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
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 Europe.
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
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
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
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 her guns.
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."