As soon as the First World War ended, the French, after all they had suffered in two German invasions in less than 50 years, wanted to make sure that the Germans never again violated the sacred soil of France; this remained the major concern of French foreign policy throughout the inter-war years. At different times, depending on who was in charge of foreign affairs, the French tried different methods of dealing with the problem:
- Trying to keep Germany economically and militarily weak;
- Signing alliances with other states to isolate Germany , and working for a strong League of Nations;
- Extending the hand of reconciliation and friendship.
In the end, all three tactics failed.
Trying to keep Germany weak
At the Paris peace conference the French premier, Clemenceau, insisted on a harsh settlement.
Britain and the USA promised to help France if Germany attacked again. Although many French people were disappointed (Foch wanted France to be given the whole of the German Rhineland west of the river, but they were only allowed to occupy it for 15 years), it looked at first as though security was guaranteed.
Unfortunately French satisfaction was short-lived: the Americans were afraid that membership of the League might involve them in another war, and preferred a policy of isolation. Consequently they rejected the entire peace settlement (March 1920) and abandoned their guarantees of assistance. The British used this as an excuse to cancel their promises, and the French understandably felt betrayed.
Clemenceau demanded that the Germans should pay reparations
The figure to be paid for reparations (money to help repair damage) was fixed in 1921 at £6600 million. It was thought that the strain of paying this huge amount would keep Germany economically weak for the next 66 years -the period over which reparations were to be paid in annual instalments-and consequently another German attack on France would be less likely. However,financial troubles in Germany soon caused the government to fall behind with its payments. The French, who claimed to need the cash from reparations to balance their budget and pay their own debts to the USA, became desperate.
A network of alliances and a strong League
At the same time, the French tried to increase their security by building up a network of alliances,first with Poland (1921) and later with Czechoslovakia (1924), Romania (1926) and Yugoslavia (1927). This network, known as the ‘Little Entente’, though impressive on paper, did not amount to much because the states involved were comparatively weak. What the French needed was a renewal of the old alliance with Russia, which had served them well during the First World War; but this seemed out of the question now that Russia had become communist.
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