Innocent Abroad: Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919

Innocent Abroad: Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919

Innocent Abroad: Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919

Innocent Abroad: Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919


German violation of Belgian neutrality escalated the 1914 hostilities into a world war, and disagreement about Belgium's future did much to block a compromise peace. In the postwar decade, Belgium's role as intermediary between France and Britain was pivotal, and its primary concerns reveal mush about postwar Europe's search for stability. Yet, at the Paris Peace Conference, Belgium emerged with little to show for its suffering.

Originally published 1981.


Few of the countries whose representatives ceremoniously put their signatures to the peace treaty with Germany in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on 28 June 1919 were satisfied with it. In fact, dissatisfaction ran rampant not only in Germany but also among the victors, large and small, for a variety of reasons, some more valid than others. Among the dissatisfied was Belgium. At first glance this seems surprising, for one might expect, as Belgian leaders did expect, that Belgium would occupy a privileged position at the Paris Peace Conference. After all, it was the German violation of Belgium that, more than anything else, escalated the 1914 hostilities into a world war. Allied oratory and propaganda had to a high degree focused on "brave little Belgium," and disagreement over her future had been a consistent impediment to a compromise peace. Moreover, the sine qua non of every Allied statement of war aims was the restoration of Belgium.

Belgium was restored in the sense of liberation but not in the broader sense. This was a major cause of dissatisfaction both at the popular level and within the government. Though Belgium gained important concessions on reparations, she had been promised much more by both Germany and the Allies. Another grievance was that she had almost no voice in the peace settlement despite wartime promises of participation. Because invasion of Belgium constituted not only aggression but also violation of international law and because Belgium was the only es- tablished European small power with direct interest in the German settlement, her leaders had assumed that her position at the peace conference would be different from that of the other small powers, but by and large it was not. Despite her constant protests, Belgium remained excluded from the decision-making process even on German questions, where the great powers took it for granted that she, alone among the small nations, would contribute substantially to enforcement of their decisions.

Belgium was also dissatisfied because she gained so little from the Versailles treaty. Her expectations had been much larger. Because she . . .

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