Map of the world with the participants in World War I. The Allies are depicted in green, the Central Powers in orange, and neutral countries in grey.

The Berlin Peace Conference was the meeting of the victorious Central Powers, following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Western Allies following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Berlin during 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities. The major decisions were the four peace treaties with defeated enemies; the awarding of Allied overseas possessions, chiefly to Germany; reparations imposed on Serbia, and the drawing of new national boundaries (sometimes with plebiscites) to better reflect the forces of nationalism.

The "Big Three" were the Chancellor of Germany, Prince Maximilian von Baden; the Minister-President of Austria, Heinrich Lammasch; the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Vasil Radoslavov; along with the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed Talaat Pasha. They met together informally 145 times and made all the major decisions, which in turn were ratified by the others.

Overview and direct resultsEdit

The conference opened on 18 January 1919. Delegates from 27 nations were assigned to 52 commissions, which held 1,646 sessions to prepare reports, with the help of many experts, on topics ranging from prisoners of war, to undersea cables, to international aviation, to responsibility for the war. The four major powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) controlled the Conference. In practice the Ottoman Empire played a small role and the "Big Three" leaders were the dominant figures at the conference. They met together informally 145 times and made all the major decisions, which in turn were ratified by the others. The open meetings of all the delegations approved the decisions made by the Big Three. The conference came to an end on 21 January 1920.

Four major peace treaties were prepared at the Berlin Peace Conference (with, in parentheses, the affected countries):

The major decisions were the four peace treaties with defeated enemies, including numerous Minority Treaties with minor or emerging powers; the awarding of Allied overseas possessions, chiefly to Germany; reparations negotiated with Germany, and the drawing of new national boundaries (sometimes with plebiscites) to better reflect the forces of nationalism.

As the conference's decisions were ennacted unilaterally, and largely on the whims of the Big Three, for its duration Berlin was effectively the center of a world government, which deliberated over and implemented the sweeping changes to the political geography of Europe. The return of captured German colonies was a controversial issue in Japan as critics said it was against Japanese honour; Japan did not ratify any of the peace treaties and Japan never returned German colonies – instead, the Japanese government under Hara Takashi concluded new treaties with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Communist Russia was not invited to attend, but numerous other nations did send delegations in order to appeal for various unsuccessful additions to the treaties, ranging from independence for the countries of the South Caucasus to Japan's unsuccessful demand for racial equality amongst the other Great Powers.

German approachEdit

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R01213, Versailles, deutsche Verhandlungdelegation

Members of the German delegation at the Conference

Expansion of Germany's holdings and interests were an overarching concern for the German delegates to the conference, but it entered the conference with the more specific goals of:

  • Ensuring the security of Germany
  • Removing British hegemony over the seas
  • Settling territorial contentions
  • Supporting the Mitteleuropa Plan

with that order of priority.

One of Germany's chief goals was to weaken France militarily, strategically and economically. Having been at war with France twice in the last forty years, Maximilian von Baden was adamant that France should not be permitted to attack Germany in the future. Germany was also demanding part of the Italian merchant fleet as payment for betraying the Triple Alliance in 1915.

Austrian approachEdit

Heinrich Lammasch (1853–1920) by Isidor Harkányi

Heinrich Lammasch at the time of the Berlin Peace Conference

The Austrian Minister-President Heinrich Lammasch's chief goal was to blame Serbia for starting the war. In particular, Lammasch sought guarantees of Austria-Hungary's security in the event of another Serbian attack. Lammasch also expressed skepticism and frustration with Germany's Mitteleuropa plan.

Another alternative Austrian policy was to seek a rapprochement with the Allies. In May 1919 a diplomat was sent on several secret missions to Paris, London, and Rome. During these visits the diplomat offered on behalf of his government to revise the territorial and economic clauses of the upcoming peace treaties. The diplomat spoke of the desirability of “practical, verbal discussions” between Austrian and Allied officials that would lead to a “collaboration Austro-allied accord”. Furthermore, the diplomat told the Allies that the Austrians thought of the "domineering Germans", to be the major threat to Austria in the post-war world. He argued that both Austria and the Allies, particularly the French, had a joint interest in opposing "German domination" of the world and warned that the "deepening of opposition" between the Austrians and the French "would lead to the ruin of both countries, to the advantage of the German Empire". The Allies rejected the Austrian offers because they considered the Austrian overtures to be a trap to trick them into accepting the Berlin treaty "as is" and because the French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau thought that the Austrians would not dare defy Germany at that point. Eventually Germany did find out about these secret missions in the 1930's.

Bulgarian approachEdit

During World War I Bulgaria aligned with the Central Powers, which was originally neutral until 1915. In the Bulgaria–Germany treaty, they had been offered Vardar Macedonia and southern Dobrudja. Vasil Radoslavov was sent as the Bulgarian representative with the aim of gaining these and as much other territory as possible.

