Indemnities of War: Subsidies and Loans


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Indemnities of War: Subsidies and Loans is Number 158 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The part on indemnities includes two sections. The first begins by explaining that in accordance with international law, at the conclusion of a war “a victorious State is justified in demanding an indemnity from its defeated adversary…. such indemnity should take the form not of a punitive exaction, but of a compensation or reimbursement for the actual losses and expenditure brought about by the prosecution of hostilities.” It then summarizes the more than 20 cases in the period between 1814 and 1913 in which indemnities had been levied after wars. For each case, the relevant treaty, amount of the indemnity, mode and/or time of payment, and guarantee generally are listed. The guarantee in most cases was military occupation by the victorious power until all or part of the indemnity was paid. The second section, entitled “Economic Effects of an Indemnity on the Nation Receiving It,” mainly deals with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, after which France was compelled to pay Germany a large sum for the cost of the war. Part II of the study is a listing of subsidies and loans made by Great Britain to allies between 1795 and 1855. Under the Treaty of Versailles concluded after World War I, Germany was required to make large reparations payments to the victorious allies, few of which, however, were ever actually paid.

Last updated: March 24, 2015