (a previous understanding between Sweden and Finland); the questions of the Scheldt and of Limburg (between the Netherlands and Belgium); the Banat of Temesvar (between Roumania and Serbia); and perhaps even Yugoslavia (between Serbia and Italy).

In the case of an agreement being reached between the principal States concerned, the discussion at the Conference, for the general and final settlement of the question, would be greatly facilitated.

Should the parties fail to come to an understanding, the Conference would take the matter up again as a whole.

VI.—Draft Regulations


The Conference assembled with a view to fixing the conditions of Peace, first in Peace Preliminaries and then in Final Peace Treaty, includes the Representatives of Allied or Associated Belligerent Powers.

Belligerent countries with general interests (Great Britain, the United States, France, Italy, Japan) take part in all Sessions and Commissions.

Belligerent countries (Belgium, Brazil, China, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Roumania, Serbia, Siam, the Czecho-Slovak Republic, the States of Latin America) take part in the sessions where questions which concern them are discussed.

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Neutral Powers and States still in process of formation may be summoned to take part, either orally or in writing, on being invited by the Powers with general interests, in the sessions specially devoted to examination of the questions which concern them directly, and only in so far as those questions are involved.


The Powers are represented by Plenipotentiary Delegates, as follows:—

  • Five for each belligerent Power with general interests (Great Britain, United States, France, Italy, Japan).
  • Three for each belligerent Power with special interests (Belgium, Brazil, China, Greece, Portugal, Roumania, Serbia, Siam).
  • Two for each new State (Poland, Czecho-Slovak Republic).
  • One for each belligerent Power which has not effectually taken part in the war (Cuba, Panama, Liberia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Haiti, Honduras).
  • One for each Power in a state of diplomatic rupture with enemy Powers (Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Ecuador).
  • One for each neutral State.
  • One for each State in process of formation.

The British Dominions are admitted to a representation, consisting of Delegates attached to the British Plenipotentiaries, on the same conditions as Powers with special interests which have been belligerent since the beginning of the war.

Each delegation of Plenipotentiaries may be accompanied by Technical Delegates, duly accredited, and by two stenographers.

N. B.—The conditions of the representation of Russia, as well as the position of Montenegro, will be the subject of special decisions.


The Delegates take precedence according to the French alphabetical order of the list of Powers.

(Agreed to.)


The Conference will be opened by the President of the French Republic; immediately thereafter, the President of the Council of French Ministers will be invested, for the time being, with the Chairmanship.

(Agreed to.)

A Committee composed of the chief Plenipotentiaries of the Allied or Associated Powers shall proceed at once to verify the credentials of all members present.

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After the aforesaid verification, the Conference shall at once appoint a permanent President and four Vice-Presidents, chosen in alphabetical order.


A Secretariat, on the lines of that of the Supreme War Council, not drawn from among the Delegates proper, will be submitted to the approval of the Plenipotentiaries by the President, who will be in control of and responsible for it.

This Secretariat will be entrusted with the task of drawing up the Minutes of the Proceedings, of classifying the records, of setting up the administrative organisation of the discussions, and, generally, of ensuring the regular and punctual working of all services assigned to it.

The Head of the Secretariat will be in charge of and responsible for all Protocols and Records.

The Records will be open at all times to the Members of the Conference.


The work of the Conference will be made public by means of daily official bulletins prepared by the Secretariat and issued every day at the same hour. The bulletins will be previously placed for examination at the disposal of the members of the Conference two hours at least before publication.

Any member of the Conference will have the right to request an alteration in the text of the bulletin. If a difference should arise, the point will be settled at the beginning of the next session.

The Powers here represented and their Delegates expressly undertake to abstain from making any other communications concerning the labours of the Conferences.


The French language is acknowledged as an official one for the discussions and resolutions of the Conferences.

The Delegates will be entitled to make observations or oral communications in any language which they choose, on condition that a French translation be thereafter immediately provided. In that case, if the initiator so desire, the original foreign text may be appended to the official report.


All documents which are to be included in the official Minutes [Page 395] will be put in writing and read out by the Plenipotentiaries who have brought them forward.

If such documents be written in any language other than French, a translation should be attached.

A document or proposal may be brought forward only by one of the Plenipotentiaries and in the name of the Power which he represents.


Plenipotentiaries who may wish to make a proposal should, in order to facilitate its discussion, give notice thereof at the previous session. This does not apply to proposals relevant to questions on the Agenda, or arising out of the pending discussions.

Exceptions to this rule are, however, permissible in the case of amendments, or secondary questions, though not in that of substantive proposals.


All petitions, memoranda, observations, or documents forwarded by any person other than the Plenipotentiaries, will be received and filed at the Secretariat.

Such communications, when possessing a political interest, will be briefly summarised in a list to be distributed among all Plenipotentiaries. This list will be kept up as, and when, similar communications are received.

All such documents will be preserved in the Records.


The discussion of all questions requiring a settlement will include a first and a second reading. The first one will serve for general discussion and will aim at reaching an agreement in principle. After the questions have been discussed in their essential features, the second reading will be taken, at which the details may be considered.


Plenipotentiaries will have the power, subject to the approval of the Conference, to permit their Technical Delegates directly to submit technical explanations on any given points in regard to which such explanations may be deemed useful.

If the Conference sees fit, the technical examination of any particular question may be entrusted to a Committee composed of Technical Delegates, whose duty it will be to furnish a report and suggest a solution.

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All decisions are to be taken unanimously; the minority, therefore, will not be bound to submit a majority vote.

Nevertheless, the resolutions of the majority which are concerned with questions of procedure, but do not involve main issues, are to be regarded as decisions of the Conference, in any cases where the minority may not deem it necessary to lodge a formal protest.


The official Minutes, as drawn up by the Secretariat, will be printed and distributed in proof among the Delegates at the earliest possible moment.

In order to expedite the work of the Conferences, the communication thus made in advance will take the place of a formal reading of the previous Minutes at the opening of each session.

If no alteration be requested by the Plenipotentiaries, the text is to be considered as approved, and entered in the official records.

If any alteration be requested, its text will be read out by the President at the opening of the next session.

In any case, the Minutes should be read out in their entirety, if one of the Plenipotentiaries so request.


A Drafting Committee will be formed for adopted resolutions.

This Committee will deal only with settled points, and will be entrusted solely with the drafting of decisions taken and with submitting the text to the Conference for approval.

This Committee will consist of six members, not included in the Plenipotentiary Delegates, as follows:—

  • One Member whose mother tongue is French.
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . English.
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Italian.
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Portuguese.
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Slav.
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . German.

  1. The translation here printed is that of Appendix A to the Minutes of the Council of Ten, session of Jan. 12, 1919, 4 p.m. (BC–A1). The Minutes are printed in vol. iii; both Minutes and Appendix are filed under file No. Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/2. Cf. also André Tardieu, The Truth About the Treaty (Indianapolis, 1921), p. 88, where Tardieu states that he had been asked by M. Clemenceau to prepare this general plan of procedure.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 12.
  3. Ibid., p. 316.
  4. The Allies’ reply is quoted in note No. 286, Nov. 5, 1918, to the Swiss Minister, ibid., p. 468.