Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

18

Crisis and Deadlock: Italian Expansion

Near the end of April, after the demands of France were satisfied, the pressures of other national spokesmen were still insistent. Three of the Allied Powers could not be depended on to accept the treaty that was taking shape. Before the signatures of Italy and Japan could be counted on, territorial claims that conflicted with the principle of self-determination would have to be considered. Moreover, Belgium was insisting on a prior lien upon the reparation that was to be made by Germany.

Wilson, in his eagerness for Italian support for a League of Nations, had promised the upper Adige to Orlando while denying the Italian claim to Fiume. 1. In April, when the revised Covenant was about to be finally approved by the Peace Conference, the Italian delegates pressed their claims on the Adriatic coast. Although not without justification on grounds of military security, and for the most part sanctioned by provisions of the Treaty of London, these demands flouted the ninth of the president's Fourteen Points: "A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality." The definition of Italy's boundary with Yugoslavia, a matter too critical to be delegated to any committee of experts, became the subject of turbulent discussion in the Council of Four.

The Yugoslav delegates used tactics well calculated to win American sympathy. On February 12, five days after the United States formally recognized the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, the cabinet of the new nation had agreed to accept arbitration by Wilson of their whole dispute with Italy. 2. The Italians, however, declined this recourse. Their official statement of demands sought the Brenner frontier (which Wilson had already promised to Orlando), and the parts of Istria and central Dalmatia awarded by the Treaty of London. Furthermore, they claimed Fiume on the ground of self-determination, and also laid claim to Spalato (Split) and its vicinity as well as to the Sexten Valley and the Tarvis basin. 3. Orlando had warned Wilson that if the minimum demands of Italy were not met, he might be forced to walk out of the Peace Conference.

Foreign Minister Sonnino had proposed a compromise to Clemenceau early in March. The timing of this move was perhaps not unrelated to the absence of Wilson and to the atmosphere of accommodation that House was at pains to create. Professing to act in a "spirit of conciliation," Sonnino wrote: "In view of the general disintegration of Austria-Hungary, which had not been contemplated at the time of the Treaty of London of 1915, we cannot now give up the Italian city of Fiume; and, in compensation, the better to facilitate Yugoslavia's outlets and lines of eco‐

____________________
1.
See above, pp. 54-55. Territory in Gorizia promised by the Treaty of London was conceded to Italy, Seymour, Letters from the Paris Peace Conference, p. 210.
2.
See above, pp. 55-56.
3.
See the Italian memorandum of February 7, 1919, in Mario Toscano, Alto Adige—South Tyrol (Baltimore, 1975), pp. 8-9. Memorandum, D. Johnson to House, March 17, 1919, Y.H.C.

-335-

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