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President Wilson’s Fourteen Principles Essay

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Updated: Aug 30th, 2020

Background information

Wilson’s 14 Points was a set of principles formulated by the former President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, in an attempt to end the First World War and promote perpetual global peace. President Wilson outlined the principles in his speech to the Congress in 1918. The principles were based on a report prepared by Edward M. House, who was the head of foreign policy, and it was based on the issues likely to arise in the anticipated Paris Peace Conference.

The report by the head of public policy was then supplemented by the findings of the inquiry committee, comprised of geographers, historians, and political scientists, hired by Wilson to study the socio-economic and political issues facing the world at the time.

The committee collected all the issues and prepared about 2,000 separate reports, which were then integrated to come up with the 14 issues. President Wilson then presented the issues to Congress claiming that the principles were meant to bring everlasting peace to the world. The European nations supported the principles owing to the view that they would produce the desired results of ending the ongoing conflict and prevent the recurrence of such wars in the future. However, the US main allies in the war, viz. France, UK, and Italy were skeptical of Wilson’s idealism.

Introduction

Wilson’s 14 points were a set of principles proposed by President Woodrow to end the First World War and to mitigate the recurrence of similar wars in the future (Hoff 48). The principles were presented to the world in the form of a speech delivered by President Wilson to Congress in 1918. The 14 points were based on problems facing the globe as researched by an inquiry team formed by the president.

The 14 points would shape the deliberations for peace later in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference. The president was expected to personally present the points to the conference and initiate the peace talks. However, Wilson fell ill before the commencement of the conferences, which prompted him to delegate the duty to the French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau (Thompson 190). President Wilson’s absence in the conference led to the alteration of the original set of principles with the leaders from the allied countries adopting only one proposal from the 14 points.

This paper justifies Wilson’s commitment to restoring peace and his vision to mitigate the recurrence of similar conflicts in the future. To achieve the stated objective, the paper analyzes the influence that Wilson’s 14 points had on the peace talks held in Paris. Besides, the paper explores the six diplomatic provisions outlined in Wilson’s speech and the effect they would have on global peace if they were adopted.

The 14 Wilson’s points and lasting global peace

Initially, the US refrained from the war between the west and the central powers mainly due to the fear of igniting capitalism-communism conflict. However, after Germany declared unrestricted marine warfare and promised to sink the ships trading with France and Britain, the US joined the war. Some US ships were sunk with Americans on board. Consequently, the US intervened to stop the maritime war and protect its trade interests with France and Britain.

However, even though the entry of the US into the war was originally propelled by the desire to end maritime warfare, President Wilson was determined to not only end the ongoing conflict but also mitigate the recurrence of another world war in the future. Before the official delivery of the speech about the 14 points, the president noted that his chief objective was to ensure that such a war would never arise again in the future.

The commitment by Wilson to end the First World War and bring long-lasting peace across the globe can be substantiated from the process used to draft the 14 principles (Tierney 219). As stated earlier, the principles were formulated following a comprehensive study of the issues affecting the world at the time. Wilson formed a team to explore the barriers to peaceful coexistence amongst different nations across the globe.

The findings from the committee were compressed to form the 14 peace principles that would be used as a basis for restoring peace. The committee came up with the issues deemed necessary for consideration during the dispute resolution talks. Over 2,000 documents were identified, which were used as the basis for formulating the 14 points. Wilson’s decision to use the issues as the basis for the negotiation of peace is illustrative of his commitment to long-term peace. The president focused on future conflicts. Ending the ongoing war would not require a study of the global sources of disputes.

The provisions of the 14 principles would ensure that everlasting peace would be achieved immediately and in the long-term. The 14 principles covered two broad international issues namely the diplomatic and territorial issues. For this analysis, the six diplomatic principles shall be discussed, and their effectiveness in guaranteeing global peace examined in details. The six principles of diplomatic relations outlined the relationship between countries in the international context to ensure peaceful coexistence. The principles are included

Open covenants

The provision for the open covenant required the publicity of all bilateral and regional agreements across the globe to allow the intervention of the international community in such disputes (Hoff 49). The principle required countries involved in a bilateral or regional agreement to declare such arrangements publicly. The declaration requirement was informed by the view that the secret treaties were contributing greatly to the rise of international disputes. The avoidance of secret covenants would have the effect of allowing the global countries to scrutinize such agreements before their enforcement. This move would ensure that only the covenants that met the international standards were reinforced.

Absolute freedom of navigation

This principle would require countries to refrain from interfering with maritime businesses. The provision would prevail both in times of peace and war. Under the principle, the international community would ensure that the warring nations would not engage in maritime warfare that would bar free trade among parties not part of the dispute (DiNunzio 403). It is important to note that the US joined the war against Germany following the sinking of its ships. Therefore, freedom of navigation would offer a permanent solution to the problem of global warfare.

Liberalization of trade

The principle of liberalization of trade required the global countries to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to facilitate international trade. This provision along with the open covenants was meant to mitigate warfare coming from trade grievances between countries around the world (Thorsen 164). The principle would establish the platform on which standardized laws regarding international trade would be formulated. The standardization of the international trade laws would offer a remedy to the international disputes arising from trade barriers imposed by one country on the other. The international trade facilitates peaceful coexistence between nations, and thus, Wilson’s call for trade liberalization would offer a lasting solution to the inter-country disputes.

Disarmament

The principle of disarmament required the disarmament of countries with dangerous weapons to mitigate the recurrence of similar conflicts as World War 1 in the future. It required countries to retain only the basic weapons to guarantee the citizens of their security (DiNunzio 405). The principle was informed by the view that the continued acquisition of dangerous weapons would be a threat to international peace in the long-term. The disarmament principle would ensure that no country poses a threat to the rest of the global nations hence guaranteeing lasting peace.

