To the Victor, Go the Spoils (Redux): A Plausible Central Powers Victory

The Peace Conferences: The Treaty of Copenhagen (January 1919)

The Peace Conferences
The Treaty of Copenhagen
January 1919

In many ways the Treaty of Copenhagen was the final peace in the First World War. While there had been several more territorially significant documents, the negotiations in Copenhagen were significant for three main reasons. It finally ended the period of stagnation and negotiation that followed the war, it provided a ‘reset’ (of sorts) for Anglo-German relations, and most importantly; it greatly shifted the political dynamics of both states.

The negotiations at Copenhagen were extremely broad. Involving discussions that ranged from Anglo-German views on the negotiations in Brussels, Vienna and even Alexandria, the negotiations set out that Britain ultimately was the state that would in the immediate term define the balance of power in Europe. This was a key difference between negotiations at the end of the Napoleonic Wars; the last time a continental state had attempted to dominate the continent, and negotiations at Copenhagen.

In foreign policy there is a term known as ‘balancing’. This is essentially the endless setting of ground rules and red lines between states that consider each other hostile, but reluctantly accept without condoning the position that both states are in as a form of settlement. Britain at Copenhagen set out heavily to balance against Germany as a delaying mechanism against German continental domination.

While Germany had ‘won’ the war in Europe, she most certainly was not able to dictate the terms of such a victory as easily as she might have assumed. This was almost entirely due to the Royal Navy, which was the gun pointed directly at Germany’s head. While retaining naval authority, Britain would have few concerns over the threat of Germany to its island security and imperial trade lanes.

British negotiators even played on German fiscal difficulties for some time, dragging out negotiations into January 1919 despite coming to the table months earlier, long after the other treaties on Europe’s future were concluded. For context, the majority of discussions over the future of Romania at Bucharest, for example, were completed in just three days. Britain though had bigger priorities and was willing to wait Germany out until they got what they wanted.

Britain's main priorities were maintaining her naval supremacy, guarding western Europe and the lowlands against potential German influence, and preventing Germany from influencing the outside world. In order to achieve all of these, Britain needed to prevent Germany from gaining the capacity to deny Britain economic influence on the continent, and needed to prevent Germany from building a larger fleet that could potentially challenge the Royal Navy.

As previously negotiated, Germany would commit herself to negotiations for a naval arms limitation treaty, seen by the militarists as somewhat of a dead letter that would come to nothing while the German civilian Government were receptive to the proposal. This was primarily because even before the war Germany had largely abandoned their arms race against Britain - though this had been due to a resurgent Russia which was now defeated.

Britain would also demand that U-Boats and large naval formations would not be permitted to travel to the remaining German colonies. This was a strategic necessity for the Royal Navy, but equally something of an affront to German leadership. It in essence asked that Germany be denied naval access to her own territory, which to any country could only be seen as an excessive demand. The alternative though in the eyes of the Royal Navy was that Germany should have to surrender her entire submarine fleet, which was even more of an affront to the Kaiserliche Marine.

This issue would strain negotiations almost from their opening, but by January 1919 the Germans would largely have consigned themselves to the fact that they had to choose one of two options; the end of their submarine fleet, or the restriction of their submarine deployments. Given that submarines currently struggled to deploy to the German imperial territories anyway, largely due to range limitations, and given that the Germans had constructed little in the way of infrastructure to fuel large submarine forces from these colonies regardless, one option seemed obviously better.

As such, Germany by January accepted that she would have to consent to a written accord with the British Government to limit naval deployments to their colonial possessions. This would form the basis for part of the Copenhagen Treaty, and would become known as the Müller-Geddes accords after First Lord of the Admiralty Eric Geddes and Georg Alexander von Müller - Chief of the German Imperial Naval Cabinet.

Von Müller for his part was a naval veteran and a close ally of the Kaiser who, while having greatly favoured the war, was politically aware enough that by January 1919 he had recommended accepting the British proposal to the Kaiser and the Government. He had been hesitant to restart unrestricted submarine warfare regardless, and like the Kaiser viewed Germany’s future as being to the east - not the south.

Geddes meanwhile was an imperialist who grew up in India and placed great weight on ensuring British trade access, while also being the man who essentially rebuilt the Admiralty in the face of German submarine warfare. His accord would mostly come after a general decision of the Admiralty to focus on the prevention of German submarine power accessing other parts of the empire. This calculation was simple; Even were Britain to destroy Germany’s entire submarine fleet, there would in practice be no means to prevent them from rebuilding it. Thus, to Britain the logical alternative was to place diplomatic restrictions on Germany to prevent their use in other theatres in a later war.

Geddes and Müller ultimately resolved the disagreement in a side room in Copenhagen in January, concluding that Germany would not be permitted to deploy submarines to her overseas colonies during peacetime, while in exchange both Germany and Britain would consent to the beginning of naval arms talks after the war. This was in order to allow Germany to rebuild her navy slowly and within British approved limits while not risking further conflict or blockade, while preventing the ‘runaway’ spending on naval arms seen before the war.

