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Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law [MPEPIL]

Fourteen Points of Wilson (1918)

Joachim Schwietzke

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved.date: 18 August 2019

World War I to World War II — Act of state — Peace treaties — Neutrality and non-alignment — Disarmament

Published under the auspices of the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law under the direction of Rüdiger Wolfrum.

A.  Historical Background

World War I between the Allied Powers—principally France, Great Britain, and Russia, with which the United States of America (‘US’) was associated—and the Central Powers—Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria—had lasted for more than three years when, on 8 January 1918, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, US President, in an address before a joint session of the two Houses of Congress expressed his programme for peace concentrated into 14 points (‘Fourteen Points of Wilson’; US Department of State Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1918, 12; History of International Law, World War I to World War II).

A speech delivered by David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, on 5 January 1918 had preceded this address and utterances of Stephen Pichon, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs on 14 January 1918 followed it. These activities of the Western representatives were related to the Russian invitation to them to join negotiations between Russia and the Central Powers ‘for an immediate armistice on all fronts, aiming to bring about a democratic peace without annexations and indemnities and with the right of all nations to self-determination’ (Bunyan and Fisher 264), issued by Leon Trotsky, the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of their former ally on 29 November 1917 (Annexation; Armistice; Self-Determination). The negotiations would lead to the armistice of 15 December 1917 and the peace negotiations starting on 22 December 1917 in Brest-Litovsk, which were concluded by the peace treaty adopted on 3 March 1918 between Russia and the Central Powers (Brest-Litovsk, Peace of [1918]). The three Western statesmen, decidedly in accord in their speeches, rejected the Russian proposition, criticized the policy of the Central Powers and especially the behaviour of Germany, and presented their own common war aims. President Wilson then formulated the Fourteen Points, which presumed a triumph of the allied and associated armies, and no longer argued in favour of a ‘peace without victory’ (US Department of State Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1917 24), as he had done a year earlier in an address to the Senate of 22 January 1917, before the US had declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917 and on Austria-Hungary on 7 December 1917. The rapid reinforcement of American troops in Europe from 85,000 in March 1918 to 1.2 million by September 1918 corresponded to the policy pursued by the US and specified in the Fourteen Points by President Wilson.

B.  Specification of the Points before the Armistice with Germany

The Fourteen Points were supplemented by four further points in President Wilson’s address to Congress on 11 February 1918 (US Department of State Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1918 108), by another four points in his address at Mount Vernon on 4 July 1918 (ibid 270) and by five points in his address in New York City on 27 September 1918 (ibid 316), totalling 27 points. On 6 October 1918 a German note and on 7 October 1918 an Austro Hungarian note were presented to the US, both requesting an armistice and peace negotiations on the basis of the President’s addresses.

In reply to a note by President Wilson of 8 October 1918, the German government on 12 October 1918 confirmed, in the form of a declaration, that it ‘accepted the terms laid down by President Wilson in his address of January 8 and in his subsequent addresses, as the foundations of a permanent peace of justice’ (ibid 357–58). The unqualified acceptance of President Wilson’s conditions by Germany did not yet make the way free for negotiations. The armistice was delayed for about a month by additional exchanges of notes instigated by the US, while the military position of the Central Powers deteriorated. Then, in a note dated 14 October 1918, the US accused the German forces of persisting in illegal and inhuman practices and called the attention of the government of Germany to one of the terms of peace set out in President Wilson’s address at Mount Vernon, namely: ‘The destruction of every arbitrary power anywhere that can separately, secretly, and of its single choice disturb the peace of the world; or if it cannot be presently destroyed, at least its reduction to virtual impotence’ (ibid 270). To this the note added: ‘The power which has hitherto controlled the German Nation is of the sort here described…. The President’s words just quoted naturally constitute a condition precedent to peace…It is indispensable that the Governments associated against Germany should know beyond a peradventure with whom they are dealing’ (ibid 359). This tone corresponds to the address of 27 September 1918, in which President Wilson expressed his conviction that the Central Powers ‘are without honour and do not intend justice’ (ibid 318).

