Locarno, Treaty of

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At the beginning of 1925 relations between Germany and its European neighbors, especially France, were beset by the troublesome issues of war reparations and compliance with the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. On 9 February Gustav Stresemann (1878–1929), the German foreign minister, sent a note to the governments of the Allied Powers proposing that a security pact be concluded under which Germany, France, Great Britain, and Italy would undertake not to engage in war, with the United States serving as guarantor of the agreement. An annex to his note further proposed an arbitration treaty between France and Germany intended to ensure the peaceful resolution of bilateral conflicts between the two states. Stresemann's proposal also sought to secure Germany's western frontier but contained no German commitment regarding the eastern borders or its entry into the League of Nations, both decisive issues for France.

For several months neither Britain nor France responded to these proposals. It was Aristide Briand (1862–1932), the newly appointed French foreign minister, who in the spring of 1925 first urged that they be followed up. The French replied in July that they would consider the terms of the German note provided that Germany agreed to join the League of Nations unconditionally.

Over the summer of 1925 the issue was the subject of lively debate in Germany, because Stresemann's proposal in effect ceded Alsace-Lorraine to France. The aim of the German minister was to internationalize the Rhineland question so as to avoid any future unilateral action by France comparable to its invasion of the Ruhr in 1923. Germany's agreement was further intended to avoid the signing of any Franco-British pact; to facilitate the anticipated withdrawal of the allies from the Rhineland; and ensure their departure from Cologne, which they still occupied even though they were in principle to have evacuated the city in January 1925. The French and the British insisted that Belgium should be involved in the negotiations and that its borders also be recognized by Germany. In France's eyes any pact would have to respect French undertakings with regard to its Czech and Polish allies, notably the promise of intervention in case of outside aggression (even though such a condition ran counter to Articles 15 and 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations).

The Locarno Conference was held from 5 to 16 October 1925, assembling Briand for France, Austen Chamberlain (1863–1937) for Great Britain, Stresemann for Germany, Émile Vandervelde (1866–1938) for Belgium, and Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) for Italy. The negotiations were difficult, not only because of the narrow margin for political maneuver left to Stresemann and Briand by public opinion in their respective countries but also because they opened with a formal objection to the Treaty of Versailles by the German delegation.

The conference eventually resulted in a set of accords. The main treaty, known as the "Rhineland Pact," enshrined nonaggression undertakings concerning the German, French, and Belgian borders; Britain and Italy were guarantors. Germany thus gave sovereign acknowledgment to what the Treaty of Versailles had imposed: the definitive cession of Alsace-Lorraine and the demilitarization of the left bank of the Rhine. The treaty provided that in case of Germany's occupation of the demilitarized zone military action might be taken in response. Appended to this treaty were several arbitration conventions between Germany on the one hand, and France, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and Poland on the other.

None of the agreements concluded at Locarno committed Germany in any way with respect to its eastern borders. Stresemann had no intention of recognizing frontiers that he considered unjust and contestable. France, for its part, on the basis of attached Franco-Polish and Franco-Czechoslovak agreements, hoped to open negotiations later concerning its own frontiers. The British representation at Locarno declared that Britain intended to keep its options open in case of conflict in central and eastern Europe. This explains the bitter disillusionment of the Polish delegate, Foreign Minister Alexander Skrzynski (1882–1931), who felt that the security of his country had been sacrificed at Locarno on the altar of Franco-German reconciliation. In Berlin the reaction to the Locarno agreements was fury: three nationalist government ministers, Martin Shield, Otto von Schlieben (1875–1932), and Albert Neuhaus (1873–1948), resigned in protest. In Paris, meanwhile, the right-wing view was that Briand had been duped by Stresemann. In 1932, after Briand's death, an even greater uproar occurred upon the publication of Stresemann's papers. These included a letter dating from September 1925 from the German foreign minister to Crown Prince William (1888–1951), the elder son of William II (r. 1888–1819), in which Stresemann indeed set forth his plans for dismantling the order laid down in the Treaty of Versailles. The French saw this as a German admission of bad faith in the Locarno negotiations. At the same time a parallel controversy was raging in Germany, with Stresemann accused of having been hoodwinked by Briand: had it not taken until 1930, it was asked, for the Allies to withdraw from the Rhineland? Chamberlain would later write in his memoirs that there were neither rogues nor dupes here—merely "a great German and a great Frenchman" striving amid the blood-soaked ruins of the past to erect a temple to peace.

The fact is that the Locarno agreements were less the outcome of either German or French deception than the reflection of profoundly differing visions of European security and peace. Both sides felt they had made the more significant concessions concerning their security or sovereignty, but results did not meet with expectations for either. Adolf Hitler's (1889–1945) remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936 doubtless constituted the definitive rejection of the Locarno Pact, but the "spirit of Locarno" was already long dead by that time. A considered view of the causes of this failure must surely lay as much blame on a France immovable in its insistence on guarantees as on a nationalistic segment of German opinion that even in 1925 looked upon these agreements as just one more shameful capitulation.

See alsoBelgium; Briand, Aristide; France; Germany; Italy; Mussolini, Benito; Stresemann, Gustav; United Kingdom .


Primary Sources

The Locarno Conference. (October 5–16, 1925). Boston, World Peace Foundation, 1926, pamphlets IX–1.

Foreign Policy Association. The Significance of Locarno, discussed by Mlle. Louise Weiss, Mr. James G. McDonald, and Dr. Paul Leverkuehn. Miss Christina Merriman, Chairman; 81st luncheon discussion, Hotel Astor, New York, November 21, 1925.

Secondary Sources

Gaynor, Johnson, ed. Locarno Revisited: European Diplomacy, 1920–1929. London and Portland, Ore., 2004.

Keeton, Edward David. Briand's Locarno Policy: French Economics, Politics, and Diplomacy, 1925–1929. New York, 1987.

Wright, Jonathan. Gustav Stresemann: Weimar's Greatest Statesman. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 2002.

Dzovinar KÉvonian