One might sense that Britain got the better end of the deal from this aspect of the negotiation - and that would be a fair assumption. In fact among the German people it was largely seen as the Government’s greatest concession.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Asian provinces had also come into the fore of discussion. While seen as a friendly ally and partner by the British Government, Japan’s conquest of Germany’s asian provinces had alarmed Australia and the United States who considered the prospect of a Japanese Pacific empire threatening to their trade interests and sovereignty. As such, discussions with Britain additionally affirmed that Kaiser-Wilhelmsland and the Solomon Islands would remain occupied by Australian forces and annexed as an Australian territory.

The remainder of Germany’s Asian provinces would remain undisturbed, though German means of expelling Japanese forces from their holdings were seen as impossible by Britain, who saw the likely outcome as being a Japanese refusal to leave and a subsequent peace at a later date. This suited Britain perfectly, who had already consented to Japanese annexation of the pacific islands in 1914, and held strong ties with the empire of the rising sun.

Outside of negotiations over colonial holdings, Britain was keen to demand the rapid de-mining of territorial waters and both sides agreed to mutually ‘write off’ any planned war reparations to one another after initially intense debate over the matter. Britain did consider reparations vital in order to raise the nation’s financial liquidity, but in Germany’s fragile economic state she refused to provide any compensation and threatened the peace talks. Thus it was concluded reparations would be an unrealistic demand to levy upon Germany.

This was in part why Britain opted for territorial annexations in Africa and Asia, particularly as every indicator suggested that Germany’s financial system would struggle for the next decade to recover after the destruction of their economy during the war. Thus, denying them colonies through direct and indirect means would starve their economy. Further, British planners had begun to prepare for the ‘next war’.

Annexing all of German East Africa as planned, Britain in doing so forced Germany to essentially abandon her pacific holdings that would now be too far away to travel to with ease regardless. Renamed ‘Tanganyika’, the territory would complete Sir Arthur Rhodes' long sought after dream of a British ‘red line’ from Cairo to the Cape and would allow him to now pursue the construction of a railway line to cover the entire journey - but more on that later. The abandonment of East Africa was a bitter pill for the German populace to swallow and greatly elevated the stature of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck who had so staunchly defended it.

The loss of South West Africa would also be a point of irritation for the German public. Occupied since 1916 by the South African army, South African general Jan Smuts had gained significant political leverage during the conflict and ultimately became a figure in the Imperial General Staff. A firm anti-German, Smuts was determined to see Germany robbed of all her colonies in the aftermath of the war, and thus when the time came he made it clear he would heavily oppose returning the region to Germany.

Given Smuts was on track to lead South Africa in the aftermath of the war given his political popularity, the British Government thus opted to persue annexation of the German South West Africa territory alongside the capture of East Africa, further strengthening the Royal Navy's control of the Cape and Indian Ocean. This, yet again, was a fait accompli that German negotiators would ultimately accept - after all, South West Africa was almost valueless.

Britain did not accept German hegemony over continental Europe, but also because having felt alienated from France, cut off by Italy and Greece, and detached if more friendly with the United States, Britain seemed to be increasingly alone on the world stage politically. Thankfully, this state of play was far worse for the Germans, but British High Command had come to the conclusion that war with another major power was not just likely but inevitable due to British foreign interests, and thus denying Germany - the greatest threat - bases in Asia suited Britain’s long term strategic needs.

Signed on Friday 17th January 1919, the Treaty of Copenhagen was met with a largely muted reception both in Germany and Britain. With the war having been over on the continent for a month, and Britain having ceased fighting everywhere besides the North Sea, many people had begun to feel the treaty was somewhat of an afterthought.

Sold as more of a piece of paper reaffirming what most Britons already knew were Britain’s terms, many in the British public left the conflict feeling somewhat underwhelmed. On the list of terms, outlined in the press that morning, where was the so demanded confiscation of all of Germany’s colonies? Where was the financial punishment of Germany they so deserved?

For many in Britain thus it felt somewhat of a disappointing ‘victory’, and the signing of the Treaty while positive for Britain left the public with mixed feelings about the war in the run up to the coming elections. Regardless, this was met better than in Germany where the mood was very much one of frustration and betrayal. Sure, Germany had her Empire in Europe - but was she truly a global power without colonies?

So, finally, the war was over. Now was the time to win the peace.
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Thats, finally, all the peace treaties done (there's one update for Asia too but that'll sort of feed in over time). Now onto some actual alt world events!
"Haha yes! We've beaten France and Russia (by the skin of our teeth)! Now we can reshape Europe and the world into our wholesome keanu utopian super Germany!"
"Lol" said the Royal Navy, "lmao."

Good stuff as always Reformer
I wonder what it will look like? From what I remember, the Germans tended to build up their colonies to stand on their own two feet.
That was the basic idea, though It did not work very...well, except for Togoland and Samoa.
The thing to understand id that very few of the european colonies were actually profitable.
This Is the main inherent strenght of Germany when compared to Britain: while the UK was very powerful, their power depended on their coloniale Empire. Once the empire, or to more precise, once India escapes their grasp, Britain as a world power Is gone for good, and even with no WW2, the chance that the British can keep the huge population of a whole subcontinent subdued Forever are rather...slim
Considering how the British went back on their word after WW1, I imagine there will be a lot of Indians very angry with them, more so than OTL.