Germany in its answer of 20 October 1918 mainly directed attention to the fact that its new chancellor had been appointed in accordance with a majority of parliament. This was followed by formal constitutional changes on 28 October 1918. Only then, in a note dated 23 October 1918, was Germany informed that the question of an armistice would be taken up by the US with the governments with which they were associated. The note reverted to the internal organization of Germany, stating that ‘the nations of the world do not and cannot trust the word of those who have hitherto been the masters of German policy’ (ibid 382), and that ‘in concluding peace and attempting to undo the infinite injuries and injustices of this war the Government of the United States cannot deal with any but veritable representatives of the German people who have been assured of a genuine constitutional standing as the real rulers of Germany. If it must deal with the military masters and the monarchical autocrats of Germany now, or if it is likely to have to deal with them later in regard to the international obligations of the German Empire, it must demand, not peace negotiations, but surrender’ (ibid 382–83).

In a note of 5 November 1918, the US President communicated to Germany that the governments with which the US government was associated as a belligerent had declared ‘their willingness to make peace with the Government of Germany on the terms of peace laid down in the President’s address to Congress of January 1918, and the principles of settlement enunciated in his subsequent addresses’ (ibid 468). Only in this last note was Germany informed about the interpretation of questions of restoration of territory and compensation for damage (War Reparations), which became a main point of the peace treaties (Peace Treaties after World War I). The Allied and Associated Governments explained in the note that ‘in the conditions of peace laid down in his address to Congress of January 8, 1918, the President declared that invaded territories must be restored as well as evacuated and freed. The Allied Governments feel that no doubt ought to be allowed to exist as to what this provision implies. By it they understand that compensation will be made by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea, and from the air’ (ibid 469).

The armistice with Germany was agreed on 11 November 1918 and the treaty of peace between the Allied and Associated Powers—27 States—and Germany was concluded in Versailles on 28 June 1919, the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo (Versailles Peace Treaty [1919]). For the US the armistice was signed by Woodrow Wilson, designated as the ‘President of the United States, acting in his own name and by his own proper authority’ (Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany [‘Versailles Peace Treaty’] 188).

C.  Non-Applicability of the Fourteen Points to Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire

President Wilson’s answer to Austria-Hungary was still more negative than to Germany. On 19 October 1918 he replied to its note of 7 October 1918 ‘that he cannot entertain the present suggestions of that Government’ (US Department of State Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1918 368) because, after point 10 of his programme of peace had been uttered to the Congress, ‘the Government of the United States has recognized that a state of belligerency exists between the Czecho-Slovaks and the German and Austrian-Hungarian Empires and that the Czecho-Slovak National Council is a de facto belligerent Government clothed with proper authority to direct the military and political affairs of the Czecho-Slovaks. It has also recognized in the fullest manner the justice of the nationalistic aspirations of the Jugo-Slavs for freedom’ (ibid). Two responding notes were not answered, in which Austria-Hungary on 29 and 30 October 1918 had adhered also to the President’s ‘opinion of the rights of the peoples of Austria-Hungary, notably those of the Czecho-Slovaks and the Jugo-Slavs contained in his last note’ (ibid 404). Austria-Hungary had to conclude an armistice on 3 November 1918 without reference to President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, despite having accepted them.

A similar situation developed for the Ottoman Empire. Its request to President Wilson to take upon himself the task of the re-establishment of peace, delivered at Washington on 14 October 1918, was answered only on 31 October, one day after the armistice of the Allied Powers with Turkey. Then the President stated simply that he would bring the Turkish communication to the knowledge of the governments at war with Turkey.

D.  The Fourteen Points Compared with the Peace Treaties

10  The Fourteen Points referred to five general concepts, then to eight more specific claims against the Central Powers and finally to President Wilson’s main demand, the formation of a general association of nations.

11  Point 1 called for ‘[o]pen covenants of peace, openly arrived at’ (ibid 15). At the beginning of his address of 8 January 1918 President Wilson had praised the Russian representatives at the peace conference of Brest-Litovsk because they had ‘insisted, very justly, very wisely, and in the true spirit of modern democracy, that the conferences they have been holding with the Teutonic and Turkish statesmen should be held within open, not closed, doors, and all the world has been audience, as was desired’ (ibid 13). At the Paris conferences, however, which produced such voluminous instruments as the Versailles Peace Treaty with 440 articles and the St Germain Peace Treaty (1919) with 381 articles, the doors remained closed and no protocols of the negotiations were published at that time. The US did not follow the words of the President in his address of 8 January 1918 ‘that the processes of peace, when they are begun, shall be absolutely open’ (ibid 14). Point 1 of President Wilson’s peace programme, therefore, was not realized in preparing the peace treaties with the Central Powers.

