On 12 December, Germany publicly called for peace negotiations with the Allies, an action that on the surface appeared reasonable and conciliatory. The plan was announced by the Imperial Chancellor, Dr. von Bethmann – Hollweg, to an enthusiastic reception in the Reichstag.
However the Allies suspected that Germany was playing a political game that was designed to alleviate rising domestic resistance to the war, head off a possible US entry into the conflict and heavily favour Germany at the negotiating table.
It was also suspected that Germany was experiencing increasing difficulty in maintaining the war effort – its chief ally Austria-Hungary had been badly mauled in the conflict and Germany was increasingly standing alone. In addition, the naval blockade employed by Britain was badly affecting the German economy.
However it was also realised that if the Allies refused the peace overtures then they could be portrayed as being responsible for prolonging the conflict and therefore the primary aggressors.
Despite this difficulty the Prime Minister of France, Aristide Briand, was openly critical of the deal Germany offered and described it as a “heads I win and tails you lose” situation.
Just a few days later President Woodrow Wilson of the United States also offered to mediate in peace discussions between the belligerents, asking for both sides to state their minimum terms as a starting point.
However there was little appetite for a negotiated peace on the Allied side. They believed that the continuance of a strong and powerful Germany would represent a persistent threat to Europe and indeed the United Kingdom.
A strong belief also pervaded that Germany had begun the conflict and should therefore be obliged to provide compensation. This could only be accomplished if the Allies achieved an absolute military victory and were in a strong negotiating position at the conference table.
For these reasons the peace negotiations were not proceeded with and the result was war for nearly another two years.
Image: Aristide Briand – Prime Minister of France in 1916, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.