Lessons From: Gustav Stresemann

How Stresemann single-handedly changed the course of a nation

Whenever you think of good diplomacy, Gustav Stresemann certainly has to come to mind. Winner of the Noble Peace Price in 1926, his achievement comes from Franco-German reconciliation between the World Wars, and granted, this reconciliation didn't last long with the eventual rise of National Socialism, but, had he not entered the scene of international relations when he did, tensions would've been much quicker to blow. 

Back when the Great War had finished and the Treaty of Versailles had been signed, Stresemann was horrified with the details in the treaty. Germany took the blame of the war when it should've been the Austro-Hungarian empire, and they were thus responsible for paying reparations to the rest of Europe, eventually established as 132 billion marks, besides the fact that the size of the German army was severely hindered (100,000 troops, 6 battleships, no submarines, no air force) and they were forbidden from joining the League of nations. The Rhineland was demilitarized, Alsace-Lorraine returned to France, lands in the East were given to Poland, Danzig was made a free city, and the colonies were given as mandates to Britain and France. These terms were even harsher as time went on. 

When Stresemann was prime minister he was hell-bent on making sure that the German resistance in the Rühr stopped in order to prevent chaos, and he made sure that the currency wouldn't fail under the dire circumstances that were surrounding the country. In 1924, as foreign minister, he was able to secure the Dawes Plan, in which the United States and Great Britain would lend money to Germany so they could pay reparations. Dawes himself was given a Nobel Prize for this, but the plan eventually failed in 1929 when the Great Depression came and was replaced with the Young Plan. Payments ceased after Germany's defeat, until West Germany paid off the debt and once the country was unified, the rest of the interest was paid off. The fact that this method of paying for reparations was able to be completed speaks a lot about the foresight Stresemann had. 

His next big achievement was getting Germany into the League of Nations in 1926, and it is here where he and Aristide Briand were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for restoring relations merely 8 years after the war had ended, and was pretty much unthinkable due to the hyperinflation that Germany suffered through as a result of the occupation of the Rhineland. It was here where he negotiated with the other European countries that Germany should be returned some of its colonies, its army be allowed to conscript anew, and besides the end of Anglo-French occupation of the Rhineland, it was seen to that France and Britain also disarmed, and with this he guaranteed peace on the West. He did not guarantee peace with Poland and always viewed Germany's claim on those territories as legitimate. The Kellog-Briand act of 1928 cemented the world's trust in his nation, because it renounced the use of violence to resolve international affairs. Until the crash in 1929, this allowed Germany to rebuild, and had he not been foreign minister the Depression surely would have been the end of the country.

What can we learn from this?

If Germany can recover multiple times from crisis that many regimes never return from, then you can see the necessity of perseverance. The important aspect in Stresseman's life was the fact that no matter what position his country was in, he could negotiate for more, and even though he did not live to see German prosperity in his lifetime, it only existed from then on because he was so tactful with the other world leaders. 

Whenever you're stuck in a rut and feel trapped, like Germany was, always bargain for more. You have nothing to lose and much to gain, even if it's just a base to expand on later. 

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