12  Point 2 upheld ‘[a]bsolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and war’ (ibid 15; Navigation, Freedom of). This point was practically withdrawn because of British objections by President Wilson’s note of 5 November 1918 and did not enter into the Paris peace treaties.

13  Point 3 sought ‘[t]he removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance’ (ibid). The members of the League of Nations did not establish equality of trade among themselves (World Trade, Principles). After the admission of the defeated powers to the League of Nations, Germany at least was discriminated against by many provisions of its peace treaty, so that for Germany an equality of trade conditions with other States was not given. In any case, Point 3 was not realized in the peace treaties.

14  Point 4 considered ‘[a]dequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety’ (ibid). The peace treaties prescribed an almost complete disarmament of the defeated States. The delivery of their arms was intended to enlarge the armaments of the victorious States. A general reduction of armaments, and therefore also Point 4, was not realized in the peace treaties.

15  Point 5 foresaw a ‘free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government, whose title is to be determined’ (ibid; Colonialism; Sovereignty). In the Versailles Peace Treaty Germany had to renounce all rights and titles over its overseas possessions in favour of the principal Allied and Associated Powers. The territories became B or C mandates in the mandate system of the League of Nations, which entrusted Allied Powers with a far-reaching control over regions they were interested in (Mandates). Little observance of the interests of the colonial populations concerned can be identified in the peace treaties, and especially no application of the principle of national self-determination, which had in this context been mentioned by Lloyd George in his address of 5 January 1918. Point 5 was not realized in the peace treaties.

16  Point 6 mainly demanded the evacuation of all Russian territory by the Central Powers. This was executed before the peace treaties were concluded. The evacuation served in part for the erection of a Polish State, assisted by the Allied and Associated Powers, partly on Russian territory, as becomes clear from Point 13.

17  Point 7 stipulated as a condition of peace that ‘Belgium…must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations…. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired’ (ibid). In its ultimatum to Germany of 4 August 1914, the British government had declared that it felt ‘bound to take all steps in their power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium’ (Strupp 24; Neutrality, Concept and General Rules). President Wilson, however, did not understand the restoration of the violated right as a healing act, which would have meant restoring Belgian neutrality. Instead he now wanted a non-neutral Belgium. Consequently, Germany had to consent in the Versailles Peace Treaty to the abrogation of the treaties of 19 April 1839 and to recognize that they ‘no longer conform to the requirements of the situation’ (Art. 31 Versailles Peace Treaty). The claim for the restoration of Belgium—and of the French territories (Point 8) and Balkan territories (Point 11)—was interpreted extensively in President Wilson’s note of 5 November 1918 and was the point of departure for what ended in unscrupulous reparation claims (Reparations). The Allied Powers did not agree among themselves about the amount of German payments and Germany had to sign an open account in the Versailles Peace Treaty, which determined only preliminary transfers (Arts 231–44). For Bulgaria the sum of reparations was fixed at 2.25 milliards Francs Gold, due in 37 years from 1 January 1921 (Art.121 Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Bulgaria; Neuilly Peace Treaty [1919]).

18  Point 8 stated that ‘[a]ll French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine…should be righted’ (US Department of State Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1918 15). The last demand was elucidated by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs in his speech of 14 January 1918, when he declared: ‘What we want is the just peace consecrated by the restoration of our right violated in 1871, higher than all hypocritical plebiscites’ (ibid 29). Alsace-Lorraine was restored to France in the peace of Versailles (Art. 51 Versailles Peace Treaty; see also Mundat Forest).

19  Point 9 determined that ‘[a] readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality’ (US Department of State Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1918 15 ; Boundaries; Nationality). President Wilson set out this definition for the lines of frontiers not for France but for Italy. It was not respected in the peace treaties, where the Allied and Associated Powers allocated to Italy territories with large German and Slav populations (Arts 27 (2), 36 Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Austria [‘St Germain Treaty’]) as a consequence of the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary recognized by President Wilson’s US government (Dismemberment of States). That it was not respected may be regarded as a minor topic in the realization of the Fourteen Points of Wilson.

