From late 1923, Weimar foreign relations adopted a more collaborative approach. German politicians and diplomats began to realise the importance of rebuilding and improving relationship with other European nations. The most significant contributor to this change was Gustav Stresemann, who served as the Weimar Republic’s foreign minister for more than six years in the 1920s.
Stresemann became foreign minister after four years of tension, confrontation and hostility. The Weimar Republic’s foreign relations, particularly with France and other neighbouring states, had been poisoned by post-war animosity and disputes over reparations and the Ruhr occupation.
Though Stresemann had started his political career as a nationalist, he came to recognise that Germany’s fate was inextricably linked to her place in Europe. If Germany could not restore good relations with her European neighbours, the nation would collapse from within or be pulled apart by external forces.
In Stresemann’s view, it was essential for Berlin to form an effective working relationship with France, Germany’s most powerful continental neighbour, and the United States, a potential economic partner and benefactor.
To achieve this, foreign governments had to be convinced that Germany wanted reconciliation and peace, not confrontation and war.
In mid-1925, Stresemann began exchanging diplomatic notes with the foreign ministers of France and Britain. These notes were less bellicose and more conciliatory than previous communications. They helped the Weimar government to form a productive working relationship with Paris and London.
These exchanges led to a five-nation diplomatic conference, held in Locarno, Switzerland, in October that year. This conference culminated in the Locarno Treaties (December 1925) which established the Franco-German and Belgian-German borders and restored normal diplomatic relations between Germany and her former enemies.
All parties to Locarno agreed to abide by rulings of the League of Nations, in the event of future disputes over territory or borders. Germany accepted that the Rhineland should remain demilitarised.
Opposition to Polish sovereignty
There was one area where Stresemann did not abandon his nationalism: his attitude towards Poland.
Like many of the German right-wing, Stresemann had low regard for Polish sovereignty. He despised the Danzig corridor and Poland’s possession of former German territories, granted to it at Versailles.
At Locarno, Stresemann refused to offer any guarantees about Germany’s eastern frontiers with Poland and Czechoslovakia. He silently hoped that if Germany’s western borders could be secured, France and Belgium might not oppose moves to recover lost territory from Poland or Czechoslovakia.
The Locarno treaties
The signing of the Locarno pacts seemed to have secured European peace. Britain and Italy countersigned these guarantees and agreed to intervene if Germany’s western frontiers were violated.
The treaties filled Europe with a sense of peaceful negotiation and stability – the ‘spirit of Locarno’ – that was a welcome relief, following the hostilities of the war and the retribution of Versailles.
Locarno also paved the way for Germany’s admission to the League of Nations, full membership being granted in September 1926. This was a triumph for the policy of Stresemann, who for two years had worked tirelessly to restore Germany’s status within the international community.
The nationalists in Germany, however, viewed Locarno as yet another back down by a government more eager to negotiate than fight for German territory. Many also distrusted the motives of the French negotiator, Briand, who is shown in this British cartoon above shaking hands with Stresemann while concealing a boxing glove.
A new German-Soviet treaty
Stresemann followed up the Locarno agreements with the Treaty of Berlin, a five-year agreement with the Soviet Union, signed in April 1926. This treaty sought to further restore diplomatic relations and ensure neutrality between Berlin and Moscow.
Berlin and Moscow had already signed the Treaty of Rapallo (1922) but the Berlin pact extended and strengthened this arrangement.
The Treaty of Berlin also contained non-aggression clauses: Germany and the Soviet Union committed to neutrality if the other was attacked by a hostile power, while each promised not to enter into coalitions or alliances against the other.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact
The culmination of Stresemann’s conciliatory foreign policy came in August 1928 with Germany’s signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. This was effectively a multilateral declaration of peace, outlawing the use of war “as an instrument of national policy”.
The Kellogg-Briand agreement was hailed around the globe as a breakthrough for peace. A decade after the deadliest war in human history, world leaders seemed to have abolished war for the foreseeable future.
While Stresemann did not initiate this treaty, he nevertheless gave it his full support, both in his own country and abroad. Under Stresemann’s guiding hand, Germany had rehabilitated itself in the eyes of the world. It had become a modern democratic state, devoid of belligerent militarism and committed to diplomacy, cooperation and peace.
A historian’s view:
“Diplomacy served as a lightning rod for the currents of opposition to the Weimar Republic. The nearly universal agreement on revising or terminating the Versailles settlement was complemented by equally widespread disagreement on the most effective means of attaining that end. Bitter public controversy accompanied every diplomatic undertaking. Foreign policy initiatives of all kinds were sure to provoke storms of outrage. Stresemann, as the chief architect of German foreign policy for the better part of a decade, was acutely conscious of the constrictions imposed upon [him] by this volatility of public opinion.”
David T. Murphy
1. The Weimar Republic’s foreign relations, particularly with Germany’s former combatants, were initially problematic but became more cordial in the 1920s.
2. Germany’s failure to meet its war reparations obligations led to mounting tensions with France and, eventually, the occupation of the Ruhr.
3. Germany received financial assistance from the US, however, through the Dawes Plan and Young Plan.
4. Under Stresemann, Germany participated in the Locarno Pact negotiations, which affirmed several borders.
5. The Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed in 1928 and rejected war, ushering in hopes of a peaceful Europe.