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View series: The first World War, 1914-1918

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Goals of War and Failure of a Negotiated Peace

This map is part of a series of 20 animated maps showing the history of The first World War, 1914-1918.

Attempts to seek an end to the hostilities had been made since 1914. The impasse reached in 1917 encouraged new initiatives – which were more or less sincere ‑ to explore avenues of compromise.

The failure of these attempts can be attributed to the multiplicity of war goals of the various protagonists

From September 1914, the German government anticipated the following:

  • In the west, the annexation of Belgium and of a strip of land in north-east France.
  • In the east, the placing of Russian Poland and the Baltic countries under the influence of Germany.
  • In Africa, territorial continuity between existing German colonies, through the annexation of the Congo. This vast Mittelafrica would be the counterpart of the great economic Mitteleuropa envisioned with Austria‑Hungary.

England entered the conflict in order to guarantee Belgian neutrality. It refused to accept any proposition that would lead to a German takeover of Belgium.

Italy did not want to give up its incorporation of the regions of Trentino and Trieste, which it had claimed since its unification and which the Allies had promised in exchange for its entry into the conflict.

France, because it had been attacked, officially had no war goals but, from the early days of the conflict, public opinion in the country demanded that Alsace‑Lorraine, annexed by Germany in 1871, be returned to France.

At the end of 1917, after long months of war and many sacrifices, the various factions were not ready to agree to a status quo ante bellum which would involve neither territorial annexations, nor economic indemnities.