20  Point 10 proclaimed that ‘[t]he peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development’ (ibid). President Wilson’s own government in fact decided against autonomy and for the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary as communicated in his note of 19 October 1918. This was also the result of the peace treaties concluded with Austria on 10 September 1919 in St Germain, and with Hungary on 4 June 1920 in the Trianon (Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Hungary; Trianon Peace Treaty [1920]).

21  Point 11 referred to the Balkan States, stating that ‘Romania, Serbia and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea’ (ibid; see also Land-Locked States). The access of Serbia to the sea was made possible by a proclamation of an assembly in Podgorica on 19 November 1918 in favour of Montenegro[’s] accession to the Kingdom of Serbia. The relations among some Balkan territories and States were regulated by the proclamation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes on 1 December 1918 (Croatia; Slovenia). International guarantees for the several Balkan States were not given (Guarantee), though possibilities for that were offered by the peace treaties with the State of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (St Germain, 10 September 1919), Bulgaria (Neuilly, 27 November 1919), Hungary (Trianon, 4 June 1920), and Turkey (Sèvres, 10 August 1920).

22  Point 12 demanded measures against the Ottoman Empire: ‘The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees’ (ibid 16; Dardanelles and Bosporus). The Ottoman Empire had only ruptured diplomatic relations with the US on 20 April 1917 and was not in a state of war with them (Diplomatic Relations, Establishment and Severance). Consequently the US did not become a party to the Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Turkey (‘Sèvres Peace Treaty’). The peace treaty provided for what President Wilson had formulated in Point 12, insofar as the Dardanelles were permanently opened (Arts. 37 Sèvres Peace Treaty), and the non-Turkish nationalities with their territories were to be taken away from Turkey (Arts 62–122 Sèvres Peace Treaty). The ‘declaration originally made on the 2nd November 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’ (Art. 95 Sèvres Peace Treaty) was contrary to ‘an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development’ (ibid) of the populations living there. The Sèvres Peace Treaty was only partly implemented and was replaced by the Treaty of Peace signed in Lausanne on 24 July 1923 (Lausanne Peace Treaty [1923]).

23  Point 13 envisaged that ‘[a]n independent Polish State should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea’ (ibid). A Polish ‘independent state with hereditary monarchy and constitution’ (Schulthess 441) had already been formed by the German and Austrian emperors from occupied Russian territories on 5 November 1916 (Territorial Integrity and Political Independence). A Polish State independent in the sense of President Wilson was founded on 11 November 1918, during the period when Marshall Pilsudski took over executive power in Warsaw from the Regency Council of the old institution. The nationality of the inhabitants of the Polish corridor, which played a role in the outbreak of World War II, was not clarified. The adjacent areas were, however, completely German. In the elections of 1920 to the Volkstag of the Free City of Danzig, 143,913 of the votes cast (93.1%) were in favour of the German parties and 9321 in favour of the Polish party (Danzig, Free City of). The plebiscites of 11 July 1920 ordered by the Versailles Peace Treaty resulted in similar majorities: in the Marienwerder area, West Prussia (Art. 96 Versailles Peace Treaty) in 96,889 votes (92.4%) in favour of East Prussia, ie Germany, and 7977 votes in favour of Poland; and in the more distant Allenstein area, East Prussia (Art. 94 Versailles Peace Treaty) in 353,655 votes (97.9%) for Germany and 7400 votes for Poland (Referendum).

24  Point 14, the last and the most important point for President Wilson, held that ‘[a] general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small States alike’ (US Department of State Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1918 16; League of Nations). In his speech of 27 September 1918 the President gave a more specific insight into his idea for this organization: ‘If it be in deed and in truth the common object of the governments associated against Germany … to achieve by the coming settlements a secure and lasting peace, it will be necessary … to create in some virile fashion the only instrumentality by which it can be made certain that the agreements of the peace will be honoured and fulfilled…. That indispensable instrumentality is a league of nations formed under covenants that will be efficacious. Without such an instrumentality, by which the peace of the world can be guaranteed, peace will rest in part upon the word of outlaws and only upon that word. For Germany will have to redeem her character, not by what happens at the peace table but by what follows. And, as I see it, the constitution of that League of Nations and the clear definition of its objects must be a part, is in a sense, the most essential part, of the peace settlement itself’ (ibid 318). Thus it happened. The Covenant of the League of Nations made up the first 26 articles of the peace treaty with Germany of 28 June 1919. The covenant entered into force, upon ratification, on 10 January 1920. It also forms Part I of the later peace treaties with Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Turkey. Its original members were the 32 signatories of the peace treaty with Germany (Art. 1 Versailles Peace Treaty; Annex Covenant of the League of Nations). The defeated States were not admitted to original membership (International Organizations or Institutions, Membership). The Council of the League of Nations was to consist of ‘[r]epresentatives of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, together with Representatives of four other Members of the League’ (Art. 4 Covenant of the League of Nations). The general association of nations demanded in Point 14, which later was called the League of Nations, was organized precisely as an instrument of the victorious States for the fulfilment of the peace treaties and acted in this way. The US Senate rejected the Versailles Peace Treaty twice, in November 1919 and in March 1920. The US signed a peace treaty with Germany on 25 August 1921, which excluded important parts of the Versailles Peace Treaty, and especially Part I, the Covenant of the League of Nations (Germany-United States Peace Treaty [1921]). Similar peace treaties were signed by the US and Austria on 24 August 1921 and by the US and Hungary on 29 August 1921.

