Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau

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Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau.jpg

Ulrich Graf[notes 1] von Brockdorff-Rantzau (29 May 1869 Schleswig – 8 September 1928 Berlin) was a German diplomat, the first Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic and German Ambassador to the USSR for most of the twenties.

Early career[edit]

Son of Graf Hermann zu Rantzau and Juliane nee von Brockdorff, Brockdorff-Rantzau completed study of jurisprudence in Neuchâtel and Freiburg im Breisgau and became a Dr. jur in 1891. Between 1891 and 1893 he served with the Prussian army; he was dismissed as a second lieutenant after suffering an injury. He then entered the Foreign Office as a diplomat. From 1897 to 1901 he was secretary to the embassy in St Petersburg. In 1901 he moved on to Vienna. From 1909 to 1912 he was attached to the Consul-General in Budapest. Finally, in 1912, he was made ambassador to Denmark. In this position he was able to ensure the exchange of German coal for Danish food supplies. He came in close contact with Danish and German trade unions and got to know the future German president Friedrich Ebert. He was also instrumental in facilitating the passage of the Bolsheviks Vladimir Lenin and Karl Radek across Germany in a sealed train in 1917.

Role as Foreign Minister[edit]

Appointment[edit]

He was offered the post of Außenstaatssekretär (State Secretary for Foreign Affairs) following Arthur Zimmermann's resignation in 1917, but declined because he did not believe he could follow a policy independent from military interference. This stance characterised his subsequent diplomatic career. However in December 1918, he accepted this post in the government of Philipp Scheidemann dependent on five conditions:

  1. A national Constituent assembly should be convened before February 16, 1919 to ensure the Council of People's Deputies could have a constitutional basis.
  2. Germany's credit rating should be restored to facilitate loans from the USA.
  3. A republican Army should be immediately created to hold back the prospect of a communist revolution and to create a stronger negotiating position for Germany at the Peace Conference.
  4. All possible steps should be made remove the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils from involvement in the state.
  5. He demanded the right to participate in domestic problems and to reject a dictated peace if he felt it threatened Germany's future.

Ebert of the SPD and Hugo Haase of the USPD agreed to the first four conditions and he received the appointment arriving in Berlin January 2, 1919. On February 13 his title was changed to Reichsminister des Auswärtigen (Imperial Minister of Foreign Affairs) as part of the founding of the Weimar Republic.

Although he was to develop a policy of a positive relationship with the Soviet Union, this was based on realpolitik considerations rather than any sympathy for radicalism. Faced with the German Revolution, he advocated stern measures against the revolutionaries, threatening to resign if this was not done. The threat of resignation became a regular feature of his negotiating strategy. Nevertheless when Matthias Erzberger advocated the dispatch of Karl Radek, the captured Bolshevik diplomat, to the waiting hands of the Entente, he was furious about the failure to consider the political consequences.

After the defeat of the Spartacist uprising in January 1919, the country wide elections for the constituent assembly continued, with the delegates assembling in Weimar as Berlin was not safe. On February 14 Brockdorff-Rantzau addressed the National Assembly. He stated that Germany was ready to make peace, but did not accept that she alone was responsible for the war or had, alone, committed acts of barbarity. This need to be looked at by an impartial judge, but that in the meantime Germany would adhere to Wilsonian principle of no indemnities or territorial concessions. Germany would reimburse civilians for damages they had caused, and to rebuild what they had destroyed, but voluntarily and not by slave labour forced on prisoners of war. He proclaimed himself a democrat but remarked: "Democracy did not mean the rule of the masses as such; only the very best men should rule and lead."

Following a Russian broadcast on April 22 declaring that the Soviet Union wanted to re-establish diplomatic relations, Brockdorff-Rantzau told a cabinet session the next day that any discussions should be restricted to private persons developing economic relations until after peace had been concluded with the Allies.

At the Treaty of Versailles[edit]

Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau led the German delegation which arrived at Versailles on 29 April and was kept waiting for several days. When the first session began on 7 May, French newspapers suggested that this was because it was the anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. After Georges Clemenceau had accused Germany of being responsible for the war,[citation needed] Brockdorff-Rantzau said[citation needed] that the issue was to reach a lasting peace but admitting that the power of German arms was broken, he nevertheless declared that admission of sole German responsibility for the war would be a lie. He stated that the policy of revenge, as well as the policy of expansion, in disregard of the fight of peoples to determine their own affairs contributed to the sickness of Europe, which reached its crisis in the World War. Russian mobilisation took the possibility of curing the disease out of the hands of statesmen and placed the decision into the hand of military force. While he admitted wrongs carried out by the former leaders of Germany, he argued that these and other wrongs committed by other nations should be considered by an objective commission with access to all the archives.[citation needed] The German delegation was then granted seven days to respond to the 440 articles.

In this capacity, Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau attended the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919). He had set out to negotiate a peace based on President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and a request for the union of Austria with Germany. In practice, he found himself trying to defend Germany against the accusation of sole war guilt;[citation needed] he attacked the atrocities of the Allied blockade on Germany following the armistice on 11 November, and predicted that such a treaty would be impossible to fulfill, and cause continual discontent amongst the German people.

He was appointed Ambassador to Moscow and played a crucial role in German-Soviet relations until his death from throat cancer in 1928. He developed a close working relationship with Georgy Chicherin, the Soviet People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs from March 1918 to 1930.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Regarding personal names: Graf is a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The female form is Gräfin.
Political offices
Preceded by
Wilhelm Solf
Foreign Minister of Germany
1918–1919
Succeeded by
Hermann Müller