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Posted: January 23rd, 2021

Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points: Did it Contribute to World Peace?

Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points: Did it Contribute to World Peace?

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of international relations. His vision of a peaceful world order based on democracy, self-determination, and collective security was articulated in his famous speech to Congress on January 8, 1918, in which he outlined his 14 points for ending World War I and preventing future conflicts.

The 14 points were:

1. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
3. The 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.
4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
5. 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.
6. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.
7. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.
8. All 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, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
9. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.
11. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.
12. The Turkish portion 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.
13. An 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,
and whose political
and economic independence
and territorial integrity
should be guaranteed by international covenant.
14. 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.

Wilson’s 14 points were widely praised by many people around
the world who saw them as a blueprint for a more just
and peaceful world order. However,
they also faced criticism
and opposition from some quarters,
especially from
the European powers who had their own interests
and agendas in
the post-war settlement. Some
of Wilson’s points were too idealistic
and unrealistic,
some were too vague
and ambiguous,
and some were too controversial
and divisive. As a result,
Wilson had to compromise
and negotiate with
the other Allied leaders,
especially Britain and France,
who were more concerned with
securing their own gains
and punishing their enemies
than with creating a new world order based on Wilson’s principles.

The final peace treaty that emerged from the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, known as the Treaty of Versailles, incorporated some of Wilson’s 14 points, such as the creation of the League of Nations, the international organization that was supposed to prevent future wars and promote cooperation among nations. However, it also ignored or violated many of his other points, such as the principle of self-determination for all peoples, the reduction of armaments, and the fair treatment of Germany. The Treaty of Versailles imposed harsh and humiliating terms on Germany, such as accepting full responsibility for the war, paying huge reparations to the Allies, losing territory and colonies, and having its military severely restricted. The Treaty of Versailles also created new problems and conflicts in Europe and beyond, such as the partition of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of new states in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and the rise of nationalism and resentment among many peoples who felt betrayed or oppressed by the peace settlement.

Therefore, it can be argued that Wilson’s 14 points did not contribute to world peace, but rather to world instability and disorder. Wilson’s vision was too idealistic and unrealistic to be implemented in a world that was still dominated by power politics, nationalism, imperialism, and revenge. Wilson’s 14 points failed to address the root causes of the war, such as the rivalries and alliances among the European powers, the competition for colonies and markets, and the militarism and nationalism that fueled the arms race and the propaganda. Wilson’s 14 points also failed to anticipate the consequences of the peace settlement, such as the resentment and bitterness of Germany, the dissatisfaction and disillusionment of many peoples who expected more from the peace conference, and the weakness and ineffectiveness of the League of Nations, which lacked the authority and the support to enforce its decisions and prevent future aggression.

In conclusion, Wilson’s 14 points were a noble and visionary attempt to create a new world order based on democracy, self-determination, and collective security. However, they were also flawed and unrealistic in many respects, and they faced strong opposition and resistance from many parties who had different interests and agendas in the post-war settlement. The final peace treaty that resulted from the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 did not reflect Wilson’s 14 points, but rather betrayed them in many ways. The Treaty of Versailles did not bring lasting peace to the world, but rather sowed the seeds of future conflicts and wars.

References:

– Ambrosius, Lloyd E. Woodrow Wilson and American Internationalism. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
– MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003.
– Neiberg, Michael S. The Treaty Of Versailles: A Concise History. Oxford University Press, 2019.

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