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Building a more just world: Paris’ other legacies

Building a more just world: Paris’ other legacies
The 28th June, 1919 is a landmark day in the history of international politics. This is the Palace of Versailles. It was here that on that day the peace treaty between Germany and the Allied powers were signed. But that is not the whole story. On the same day, in the same palace, another treaty was signed. And sometimes it’s referred to as the Little Treaty of Versailles. Few people have heard of it, and yet this Little Treaty of Versailles would over time change interstate relations significantly. It did not fix a boundary, but it conferred rights on people who were affected by boundary changes. So what was the significance of this Little Treaty of Versailles?
Territorial matters where what kept delegates at the Paris Peace Conference occupied for much of the time. The victors of the war disagreed and argued as they struggled to bring together legitimacy and realpolitik. As we have seen, some of their decisions seemed dubious at best. But there is another Paris story. In fact, there are many other Paris stories. In addition to the League of Nations and the territorial settlements, statesmen and experts discuss a whole range of other issues. In dozens of areas, states agreed to deepen international corporation here. So there were commissions on railways and on ports, and states agree to a convention of aviation, which included rules on the registration of aircraft.
After four years of war, the Paris Peace Conference resulted in a large scale modernisation of international affairs. In the remainder of this week, we’ll focus on two such developments. One is the decision to set up rules for the protection of minorities, and it’s in this respect that the Little Treaty of Versailles made a real difference. In the post-war order, ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups should no longer depend on the goodwill of their home state. They should enjoy protection under international law. Poland, which hadn’t existed as a state since the end of the 18th century, was resurrected after World War One.
In order t gain recognition under the Little Versailles Treaty, it had to agree to respect the rights of minorities within its boundaries. And as Poland agreed, so would many other states. The Polish Minority Treaty, the Little Versailles Treaty, was the blueprint for the league system of minority protection, a system that is widely seen as a forerunner to our contemporary system of human rights. And it’s here in the Palace of Versailles where this process began when the Polish representative signed the Little Versailles Treaty, away from the limelight where all the attention focused on the German Peace Treaty. The conference also brought to the fore the idea that legal disputes should be settled in an impartial manner by international courts.
The post-war years saw first attempts to try perpetrators of war crimes, including the German Kaiser. And in 1922, prompted by debates, here in Paris states established the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague, the first World Court where states could settle their disputes peacefully and in accordance with the rule of law. And again, this was the beginning of a process. Neither of these developments were smooth. There was much resistance to international minority rights and to the idea of a world court sitting in judgement over sovereign states.
But if today we find it quite natural that the fate of minorities, for example in Iraq, should be a matter of global concern, or that international courts should play a useful role in settling international disputes, then we’re standing on the shoulders of the peacemakers of Paris.
So while the re-drawing the boundaries was the most obvious task of the Paris Peace Conference, that conference shouldn’t be reduced to boundaries. It left traces across the whole spectrum of international relations. And in many areas, such as minority rights or dispute resolution, real progress was made.

In addition to re-drawing boundaries, the Paris Peace Conference engaged with many more matters – after four years of war, it re-established systems of international cooperation. In many areas, it broke new ground. In this video, Christian introduces two new features of the post-War world order: an international system of minority protection, and permanent international courts.

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World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World Order?

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