The experience of the American Indians is the most glaring example, but by no means unique, illustrating the limitations of treaty-making as a model for peacemaking. It is widely recognized that so-called "peace settlements," explicit agreements for the termination of a particular war or dispute, may fail to resolve key issues in dispute, and may even plant the seeds for new hostilities.
In the case of World War I, for example, President Woodrow Wilson resisted strong pressures from political opponents at home to demand "unconditional surrender" as the only basis for a settlement of the war with Germany, but he was later obliged to make many concessions weakening or contradicting the principles of his Fourteen Points, and forcing Germany to accept dictated terms of peace. When the Senate declined to ratify the resulting Treaty of Versailles, it was in the setting of a national campaign portraying the treaty terms and even the Covenant of the League of Nations as a betrayal of hopes for a lasting peace. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge argued before the Senate on 12 August 1919:
Whatever may be said, it [League of Nations] is not a league of peace; it is an alliance, dominated at the present moment by five great powers, really by three, and it has all the marks of an alliance. The development of international law is neglected. The court which is to decide disputes brought before it fills but a small place … it exhibits that most marked characteristic of an alliance—that its decisions are to be carried out by force. Those articles on which the whole structure rests are articles which provide for the use of force; that is, for war.
Nor did the opposition to the treaty as a provocation of future wars come only from the right. Indeed, the first organized group to condemn the Treaty of Versailles was the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, whose international congress at Zurich, meeting 12–17 May 1919, declared:
This International Congress of Women expresses its deep regret that the terms of peace proposed at Versailles should so seriously violate the principles upon which alone a just and lasting peace can be secured, and which the democracies of the world had come to accept.
By guaranteeing the fruits of the secret treaties to conquerors, the terms of peace tacitly sanction secret diplomacy, deny the principles of self-determination, recognize the right of the victors to the spoils of war, and create all over Europe discords and animosities, which can only lead to future wars.
By the demand for the disarmament of one set of belligerents only, the principle of justice is violated and the rule of force continued.
One may argue that the Treaty of Versailles was not so bad as its opponents portrayed it, that its terms were less harsh than they might have been, that the disarmament of Germany was a first step toward the general disarmament that the treaty envisaged for the future, and that the League of Nations, imperfect as it was, offered a framework for international cooperation and peace that would have been effective had it been given responsible support and leadership by the United States and other great powers. One may argue that the failure of the peace settlement of 1919 was less a consequence of its internal flaws than of its abandonment in the subsequent years, first by the withdrawal of the United States and then by successive retreats by other major signatories (especially Great Britain and France), particularly from the treaty's provisions for general disarmament and for collective action against breaches of the peace. These questions are still debated; nevertheless, it is probable that disillusionment with the settlement of 1919 contributed to the failure to arrive at any general peace settlement in World War II, and perhaps to the near abandonment of treaties of peace as a mode of terminating hostilities in the period since 1945.
Doubts concerning the necessity and advisability of concluding a treaty of peace at the end of World War II were expressed in the work on planning for peace during the last years of the war. In the report "Procedures of Peacemaking: With Special Reference to the Present War," the Legislative Reference Service of the Library of Congress pointed out in August 1943 that the Declaration of the United Nations bound the signatories not to conclude a separate peace. Nevertheless, the report noted:
The worldwide scope of the present war and the multitude of problems which its settlement entails constitute a strong temptation for the solution of certain questions independently of the overall settlement…. Even the major prob lems of boundaries, of federations, and of economic and political alliances among foreign States, insofar as the United States is not directly committed, might be thus decided without these decisions ever appearing in the text of a treaty which the United States would be called upon to ratify…. The cessation of hostilities in different parts of the world may be far from simultaneous…. And should a pro longed interval intervene between the end of the fighting in the main theatres of war and the definitive peace, the situation might become so deeply influenced by decisions made and regimes established in the meantime, that the peace conference might find its freedom of action considerably prejudiced. As a result of this development, the peace treaty or treaties may lose a great deal of their importance.
This analysis proved remarkably close to the actual course of events at the end of World War II. As one text summed it up, "peacemaking was a long drawn-out process which never quite ended but turned into the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its wartime allies." The wartime conferences at Casablanca, Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam laid down some of the principles and specific terms of the postwar arrangements, including the demand for "unconditional surrender" of the Axis powers, the policy of "complete disarmament, demilitarization and dismemberment of Germany," the establishment of the United Nations, and various specific provisions relating to the Far East and Eastern Europe, particularly Poland. Nevertheless, many key issues were left imprecise or totally unresolved, and all the agreements were understood to be provisional pending a final peace treaty. By the time the peace conference convened in Paris, however, the situation had indeed become "so deeply influenced by decisions made and regimes established in the meantime" that the formulation of a general peace settlement acceptable to all the major participants had become impossible.
Thus, no general treaty settlement of World War II in Europe was concluded; the peace treaty with Japan was delayed until 1951, and was not signed by the Soviet Union. Nor were peace treaties concluded in other wars fought by the United States since then. No peace treaty followed the armistice in the Korean War, concluded at Panmunjom in July 1953. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam was arranged by a cease-fire agreement of 28 January 1973. Although this was called "An Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam," it was actually, as Randle notes, "a military settlement without the concomitant political settlement that completes the peacemaking process." Moreover, the withdrawal of U.S. uniformed forces did not end the war or restore the peace; fighting continued among the Vietnamese and other Indochinese belligerents in subsequent years.
On the whole, the United States has held an image of peacemaking as "sitting down around the table to negotiate." But with the exception of the early period of its history in relations with European powers, especially Great Britain, the United States has not had a strong record of making peace on negotiated terms, such as to establish a lasting basis of concord. The terms of the treaties with Mexico in 1848, Spain in 1898, and Germany in 1919 were essentially dictated, as were the terms of surrender of the Axis countries in World War II. In the latter cases, the United States was obliged to negotiate at least with its own allies. In World War I, negotiation with allies may have cost the United States the freedom to negotiate with the opposing belligerents, but in World War II, it was the declared policy of the United States to achieve "unconditional surrender." This was also the policy most often adopted by the United States in dealing with insurgents, both domestic, as in the Civil War, and foreign, as in the Philippines. Moreover, in dealing with Native Americans, the United States has shown that negotiating treaties may be a device not to establish peace but to disarm, defeat, and gradually drive an opponent into a dependent condition.
The United States has sometimes sought to ameliorate the harshness of terms imposed on defeated opponents by financial awards (payments and annuities to Native Americans, $15 million to Mexico for 40 percent of its territory from Texas to California) or postwar programs of aid and rehabilitation (loans to Germany after World War I, the Marshall Plan after World War II). Even in this respect, however, the provision of aid has been more generous and given on less humiliating terms to powerful opponents, especially those of white race, than to those peoples of different race and culture who have found themselves in the path of "manifest destiny" and U.S. global expansion, whether Native Americans, Filipinos, or Vietnamese.