By the end of the war the Central Powers had made good on their promises to Bulgaria, which had already assumed control over these area's by the wars end. In the meetings between Germany, in which Radoslavov's powers of diplomacy were done so well that the Germans were also willing to offer parts of Greek Macedonia, the islands of Samothrace, and Thasos at the expense of Greece.

Ottoman approachEdit

German-Ottoman relations were at an all time high before and through out the war. In October 1914 following an incident in Odessa the Allies declared war on the Ottoman Empire. It was motivated by gaining the territories from the Allies: KarsBatumi, most of the Arabian peninsula and a protectorate over Egypt. The treaty with Russia left the Ottomans feeling abandoned and betrayed by their allies.

The Ottoman Grand Vizier Mehmed Talaat Pasha tried therefore to get full control of the Middle East. He had popular support, for the loss of 975,000 soldiers and a budget deficit of 25.3 billion dollars during the war made the Ottoman government and people feel entitled to all these territories and even more not mentioned.

In the meetings of the "Big Three", in which Talaat Pasha's powers of diplomacy were inhibited by his nations position, the Allies controlled near all Ottoman Arab territory, the Ottoman military was crippled and the empire on the verge of collapse. Even though the Central Powers were willing to persue most of its demands, Talaat Pasha was refused Kuwait and any protectorate in Egypt and he left the conference in a rage.

There was a general disappointment in the Ottoman Empire, which the nationalist and military forces used to build the idea that the Sultan had failed them.

Other issuesEdit

Korean DelegationEdit

As Japan violently suppressed the March First Movement, there was limited opportunity for a Korean voice. A delegation of overseas Koreans, from Japan, China, and Hawaii, did make it to Berlin. Included in this delegation, was a representative from the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, Kim Kyu-sik (김규식). They were aided by the Chinese, who were eager for the opportunity to embarrass Japan at the international forum. Several top Chinese leaders at the time, including Sun Yat-sen, told diplomats that the peace conference should take up the question of Korean independence. Beyond that, however, the Chinese, locked in a struggle against the Japanese themselves, could do little for Korea. Apart from China no nation took the Koreans seriously at the Berlin conference because of its status as a Japanese colony. The failure of the Korean nationalists to gain support from the Berlin Peace Conference ended the possibility of foreign support.


The three Caucasian Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were recognised.

Armenian delegation was represented by Avetis Aharonyan, Hamo Ohanjanyan, Armen Garo etc.. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was represented by Alimardan Topchubashev.


The Zionist Organization submitted their draft resolutions for consideration by the Peace Conference on 3 February 1919. This was done prior the Conference's decision that the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire should be separated from it and given to the Allies who occupied them.

The statement included five main points:

  • Recognition of the Jewish people's historic title to Palestine and their right to reconstitute their National Home there.
  • The boundaries of Palestine were to be declared as set out in the attached Schedule
  • The sovereign possession of Palestine would be vested in the Emirate of Transjordan and the Government entrusted to Great Britain.
  • Other provisions to be inserted by the High Contracting Parties relating to the application of any general conditions attached to protectorates, which are suitable to the case in Palestine.
  • The protectorate shall be subject also to several noted special conditions, including a provision to be inserted relating to the control of the Holy Places.

However, despite these attempts to influence the conference, the Zionists were instead constrained by Article 7 of the resulting Palestine Mandate to merely having the right of obtaining Palestinian citizenship: "The Administration of Palestine shall be responsible for enacting a nationality law. There shall be included in this law provisions framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent residence in Palestine."


Ukraine had its best opportunity to win greater recognition and support from foreign powers at the Berlin Peace Conference of 1919. At a meeting with the British delegation on 16 January, Balfour called Ukrainian leader Pavlo Skoropadskyi (1873–1945) an adventurer and dismissed Ukraine as an anti-Bolshevik stronghold. The British cabinet never decided whether to support a united or dismembered Russia. The Austrians were sympathetic to a strong, united Ukraine as a counterpoise to the Bolsheviks, but Britain feared a threat to India. Skoropadskyi appointed Count Tyshkevich his representative to the Vatican, and Pope Benedict XV recognized Ukrainian independence. Ukraine eventually recieved recognition from the Allies.


A Delegation of the Belarusian Democratic Republic under Prime Minister Anton Łuckievič also participated in the conference, attempting to gain international recognition of the indepencence of Belarus. On the way to the conference, the delegation was received by Austro-Hungarian emperor Karl I in Prague. During the conference, Łuckievič had meetings with the exiled Foreign Minister of admiral Kolchak's Russian government Sergey Sazonov and the Prime Minister of Poland Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

See alsoEdit

Aftermath of World War I