In October 1943 President Roosevelt, looking ahead to the time of settlement after the war with Germany, directed that the preparation of an annotated edition of the treaty of peace with Germany signed at Versailles, June 28, 1919 be undertaken with a view to greater understanding of the out-working of the provisions of the peace settlement with Germany in the period between the two world wars.
The settlement which brought the war of 1914–18 to a close was the most far-reaching and the widest-ranging system of treaties made up to that time. The treaty of peace with Germany was only one of four major treaties of settlement which entered into force, and all were supplemented by a series of other instruments. The treaty with Germany was the main instrument and much of the actual text of the other treaties was adapted from its provisions. Experience under the treaties with Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary, therefore, to a considerable extent corresponds with that under the Treaty of Versailles.
This publication consists of factual notes which briefly record the action taken in consequence of the provisions of most of the 440 articles of the Treaty of Versailles and the annexes thereto. No other form of presentation was deemed to be equally accurate, precise, and susceptible of presenting facts objectively. The arrangement of the treaty itself, therefore, determines the order of the annotations. The narrative thus follows the scheme of the treaty and reflects no preconceptions. Any attempt to give continuity to the material by any other plan would have involved editorial judgments. Annotations have been made in order to indicate the practical effect and historical importance of the articles, and only incidentally indicate their legal meaning or historical origin. Special attention has been given to articles which provided the basis for controversial discussion and political action.
The negotiations which resulted in the language of the treaty taking its final form have not been recorded, for it was not the intention of the makers but the action of the parties to the treaty which was to be ascertained. It was seldom found to be pertinent to discuss interpretations of the language finally adopted.
No treaty in history has produced so much comment, has been so freely criticized, and possibly so little read and understood as the [Page iv] treaty of peace signed at Versailles. In order to make clear the principal issues as they were understood at the time, the correspondence between the German delegation to the peace conference and the Allied and Associated Governments has been utilized in summaries which are printed immediately following the sections and articles of the treaty to which they refer. However, the covering note of May 29, 1919 by which the German delegation submitted its “Observations on the Conditions of Peace” and the letter covering the reply of the Allied and Associated powers are printed, pp. 39, 44. The treaty touched in one way or another almost every question that had come on to the international scene in the period before the war which it ended, and it attempted to deal with many phases of questions newly recognized to be important. Fully to apprehend it and its ramifications as a whole would require a comprehensive understanding of prewar situations, the nature of the treatment given them in the treaty, and the situation resulting from the operation of the treaty provisions. Most of the publications concerning the treaty or the matters with which it deals have been subjective and weighted with reviews and interpretations of the negotiations which fixed the terms. Subsequent developments have been discussed or related with reference to the negotiations rather than to the concluded terms. In the annotations here published, however, the actual language of the treaty is the basis used.
The annotations have been prepared under certain limitations which seemed proper. Provisions which laid down a customary or clear procedure and which were executed in the normal course of diplomatic relations have usually not been annotated. Extensive notes could obviously have been made to part III, section V, Alsace-Lorraine, following through the minute details of the transfer of administration, but as nothing of particular international significance occurred during the transition, there appeared to be no adequate reason for elaborating upon the details.
The editorial rule was adopted that, once certain provisions had been executed in the sense of being assimilated to the relations between the states concerned, they no longer were part of the treaty’s history. Thus, a provision which became a basis for the bilateral relations of two countries was considered as executed and requiring no further annotation. Care has been taken to note such treaties, to cite the texts, and to summarize any provisions in them which are of particular interest.
On the other hand, some parts of the treaty have had an extensive history, and the arrangements growing out of them supplemented [Page v] as well as superseded the terms of the treaty. That is especially the case with part VIII, Reparation.
Other parts or sections were intimately related to problems primarily handled outside of the treaty’s terms. It was deemed desirable to accompany part V, Military, Naval, and Air Clauses, with a summary account of negotiations for the reduction of armaments outside of the scope of the treaty of peace with Germany proper. This account was obviously given a different form than if it had been prepared as an annotation to article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, in execution of which much of that activity was undertaken.
In several instances provisions of the treaty were the starting point of developments of broad political significance. Account of such matters has been taken, for example, in annotations to articles 31, 42, 91, 100, 173, 231, and 268(b).
For the same reason the preamble to part V and part VIII have received somewhat extensive treatment.
The treaties of peace contained within them the constituent instruments of two international institutions which began existence under their own terms when they entered into force. Only such annotations have been made to part I, The Covenant of the League of Nations, and part XIII, Labour, as were presumed to relate directly to the terms of the treaty of peace proper. The development of those organizations as institutions has not been considered to be a part of the history of the treaty.
The United States did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles. Its relations to the Paris Peace Conference and the separate treaty of August 25, 1921 by which the status of peace was resumed between the United States and Germany are dealt with in the Introduction, where the treaty of 1921 is set forth in full.
These annotations were prepared by Mr. Denys P. Myers, formerly of the Division of Political Studies and now of the Division of International Organization Affairs. Dr. Bernadotte E. Schmitt, Special Adviser in the Division of Research and Publication, collaborated in their final editing. Their preparation was carried on throughout under the general review of Dr. Harley A. Notter, formerly Chief of the Division of Political Studies and now Adviser in the Office of Special Political Affairs, and of Dr. E. Wilder Spaulding, Chief of the Division of Research and Publication.