How World War I Changed Map of the World

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Four empires collapsed during World War I – the German Empire, the Russian Empire, the Austria-Hungary Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. After the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, the victorious Allies redrew the maps of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East to replace these fallen empires.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917. Nine months later, in January 1918, President Wilson articulated ‘Fourteen Points’ as the basis for negotiating a peace settlement. This speech detailed his concept of a fair and equitable peace to all parties. The British and French were concerned about the Fourteen Points. Having incurred several million casualties and severe financial hardship, they were not that interested in a generous settlement for Germany. Prime Minister of France, Georges Clemenceau was reported to have commented that “God was satisfied with Ten Commandments. Wilson gives us fourteen.” Wilson felt that a harsh treaty would risk future war, stating in his ‘Peace Without Victory’ speech: “Victory would mean peace forced upon a loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished… It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which term of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand.” Time would prove him correct as many historians believe that the harsh Treaty of Versailles was one cause of World War II.

Several of Wilson’s points dealt with territorial issues including the provision of independent countries for each of the main ethnic groups in Europe. These concepts were accepted by the Allies and included in the Treaty of Versailles with Germany; the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary and the Treaty of Saint-Germain with Austria.

Europe

 Much changed in Europe after World War I.

Austria-Hungary was divided into several countries:

Austria
Hungary
Czechoslovakia
Yugoslavia (Originally called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) – this country included Serbia and Montenegro along with the Croatian areas of Austria-Hungary
The boundaries of Romania were expanded based on ethnic considerations to include as many Romanians as possible within its borders.

Poland was created from portions of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. The Polish corridor was provided to grant Poland access to the Baltic Sea. As a result, the German province of East Prussia was divided from the rest of the country.

Three Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia came into existence after World War I. However, these were not part of the post-war treaties. Instead, each country used the chaos following the Russian Revolution and end of World War I to declare independence. Stalin annexed these countries in 1940 following the outbreak of World War II. They remained part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991, when the Baltic nations once again became independent.

Several of these border changes were issues leading up to World War II. Many ethnic Germans ended up within Czechoslovakia in an area called the Sudetenland. Hitler used this as an excuse in 1938 to precipitate a crisis which eventually led to appeasement by Neville Chamberlain in the Munich Agreement of that year. The Polish corridor provided Poland access to the sea and separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Many Germans lived there also. Hitler used this as a pretense to invade Poland in 1939, starting World War II.

Africa

German colonies in Africa were forfeited at the end of the War.

These colonies were converted into League of Nations ‘Mandates’ and split between the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and South Africa. The mandate system was intended to provide temporary supervision until the countries were ready to govern themselves as independent nations. Most did not achieve independence until after World War II.

Asia

Germany had a sphere of influence on the eastern coast of China, the Shandong province. Both China and Japan were members of the Allies opposing the Germans. The Treaty of Versailles awarded Shandong to the Japanese even though it was part of mainland China. As a result, China refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles. This clause was one reason the U.S. Senate opposed and ultimately did not approve the Treaty.

German colonies in the Pacific, including Samoa and New Guinea, became League of Nations Mandates administered by the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. They achieved independence after World War II.

Middle East / Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was broken up into several pieces including modern day Turkey. The secret ‘Sykes–Picot Agreement’ of 1916 between England and France split the remaining Ottoman Empire between them. The French were granted a mandate over an area that eventually became Lebanon and Syria. The British were granted mandates over land that later became Iraq, Jordan and Israel.

These borders still cause trouble to this day.  They did not always account for religious, tribal and ethnic differences. Iraq is unstable with Shia and Sunni Muslims mixed with Kurds, who themselves are split up into several countries. The boundaries of Israel have been the subject of several wars and ongoing negotiations. The Syrian Civil War is a multi-sided conflict between several different groups. Lebanon also experienced a lengthy Civil War between different ethnic and religious groups contained within its boundaries including Christians, Druze, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims.  

Break up of the Soviet Union

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s several other border changes occurred. Czechoslovakia split peaceably into two countries, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Yugoslavia underwent a violent breakup becoming Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Finally, Moldova, to the east of Romania, was formed out of the former Romanian territory.

Conclusion

The cataclysm of World War I greatly shaped the borders of the world today. Our hope is that any future border changes are the result of peaceful negotiations not armed conflict. There are examples of recent peaceful border modifications such as the transfer of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China or the return of the Panama Canal zone to Panama. Unfortunately, violent border changes are also occurring such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia or the war in the Sudan resulting in the creation of South Sudan. We hope that diplomacy can resolve future disputes without resorting to force to keep the world from experiencing another cataclysm.

 

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