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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

26

Disengagement: Economic and Military

The efforts of the Peace Conference to place Ottoman lands under League mandates evoked mixed feelings among Americans who sought an open door for educational and commercial enterprise. They were eager to teach and to trade under guarantees of equality of opportunity. In general, however, American businessmen were reluctant to accept regulation by any international body.

Americans found that in Europe they must deal with governments that during the war had assumed a large measure of control over economic life. Indeed, Europeans had become so accustomed to regulation that they were inclined to continue it and to persuade the Americans to join in; but the men of the New World, devoted to the creed of individual enterprise and the benefits of competition, would not be drawn in despite their president's commitment to international action for keeping the peace. The Americans were suspicious that the motives of the Europeans were those of monopolists and profiteers; and these suspicions were reciprocated in the European view of American business.

Unfortunately the Fourteen Points of the American president made but scanty provision for economic reconstruction and cooperation among the nations. Wilson had developed no program for an extension of his New Freedom to the rest of the world. He had offered in Point Three only the open door and "the removal as far as possible of all economic barriers and an equality of trade conditions among all nations." Article XXIII of the Covenant enjoined the League to "make provision to secure and maintain freedom of communications and of transit and equitable treatment for the commerce of all members." However, Wilson was disinclined to venture upon any specific economic commitment, either through the League or independent of it, that might exacerbate the political storm that was rising at Washington over ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

At the same time, it was apparent that the interests of American traders might suffer if unprecedented action was not taken to restore Europe's economy. In April, when Wiseman put a fundamental proposal before House, 1. Lord Robert Cecil had approached the colonel about Europe's need of financial aid. They arranged for the appointment of a new committee of American, British, and French experts to study the questions raised by Cecil's searching analysis of Europe's economic dilemma. Clémentel agreed that France would cooperate. 2. However, when House turned this project over to Baruch, who would be one of two specialists to represent the United States, Baruch took an independent course. He wrote directly to Cecil to point out that he had already explained in discussions in the Supreme Economic Council that it would be inadvisable, for reasons given, to consider these questions at present;

____________________
1.
See above, p. 289.
2.
House diary, April 10, 1919.

-511-

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