The difficulties of winning the war were followed by the frustrations of winning the peace. The peace terms were worked out at an international conference held in Versailles during 1919 (see Versailles, Treaty of). The French succeeded in regaining Alsace-Lorraine and in foisting exclusive blame for the war on Germany. On that basis, reparations were imposed on Germany, just as France had been forced to pay reparations after the Battle of Waterloo and the Franco-Prussian War. The exact amount was to be computed by a commission later, but initial estimates were astronomical. France’s chief goal, ensuring its security, proved far more elusive. In the end, France had to renounce hopes for permanent control of the Rhine Valley. Germany agreed to demilitarize the Rhineland, and France won the right to occupy the area until 1935. Britain and the United States guaranteed their aid to France in case of attack.
However, many of the peace terms did not turn out as expected. Britain and the United States soon retracted their assurances. France was left to rely on a set of alliances with central and eastern European powers—alliances that paradoxically wound up dragging France back into war in 1939. France withdrew its troops from the Rhineland five years earlier than planned, and German leader Adolf Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936.
German reparations, which France needed to pay off debts owed to the United States, amounted to considerably less than first imagined, even though by 1931 Germany had paid 10 billion francs. Under such circumstances, it was not surprising that in the 1930s France built the Maginot Line, a heavily fortified string of defenses running along the frontier from Switzerland to Belgium. The French trusted the Maginot Line to withstand a German assault.
Like other nations, France made an effort to forestall war. It joined the League of Nations and signed agreements such as the Locarno Pact of 1925, which reaffirmed the Franco-German border, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which renounced war as an instrument of foreign policy.
But a strong sense of vulnerability continued to lie behind French foreign and military policy in Europe throughout the period between World War I and World War II. This vulnerability laid the basis for the appeasement policies and military strategies of the 1930s.
A sense of vulnerability was much less apparent in French overseas imperialism in this period. The French colonial empire reached its peak, expanding into the African and Middle Eastern regions formerly controlled by Germany and the Ottoman Empire. The French empire now extended to 11.7 million sq km (4.5 million sq mi)—20 times the size of France—and included a population of roughly 80 million people—about twice that of France. Yet commercial relations with the colonies continued to be marginal—amounting to only 15 percent of France’s foreign trade in 1929. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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