The Policy of Fulfilment
The Great War ended in 1918 leaving the world devastated with digging millions of graves, a confused world order and setting a stage for another deadlier war to be fought two decades later, far more brutal in nature. A paradox was created where the victorious European allies, especially France and the Great Britain were so devastated they were rendered incapable of writing a new world order. On the other hand, the losing German side still remained a force to reckon with. The only victor that truly possessed the strength and the energy to undertake the role of the architect of this new world order (WHICH IT DID!) sat across the Atlantic. Neither did The United States of America agree with the European style of diplomacy nor did it understand the nuances or the intricacies that lay with it.
America renounced the old European ways of balance of power and realpolitik and replaced it with hitherto unknown notions of collective security, democracy, and pacific resolution of conflicts. This world order was to be known as the Versailles order after the Treaty of Versailles, with the League of Nations to be set up, ideally as the most important machinery to conduct diplomatic affairs.
Although France and the Great Britain were not wholly comfortable with this radical change in the conduction of diplomatic practices in Europe, they desperately needed U.S.A to be on board with it and hence were forced to make certain compromises in their functioning.
The Treaty of Versailles under its “war guilt clause” held Germany accountable for the outbreak of the war and sanctioned it with reparations worth $5 billion, annexed vast pieces of land, placed an arms and military ceiling on the Germans, and their most formidable ally the Austro-Hungarian empire was too dismantled. However, Germany still enjoyed a technological superiority, rich human resource and a large industrial base coupled with wounds of defeat and humiliation making it a significant threat to European security, particularly its neighbouring France.
Now the problem with France was that it lay right next to Germany geographically whereas the British enjoyed the buffer of the English Channel and the Americans an entire Atlantic Ocean and despite the fact that it was one of the victorious powers, on a one-on-one confrontation with the Germans they were bound to lose. It desperately needed an assurance of security from either the British or the Americans which both of them denied. Therefore, the French took it upon themselves to ensure the weakening of the German state. It strongly pushed for the payment of reparations from the “war guilt clause” to weaken the state. The French went to the point of unilaterally occupying the German industrial heartland of Ruhr in order to weaken the German state but took a huge hit themselves as their misadventures were a loss-making enterprise, and so they were forced to retreat.
The German Response
At this stage Germany had two options as to how to respond-
1. Confront the allies and fight the Treaty of Versailles while they were at the weakest and outnumbered.
2. Agree to the terms of the treaty and earn the goodwill of the allies while it rebuilds itself for the later confrontation.
However simple the choice may seem in the 1923 Germany with the ongoing nationalist current, the voice of the German society saw immediate retaliation as the only way to move forward. Germany here desperately needed a hero similar to Bismarck, and Gustavo Stresemann was the man who took up the role of guiding Germany out of this foreign policy crisis.
Stresemann was one of the conservative German politicians who went on to serve as the Finance Minister and later the Chancellor of Germany. When the Treaty of Versailles was signed Stresemann was one of its harshest critiques. However, he realized that an immediate confrontation would end up only in further bloodshed, therefore he created
a foreign policy which took realpolitik and packaged it with liberal idealism, "the policy of fulfilment"
What does policy of fulfilment mean?
In its simplest of understanding the policy of fulfilment was an agreement to the unilateral and unjust terms of the Treaty of Versailles in order to earn the goodwill of the victors which would help in gaining concessions and aid for Germany’s rebuilding.
Implementation of the policy
The first step that Germany under Stresemann took was to renegotiate the process of reparations with the French and appointed an impartial arbitrator Charles Dawes, and settled on a reparations plan which did not only ease the international tensions but the Germans earned tremendous goodwill from other victors, especially the USA. This plan was to be known as the Dawes Plan for which Charles Dawes the American banker and diplomat who arbitrated the negotiations won the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, to cash in the goodwill earned from the agreement to settle on a reparation plan the Germans turned to the Americans to seek aid, which America did provide it with, which summed up to almost $3 billion dollars, but France was still at unease for the reparations, no matter how desperately they needed it, it did not really weaken the Germans because of the aid that they received. So now French went on the defensive and now pushed for a British guarantee stronger than ever.
The Locarno Pact
In 1925 the British Foreign Minister, Sir Austen Chamberlain, called for a conference to be hosted in a small-town of South Switzerland called Locarno. At Locarno the great nations formally recognized the western borders of Germany and issued a clause of collective security for anyone who decided to breach this pact. With the Locarno pact in place the world now believed that the countries to Germany’s west have been offered the security they needed and sighed in relief. In fact, the relief was such that Chamberlain in 1925 and Briand and Stresemann in 1926 won the Nobel Peace Prizes.
However, from Germany’s point of view, their western borders were never a subject of contention for they knew that the losses would far outweigh the gain. Germany actually had its eyes set on expansion in the east. Given the weak nature of states and how Poland was a matter of pride and ego for the Germans, they ended up signing a pact of neutrality with the Soviets in 1926 which identified Poland as a common challenge.
On the other end of the continent across the English Channel, the British had determined that Locarno Pact was as far as they were going to go in terms of offering any kind of commitment and when Germany’s eastern frontiers were brought up, Chamberlain in one of his speeches at the parliament went on to say that if Germany chooses to settle their disputes on its eastern borders through the mechanisms provided by the League in a peaceful and civil fashion, no one should see a problem with that. Ironically, a decade later the first act of aggression that started the second world war was German expansion on its eastern fronts.
The League of Nations
After achieving monetary and territorial success via the policy of fulfilment, the Germans set their eyes on military parity. They joined the League of Nations in 1926 and started laying out the skeleton for their quest for military parity by initially calling for political parity inside the heavily imbalanced League. Then they started opening up about the issue of military equality by calling for collective disarmament of states instead of their own rearmament, adopting ideas of the American child- Collective Security, and as the Germans worked hard for achieving this disarmament, they secretly continued to rearm their own military.
Germany and Stresemann had learned an important lesson from the previous Great War, that an arms race would only cause suspicion, tensions and antagonism and disarmament would only bring in the goodwill of nations, while achieving the same goal.
The abrupt end to the policy
Stresemann’s demise in 1929 was a loss to Germany almost as big as the loss of Bismarck in 1898, for the man who had meticulously designed and crafted the policy of fulfilment was taken away by a stroke. The crisis was the same as before, with no one as patient and far-sighted and well versed with the intricacies of realism and realpolitik, the policy was abandoned.
The Stresemann era was followed by the Great Depression and rising nationalism and an emerging leader sworn to destroy everything he laid his eyes on pulled the world into a second world war far deadlier and more brutal than the first.
Had Germany gone ahead with the policy of fulfilment it would’ve realized that the surrender and idealism was only an illusion, packaging what one may call hardcore realism. With the policy of fulfilment, the Germans in the longer run would have gained enough aid and support that regaining their old glory would’ve been inevitable and it would’ve made on of the centres of power without shedding a single drop of blood.
The Locarno Pact- https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zwxnqhv/revision/2
“Diplomacy” by Henry Kissinger