Reparation policies reconsidered: Material reconstruction after World War I in Europe and beyond
In the last decades, historians have rarely been interested in reparations after World War I. To date, the historiography on reparations is mainly written in an economic perspective and predominantly focuses on financial aspects. Non-‐cash contributions, however, were a very crucial part of the peace negotiations in Versailles and became a widely-‐debated issue in the beginning of the 1920s. In fact, “Sachleistungen” or “deliveries in kinds” are key to understanding the reconstruction era. Material reconstruction after World War I included the rebuilding of dwellings, factories and roads in the destroyed regions in Northern France and Belgium, but also modernization of infrastructures for example in Yugoslavia, and Portugal. In the later 1920s, the French government tried even to bypass German deliveries in kind to French colonies as for example for the construction of the port of Antananarivo in Madagascar. Reconstruction was thus not an only regional or national effort, but a truly European challenge. From a German point of view, reparations in kind were not only a way to reduce cash payments, but they could also help to stimulate the home industry.
Even if the most far-reaching German plans for massive reconstruction works in Western Europe failed, deliveries in kind challenged the power dynamics in the aftermath of the war and reintegrated the “underdog” into the reconstruction process. Studying the material consequences of the Versailles Treaty thus open a new avenue not only to the history of reparations but also to a deeper understanding of the politic and economic order after the “total” war.
Economic Freedom of Movement in the League of Nations and the International Labor Organization, 1919-1923
I propose to analyze efforts to manage economic freedom of movement in the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Economic and Financial Organization of the League of Nations during the immediate postwar years. My paper would explore how the peace settlement and the practical challenges of population and border realignment shaped the genesis of these institutions.
I would focus on the ILO’s International Emigration Commission and the League’s Economic Committee. Economic freedom of movement was a central focal point for both organizations, but they approached it very differently. The Economic Committee excluded immigration policy from its remit. It focused on facilitating specific forms of personal mobility that were closely tied to the movement of goods and capital; it notably worked to ease restrictions on foreign commercial intermediaries. It advocated legislative standardization, defined as the promulgation of uniform policy standards drawn from the West European states that offered the most hospitable environment for foreign trade. In contrast, the ILO’s International Emigration Commission aimed to facilitate broad labor mobility. It proposed a wide-ranging program of policy coordination between states of emigration and immigration, based on an appreciation of their divergent demands and priorities.
This paper represents the first segment of a research project that I am developing centered on the tension between labor mobility and free trade in the League and the ILO. In the 1920s and 1930s the League’s Economic and Financial Organization constructed a model of international free trade that specifically excluded migration. It focused on removing legal and administrative barriers that impeded trans-border commercial activity, but this liberalization effort generally aimed to ease the movement of goods and capital but not people. In contrast, the ILO established a range of institutions that specifically focused on migration but constrained rather than encouraged free movement. Indeed, the ILO often sought to reinforce and extend national labor-market and immigration controls in order to allow for more intensive international supervision and coordination. My conference paper would assess how these institutional patterns were defined and contested in the immediate postwar context. I am particularly interested in capturing the diverse visions of international cooperation that were competing in both the ILO and the League during this period.
The Birth of Economic Sanctions from the Spirit of Blockade, 1918-1920
My presentation focuses on an important but underappreciated legacy of the end of World War I: the creation of economic sanctions, which formed a cornerstone of the security architecture created by the League of Nations and the Versailles Treaty. These sanctions were modelled on the wartime blockade system used by the Entente to wage global economic warfare against the Central Powers. British and French politicians and technocrats first considered a peacetime and internationalized version of the ongoing blockade as a post-war tool of conflict prevention in 1915-1916. How these ideas became reality during the Paris Peace Conference is the focus of my presentation, which is based on a chapter of my dissertation on the rise of economic sanctions in the interwar period.
The idea of economic sanctions outside of war was contentious. This was not only because of the issues of neutrality and contraband that surrounded wartime blockades, but also because the nineteenth-century practice that most resembled them, so-called ‘pacific blockade’ had an uncertain status under international law and was tainted by its association with aggressive Great Power imperialism and gunboat diplomacy. The continued blockade of Germany after the Armistice on 11 November 1918, as well as the unofficial and undeclared war-like blockades of Soviet Russia and Hungary, were the first cases were European states used massive economic coercion against other European states in time of peace.
Like all major historical transformations, the birth of economic sanctions is something that owed as much to chance as to structural forces. I argue that the embrace of economic sanctions by post-war liberal internationalists owed much to two specific contingent events. The first was the October Revolution and Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which was perceived by the Allies to create a blockade-proof Eurasian economic fortress uniting Russia and the Central Powers. This prospect was so frightening that they decided to continue the blockade after the end of hostilities as a pressure instrument. The second contingency occurred during the drafting of the League of Nations Covenant in early 1919, when it became clear to the leading American, British and French negotiators that they would not be able to overcome Wilson and Lloyd George’s opposition to an international League army. With no chance of creating a mechanism for military sanctions, the only instrument with which the League could restrain recalcitrant states became the economic sanctions of commercial and financial embargo and blockade. The victors at Versailles thereby ended up putting a lot of faith in the power of economic pressure alone to defuse international tensions and promote peace—perhaps too much.