25  The comparison shows that the peace treaties with the Central Powers as a whole corresponded to the Fourteen Points, which again were in accord with the war aims of all principal Allied Powers. Points 6 to 14 were generally put into effect—often in every detail—as demanded by President Wilson. The more visionary Points 1 to 5 could not be realized because here Wilson demanded things from the Allied and Associated Powers themselves that were impossible to attain. In regard to the spirit of the President’s four speeches, Points 1 to 5 cannot be interpreted as President Wilson’s promise of equal opportunities for Allied and Central Powers alike. The effects of the peace treaties can therefore also be regarded as consequences of the Fourteen Points.

E.  War Aims of the Allied and Associated Powers, as Expressed in the Fourteen Points

26  Points 7 to 12 were pre-determined by treaties which the European associates of the US had con-cluded during World War I.

27  Point 7 referred to a declaration by France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia, and Belgium of 14 February 1916 to the effect that Belgium should be re-established in independence and indemnified for the damage suffered. Point 8 was preceded by an exchange of notes on 14 February and 11 March 1917 between France and Russia, in which both States had agreed, inter alia, on the restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France. Points 9 and 10 were connected to an agreement signed in London on 26 April 1915 where France, Great Britain, Russia, and Italy promised the regions of Trento, South Tyrol and Trieste as well as Dalmatia and the Dodecanese islands to Italy. In exchange for this promise, Italy had declared war on Austria-Hungary on 23 May 1915. The London agreement also provided for the distribution of Adriatic territories by the four Allied Powers to Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro and determined Serbian access to the sea, as later demanded in Point 11. In an exchange of notes as early as 1 October 1914, Russia had agreed to concede to Romania the annexation from Austria-Hungary of those territories which were populated by Romanians. This concession was repeated in a treaty of 17 August 1916 between France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and Romania, and made use of by Romania in the Trianon Peace Treaty, but was not explicitly mentioned in President Wilson’s Point 11. In return, Romania had declared war against Austria-Hungary on 27 August 1916. The London agreement also provided for the concession of territories of the Ottoman Empire to Italy. This agreement preceded the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 16 May 1916 between Great Britain and France, the Russian notes of 6 March and 25 September 1917, and the memorandum of 20 April 1917 signed at Saint Jean de Maurienne, in which the Allied Powers ensured for themselves and each other certain portions of the Ottoman Empire. These agreements delivered the necessary data for the demands set out in Point 12.

28  President Wilson’s Fourteen Points gave expression to interests of his European associates, but contained no claim specifically for the US. However, in his address of 8 January 1918, he did explain what the US demanded in this war: ‘that the world be made … safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions’ (US Department of State Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1918 14). He had said before that the US had ‘entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secured once for all against their recurrence’ (ibid). The overarching demand of the US was therefore to act as the protector of the other States.

