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Trick or Treat? The Anglo-French Alliance, 1919

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An entente cordiale transformed into a lasting bond after the war to end all wars - but it was not to be. Antony Lentin looks at who duped whom in the manoeuvrings for an Anglo-French alliance following the 1918 armistice

Signed by Lloyd George and Clemenceau on June 28th, 1919, the same day as the signature of the Treaty of Versailles, the short-lived Anglo-French Alliance seldom receives more than a glance from historians. And yet for the French, at the time, it was an integral part, indeed the pivot, of the Versailles settlement, 'the keystone of European peace', in Clemenceau's words. A leading scholar, L.A.R. Yates, stresses that it 'served as the key factor in making possible the Versailles treaty'. What was the significance of the alliance, stillborn as it proved, in the history of the Paris Peace Conference? What caused the 'keystone' of the Versailles settlement to collapse?

The proposal of alliance arose from inter-Allied differences over France's demand for a strategic frontier on the Rhine. This demand emerged soon after the Armistice, It had never been, like the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine, an agreed Allied war aim, but emanated from France alone. It originated with Marshal Foch, and was adopted by Clemenceau as official French policy early in the Conference. France's object was 'une garantie d'ordre physique'. Only the Rhine, it was argued, could protect France from a repetition of 1870 and 1914. Nothing less could compensate for her grave inferiority, demographic, strategic and geopolitical: her smaller population and lower and declining birth-rate, the proven vulnerability of her existing frontier with Germany, and the irreparable loss of Imperial Russia as an ally and counterweight to Germany. Never again, in France's view, should the Rhineland be allowed to serve as a springboard for German aggression.


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