“Territorial changes were the most significant challenge to successful peacemaking.” Discuss with reference to the effects of two 20th century wars.

The 20th century, marked by the devastation of two World Wars, was a period of significant territorial changes that presented formidable challenges to successful peacemaking. As nations sought to redraw the world map in the aftermath of these cataclysmic events, the resulting territorial adjustments led to an array of political and social consequences, some of which sowed the seeds for future conflicts. This essay will critically analyse the extent to which territorial changes were the most significant challenge to successful peacemaking, referencing the effects of World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945).

World War I: The Challenge of Redrawing Boundaries

The end of World War I saw drastic territorial changes, particularly in Europe, as the victorious Allies sought to dismantle the Central Powers' empires and create a new international order. The principal instrument of these changes was the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which imposed punitive terms on Germany and led to significant territorial adjustments. Germany lost about 13% of its territory and all its overseas colonies. The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France; substantial portions of Western Germany were demilitarised, and territories with significant Polish populations were given to the reconstituted Poland, creating the Polish Corridor to the Baltic Sea and leaving East Prussia geographically isolated from the rest of Germany. The dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire led to the creation of several new states – including Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Hungary – and the expansion of others like Romania. The Ottoman Empire was partitioned, with its Arab territories divided into British and French mandates. Historians such as Margaret MacMillan in "Paris 1919" argue that the territorial changes, especially the harsh terms imposed on Germany, created a sense of humiliation and resentment, sowing the seeds for future conflict. Similarly, the carving up of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires led to the creation of multi-ethnic states with significant minority populations, leading to ethnic tensions and territorial disputes that would destabilise Europe and the Middle East in the following decades.

The League of Nations and Challenges of Peacemaking

The League of Nations, established in the wake of World War I, was supposed to help manage these territorial changes and mitigate disputes. However, the League faced significant challenges. Its credibility was undermined from the beginning due to the non-participation of some major powers, including the United States. Its principle of collective security proved ineffective in the face of aggressive expansionism, as seen in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931) and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935). While territorial changes posed substantial challenges to peacemaking, they were not the only ones. The punitive reparations imposed on Germany, coupled with the global economic downturn, led to severe economic hardship that contributed to political instability and the rise of Adolf Hitler. The failure to establish a sustainable system of collective security, as well as the inability to address economic and disarmament issues, also played a significant role in the failure of interwar peacemaking efforts. 

 World War II: The Emergence of a Bipolar World 

The end of World War II saw even more significant territorial changes, especially in Europe and Asia. The Allies' victory led to the division of Germany and Austria into zones of occupation, the recovery of territories lost by the Soviet Union in the interwar period, and the shift of Poland's borders to the west. In Asia, Japan was stripped of its empire, and colonial powers struggled to reassert their control, leading to a wave of decolonisation. The most significant outcome of these territorial changes was the emergence of a bipolar world, dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. This new power dynamic was symbolised by the division of Germany and Berlin, setting the stage for the ideological and geopolitical confrontation of the Cold War. These territorial changes posed considerable challenges to post-war peacemaking. The Yalta and Potsdam Conferences aimed to establish the framework for a post-war international order, but conflicting interests among the Allies, particularly over the fate of Eastern Europe, sowed the seeds of future discord. The division of Germany became a persistent source of tension, culminating in the Berlin Blockade (1948-1949) and the construction of the Berlin Wall (1961). 

The United Nations and the Cold War

The United Nations, established to prevent another global conflict, had to navigate this complex geopolitical landscape. While the UN had some successes in addressing territorial disputes and managing conflicts, its effectiveness was often hampered by the realities of the Cold War. The ability of the five permanent members of the Security Council to veto decisions led to deadlock and inaction in many instances. However, like in the interwar period, territorial changes were not the only challenge to successful peacemaking. The ideological confrontation between the US and the USSR, the arms race, decolonisation, and economic disparities all contributed to global tensions during the Cold War. 

Territorial Changes and the Post-War World

The territorial changes following World War II had profound and long-lasting effects on the world. In Europe, the shift of Poland's borders to the west resulted in massive population transfers, with millions of Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians uprooted from their homes. This displacement of people added to the immense humanitarian challenges in the immediate post-war period and reshaped the ethnic composition of Central and Eastern Europe. In Asia, the decolonisation process was often accompanied by conflicts and territorial disputes. The partition of British India into India and Pakistan led to communal violence and a protracted dispute over Kashmir. In Indochina, the attempt by France to reassert control led to a series of conflicts culminating in the Vietnam War. Moreover, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, in what was British Mandatory Palestine, led to a protracted conflict with the Arab states, resulting in several wars and a complex, ongoing dispute over territory and statehood. These examples illustrate how the territorial changes following World War II contributed to many regional conflicts and tensions in the post-war world. 

In conclusion, while territorial changes were indeed a significant challenge to successful peacemaking after both World Wars, they were not the only or necessarily the most significant challenge. The failure of the League of Nations and the limitations of the United Nations, the economic and social upheaval caused by the wars, and the ideological confrontation of the Cold War also played crucial roles in shaping the post-war world. Territorial changes are a visible and concrete manifestation of the political, social, and economic forces unleashed by war. They often lead to contentious issues of national identity, sovereignty, and self-determination, making them a significant challenge to peacemaking. However, as the examples of the interwar period and the Cold War demonstrate, successful peacemaking requires addressing a range of interconnected issues, from security arrangements and economic recovery to political reconciliation and justice. In the words of historian Zara Steiner, "peace is not an 'is', it is a 'becoming'." The challenges posed by territorial changes, and indeed by all the other issues that arise in the aftermath of war, underscore the complexity of this 'becoming'. They remind us that peacemaking is a process that requires not just diplomatic acumen but also a deep understanding of the historical, social, and cultural contexts in which conflicts occur.