F.  Evaluation

29  A look at the world map at the beginning of the 21st century exposes the failure of a large part of President Wilson’s peace programme dating from 1918. The territories which in conformity with his Fourteen Points were placed under other sovereignties have become theatres of war and unrest. This is most evident for those non-Turkish nationalities then under Ottoman rule. The dismemberment of Austria-Hungary, following more often historical or geographical borders than linguistic frontiers was not a success. The nationalistic aspirations of the Yugo-Slavs were so aroused that their State recently broke into several parts, accompanied by war crimes (Yugoslavia, Dissolution of). Serbia is again a State without access to the sea. Czechoslovakia has dissolved peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia (Czechoslovakia, Dissolution of). Moreover, President Wilson’s accusations against the Central Powers, that their peace proposals did not respect the preferences of the populations of Russia, proved to be unfounded. All the States established by the Central Powers on Russian territory, such as Finland, the Baltic States, Ukraine, and the Caucasus States, are today, even if only since the last decade of the 20th century, independent States, and definitely in accordance with their own will.

30  The whole system based on the Fourteen Points lasted only 20 years and therefore did not bring the stable peace desired by President Wilson. One reason for this may have been that the Fourteen Points’ destructive demands were not compensated for by the construction of a functioning order. Germany turned out to be too large to be destroyed or to be reduced to virtual impotency, which had been one of President Wilson’s terms of peace in his Mount Vernon address. The States and mandate territories created after the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire depended for their continuing existence upon the dominion of the Allied Powers. The League of Nations as an instrument for fulfilling the peace treaties did not develop into an organization of peacekeeping within the time available. The concept of self-determination, which is often associated with the Fourteen Points, was only implied. No case of self-determination by plebiscite was explicitly demanded in the Fourteen Points, and many changes of territory were effected without this procedure. Self-determination for unification was prohibited to the German people in Germany and Austria by Art. 80 Versailles Peace Treaty.

31  Another reason for the failure of the system of the Fourteen Points may have been the degrading treatment of the Central Powers by the victors. The enemy State Germany was not regarded by President Wilson as a peace-loving nation, entitled to determine its own institutions. Repeatedly he set conditions for the quality of the German representatives he would be ready to negotiate with. The humiliating approach towards Germany of his addresses at Mount Vernon and in New York City found expression in Art. 231 Versailles Peace Treaty—responsibility of Germany for the war—and Art. 227 Versailles Peace Treaty—arraignment of the German Emperor. The voicing of such offensive opinions was not a requisite of international law and differed from the conduct of the Great Powers among themselves before World War I. It did not enable Germany to find ‘a place of equality among the peoples of the world’ (ibid 16), as President Wilson wished in his address of 8 January 1918, and which was a necessary condition for peace in Europe.

32  The proposal of a general association of nations in Point 14 is often regarded as a blueprint for a kind of world government through an international organization, which after the decline of the League of Nations was continued by the United Nations (UN). The Allied Powers of World War II, which founded the UN, applied some concepts employed in the addresses of President Wilson more strictly than they had been expressed in World War I: unconditional surrender instead of negotiation of peace conditions, immediate restructuring of the internal political organization of the defeated States instead of President Wilson’s requirement in regard to Germany for a genuine constitutional standing of the German representatives to the armistice and peace negotiations, and enforced re-education of the defeated States instead of Wilson’s readiness to accept that ‘Germany will have to redeem her character, not by what happens at the peace table, but by what follows’ (ibid 318). Several of the points were reflected in the declaration of principles, known as the Atlantic Charter, agreed upon by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, and the US President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on 12 August 1941 (Atlantic Charter [1941]). Echoes of the words of President Wilson in his address of 8 January 1918, where he spoke of ‘every peace-loving nation…like our own’ (ibid 14), are to be found in the Charter of the United Nations (‘UN Charter’; United Nations Charter), where the original members open up membership in the UN to ‘all other peace-loving States’ (Art. 4 UN Charter). The treatment of the defeated States after World War II as outlaws and the creation of the UN as a revised League of Nations corresponded well to President Wilson’s intentions in his Point 14, and gave to this point an enduring relevance after World War II (History of International Law, since World War II).

33  After World War I it was argued that Germany, by acceptance of the Fourteen Points, had concluded a preliminary peace treaty with the US. The proclamation of the Fourteen Points was, however, a political and not a legal act. President Wilson’s demands became international law insofar as they found favour in the Paris peace treaties.

34  The Fourteen Points were in accord with the war aims of all Principal Allied and Associated Powers in World War I. They characterized President Wilson’s approach to foreign policy. Looking back to the Fourteen Points from the 21st century, one may feel that they marked the appearance of the US as a world power on the international scene. Ideas behind them have continued occasionally to influence foreign policy thinking and perhaps also the actions of the US since then.

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