Stella Ghervas

2. The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations

Fran�ais English Romaneste Russki

Seminar directed by Stella Ghervas
Institute for Advanced Studies (IEA) - Paris (France)

2nd session: “The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations: effects on today’s Europe”
Thursday 8 October 2009, 1.00-6.00 PM, IEA - Paris (France)

The treaties that marked the end of the First World War were the starting point for a territorial reorganisation. By abolishing the Central Empires, it laid out a new mental geography for the European continent, now fragmented into a set of nation-states not unlike contemporary Europe.

Meanwhile, the trauma of the conflict, as well as the intent to avoid another European war, gave birth in 1919 to the League of Nations, with the purpose of resolving conflicts between states and maintaining peace. While the idea of such an organisation was not new in European thought (it is found in the 18th century in Kant’s “Perpetual Peace”), US President Woodrow Wilson paved the way for its realization by making it part of his famous Fourteen Points.

Hence the states that met in Paris, then in Geneva, were pursuing two seemingly contradictory objectives: asserting their national specificity, while taking part in a “league of peoples”. The territorial disputes of the 1920s, then the rise of nationalistic totalitarianisms, undermined this agenda. The outbreak of the Second World War was perceived as the final blow to the dream of maintaining peace only through the goodwill of states.

When considering this sequence of events, a few questions come to mind: why such a failure in regard to the initial intentions? To what extent did that experiment of the Interwar period serve as a model – or a deterrent example – within Europe itself? After 1945, did the twin logic that makes nation-states coexist alongside permanent European community institutions endowed with executive powers (the principle of subsidiarity linking the two) effectively resolve the pre-existing tensions?

To answer those questions, we will examine the key events that led to the birth of the League of Nations, exactly 90 years ago, as well as factors behind its successes and failures. In the process, we will compare the European system created by the Treaty of Versailles with the institutional forms later used for the EEC, then the European Union.

The goal of this cross-comparison will be to draw useful conclusions, if possible, about the divergences and tensions that still emerge today about to the “Europe-to-be” – and to cast a fresh look at the question of the delicate balance that remains to be found, between national sovereignty and the powers granted to the EU’s central institutions.