Impartial adjustment of all colonial claims

This principle required the establishment of a just procedure of settling disputes arising from colonialism. The impartial adjustment sought to ensure that the countries locked in such disputes negotiate as equal partners. In most cases, the former colonizers were developed countries and they tended to dominate the peace talks when resolving a dispute (Manela 61). The principle would cause lasting peace since most disputes arose due to the animosity created during the colonialism period.

The League of Nations

A sixth principle worth mentioning in the exploration of the diplomatic provisions is the 14th and final principle in Wilson’s list. The principle provided for the formation of a world organization to guarantee nations of their political and territorial independence (Gaughan 746). The organization would assure nations of their territorial and political independence. This provision was the only one that prevailed in the Paris Conference, and it came to be known as the League of Nations.

The principle was well advised since most disputes of the days came from the struggle for political and territorial independence. The powerful countries scrambled to colonize the less civilized countries in the hope of expanding their territories. This goal could be achieved through instigating warfare to force the natives to accept the colonial rule. Therefore, this principle would bring lasting peace across the globe since it would create neutral grounds on which to solve international differences regardless of the economic and military might of the involved countries.

They discussed six diplomatic principles as proposed by Wilson would ensure that warfare was mitigated in the future owing to the empowerment of the international community to intervene in resolving issues affecting any country across the globe. Therefore, it suffices to conclude that Wilson’s vision was to attain both short-term and long-term global peace. However, the Treaty of Versailles limited Wilson’s dreams of guaranteeing perpetual peace to the world.

The Treaty of Versailles

As mentioned earlier, Wilson championed the formulation of the 14 principles to end the First World War and ensure global peace in the future. However, Wilson did not participate in the implementation of the principles owing to his ill health in the period immediately preceding the Paris Peace Conference. In the conference, the warring nations deliberated on ways to end the war and prevent the recurrence of similar conflicts in the future. As noted earlier in this paper, the US allies, viz. France, Italy, and Britain did not support Wilson’s idealism. Therefore, the president’s illness presented an opportunity for the countries to alter the original 14 points and include only one of Wilson’s proposals.

Under the new arrangement, Germany was required to assume full responsibility for the war through a requirement for the country to repay the losses the countries had suffered during the warfare. Germany was required to pay a non-realistic reparation fee of 269 billion gold marks (Thompson 189). However, the imposition of the inflated fee was meant to convince the world that Germany had been severely punished since the country only paid a fraction of the amount.

The fee was imposed as a punishment to the country for its wrongful instigation of the war. In addition to the monetary fines, Germany was directed to disband its air force and minimize its armed forces to 100,000 soldiers. This move was meant to reduce the country’s ability to institute new attacks on any country in the world after the restoration of peace. However, the Treaty of Versailles ignored Wilson’s principles.

Germany was angered by the Paris resolutions requiring it to pay reparations. The anger was compounded by the fact that Germans had previously accessed the original document containing Wilson’s 14 points. The original document did not provide for the assigning of responsibility to any country. Therefore, the Germans received the alteration of the original document with resistance. However, Germany had to accept the conditions owing to the threats imposed by the countries participating in the talks. The rejection of the conditions would probably fuel another conflict, which would be harmful to Germany.

Though Germany agreed to the requirements, the imposition of reparations ignited the evolution of National Socialism in Germany (Ambrosius 152). This reaction would not have occurred if the original Wilson’s principles were implemented without the alterations. Therefore, it can be concluded that Wilson had the vision of creating lasting global peace by establishing neutral grounds for each country to participate in resolving the dispute.

Conclusion

Based on the analysis of the six Wilson’s diplomatic principles, it suffices to conclude that Wilson envisioned a world free from warfare. The original diplomatic provisions provided for global dispute resolution methods by empowering the international community to intervene in disputes involving any country around the globe. Therefore, disputes involving different countries would be resolved without engaging in warfare. The diplomatic proposals made by Wilson included the banning of secret covenants, free maritime navigation, trade liberalization, disarmament, and the impartial adjustment of all colonial claims.

The listed diplomatic measures were long-term strategies to mitigate international violence against the backdrop of the increasing need for international cooperation. However, despite the strategies being effective tools for mitigating global warfare perpetually, the principles were not implemented as Wilson had anticipated. The US president fell ill before the Paris Conference, and thus, he delegated the duty to sponsor the principles to the leaders of the allied countries.

The leaders prioritized their interests as opposed to following the 14 points as envisioned. The result was the replacement of the original principles with other points based on different interests. Consequently, the world witnessed the Second World War probably due to the failure to adopt the 14 points by Wilson.

Works Cited

Ambrosius, Lloyd. “Woodrow Wilson and World War I.” A Companion to American Foreign Relations. Ed. Robert Schulzinger. Malden: Blackwell, 2006. 149-167. Print.

DiNunzio, Mario. Woodrow Wilson: Essential Writings and Speeches of the Scholar-President, New York: NYU Press, 2006. Print.

Gaughan, Anthony. “A Companion to Woodrow Wilson.” The Journal of Southern History 80.3 (2014): 746-747. Print.

Hoff, Joan. A Faustian foreign policy from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush: dreams of perfectibility, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

Manela, Erez. “Wilsonianism and Anticolonial Nationalism: A Dream Deferred.” Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, Volume II: Since 1914. Eds. Dennis Merrill and Thomas Paterson. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2010. 61-66. Print.

Thompson, John. Woodrow Wilson, Abingdon: Routledge, 2015. Print.

Thorsen, Niels. The political thought of Woodrow Wilson, 1875-1910, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Print.

Tierney, John. “For America the War to End War Was Just the Beginning.” The Brown Journal of World Affairs 21.1 (2014): 219-229. Print.

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