Describe three of the goals of the “Big Four” powers at the Paris Peace Conference. How did some of the territorial ambitions of Japan, France, and Britain (among others) work out at the peace negotiations?

The primary goals of the Big Four included creating a lasting peace, making their constituents back home happy, and punishing the major combatants of the losing side to ensure that such a war never happened again.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Big Four of the Paris Peace Conference were Woodrow Wilson of the United States, David Lloyd George of Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy. These four met in early 1919 in order to create a lasting peace and to appease their respective constituents back home....

Read
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Big Four of the Paris Peace Conference were Woodrow Wilson of the United States, David Lloyd George of Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy. These four met in early 1919 in order to create a lasting peace and to appease their respective constituents back home. The United States, under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson, sought to create a more liberalized world order through his League of Nations and plans for self-determination and general disarmament. Clemenceau and George were stronger supporters of the League of Nations than Wilson's own government back in the United States, but the goals of self-determination and general disarmament were seen by the other powers as too idealistic. Britain, France, and Italy sought to punish Germany by disarming the country and collecting reparations. France sought to regain Alsace-Lorraine, territory that it had lost during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. This would also create a buffer zone for France on the border with Germany.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up according to ethnic groups, but this proved to be largely ineffective since the people who drew the territorial lines knew little about the people outside of what they read in books. Orlando sought to get land on the Adriatic Coast that was promised to his people when he joined the Allied side in 1915, but he was rebuffed. This caused Orlando to leave the conference early and led to the rise of fascists under Mussolini during the 1920s.

The Middle East was broken up among the British and French, who created mandates without regard to various religious sects. Britain and France were able to use the oil resources of the new territories. By coming back with concessions from Germany as well as the right to govern more areas, George and Clemenceau could return to their respective constituencies and claim that they had won the war and the war itself was a worthwhile cause. Wilson acquiesced on punishing Germany and allowing the victorious powers to grab more territory since he believed that this was the only way to get his League of Nations passed. When the United States did not join, Wilson felt betrayed. When the American people heard about the squabbling that took place after WWI over conquered territories, they became disillusioned as well. This would make the United States very slow to join the next war, even though Hitler would prove to be a bigger threat to the United States than the Kaiser would in 1917.

Though the Paris Peace Conference boasted the Big Four, there were other statesmen who sough to get their own slice of the new world order. Japan sought to retain its territories taken in the Pacific from the German navy. It also sought a racial equality clause in the Fourteen Points. When it received neither, Japanese leadership felt slighted and they sought to become the main power in Asia by pushing out European and American colonialists. Polish nationalists sought and received their own territory with access to the sea, but they did so at the expense of Russia and Germany. Germany and Russia thus never accepted the existence of a potentially prosperous Polish state. A young Ho Chi Minh was also at the conference, where he wanted Vietnam to be a recipient of the Wilsonian notion of self-determination. When he was turned down, militant Vietnamese nationalism was bornthis would be a hard lesson for both the French and the Americans later in the century.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In 1919 the Paris Peace Conference was called to officially negotiate the terms for the end of World War I. While dozens of countries sent ambassadors, the "Big Four" led the conference and were central in negotiating the terms that would eventually be written into the Treaty of Versailles. The Big Four consisted of US President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando. In general the purpose of the conference was to establish the peace terms to end the war and form a new postwar world. Leaders at the conference also wanted to ensure that another world war of this scale, magnitude, and destruction would never again occur. In his Fourteen Points, an outline for the postwar world, Woodrow Wilson proposed a League of Nations that would arbitrate disputes between nations and serve as an international peacekeeping agency, much like today's United Nations. Despite being Wilson's idea, the US never joined the League of Nations. In addition to assuring postwar peace, Great Britain, France, and Italy wanted to punish Germany for, in their view, starting the war. They demanded not only reparations in the form of payments for the destruction caused by the war, but also military disarmament of Germany to weaken the country and prevent aggression. They also each had territorial ambitions. Britain and France coveted land in the oil-rich Middle East, and they also wanted to deprive Germany of its colonies and form new buffer states in Europe to further protect against German power.

In order to address these territorial ambitions, Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations formed a mandate system that distributed former territories and colonies among the major powers, allowing them to oversee and essentially control the territories until they were deemed "fit" to govern themselves. Wilson opposed mandates for the US and instead wanted the League of Nations as a whole to administer former German colonies until they were ready for self-government. However, he was outnumbered by the other powers. Under the mandate system, Iraq and Palestine were assigned to Great Britain, while Syria and Lebanon were assigned to France. The resource rich region of Alsace-Lorraine was also taken from Germany and awarded to France.

In addition to losing much of its territory, Germany was forced to pay $32 billion in reparations and to accept all responsibility for the war. Germany was also required to reduce the size of its army and navy. Japan and Italy were also slighted in the treaty negotiations. Japan demanded a racial equity clause and equal standing in the League of Nations, both of which demands were rejected. Japan did, however, gain territory in China, leaving many Chinese angry. At the start of the war, Italy had been promised the Adriatic Coast; however, after the war this region was instead formed into a new country, Yugoslavia. The conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, especially those imposed on Germany, led to increasing political and territorial conflict in the 1920s and 1930s, eventually leading to the outbreak of World War II.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team