Carl von Schubert, Auswärtiges Amt, and the Evolution of Weimar Westpolitik, 1920-1924

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2011 32 Pages

History Europe - Germany - World War I, Weimar Republic



“There is a prevalent misconception – dating from the war propaganda – that Germans in general, and the German government in particular, are exceptionally unreliable – that they are more than usually apt to break their word. … Possibly Germany has improved. Today she certainly stands high in her reputation for reliability. … But to return to Schubert. It is difficult, in the case of officials, to distangle what is due to their own initiative from what is executed by them on the initiative of others. But the view in Berlin of those best able to judge is that if European pacification has made such considerable progress, it is in large measures due to the sagacity and moderation of the German Secretary of State [Schubert]”.[1]

With these words, Lord D’Abernon, the British ambassador to Germany from 1920-1926, and one of the distinguished experts of European politics of the 1920s, describes Carl von Schubert, the Secretary of State in the German Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) from 1924 to 1930, as one of the most important actors in European diplomacy of the interwar years. Schubert did not only possess foresight and the “political sagacity of an old Roman” but he was probably the most ardent proponent of a new German foreign policy in the Weimar Republic, which pursued a modern understanding of diplomacy based on multilateralism and balancing of interest among the concert of European powers. Schubert was the incarnation of German “republican foreign policy” in the 1920s, which had abandoned power politics and stressed the importance of economics and trade, negotiations and cooperation instead. He was the distinguished person in the Auswärtiges Amt, which from the beginning called and pursued a coherent and steady policy of understanding and accommodation with the Western powers (United States, Great Britain, and France). Schubert knew that Germany would only be able to regain its former great power status if it succeeded to gain the trust and acceptance of the other powers through its cooperation and reliability. In this regard, he put all his strength and efforts in the service of an operational and professional Foreign Office to direct its policy towards this end.

However, German “republican foreign policy” and the emphasis of cooperation with the Western countries is highly connected with the person of Gustav Stresemann, Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic from 1923-1929. Throughout the historiography on Weimar foreign policy, he receives all credit for a policy of modus vivendi with the Western powers and the special relationship that Germany established with the United States in particular after 1924. It is also well known that the Secretary of State, Carl von Schubert, was his right hand and that both complemented each other in the endeavour to bring Germany out of its international isolation and make it a respectable and reliable member of the concert of Europe. If Stresemann was the public face of this new policy, then Schubert was probably the backroom engineer of this strategy. As a duumvirate among the German foreign policy elite, they were responsible for the policies that led to the Dawes-Plan in 1924, Treaty of Locarno in 1925, and Germany’s admission to the League of Nations in 1926, and finally Germany’s accession to the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928.

The second half of the 1920s is known as the Locarno-era, a time of European cooperation due to German participation and U.S. American engagement in European affairs. But did this policy come overnight, and is it solely connected with Stresemann’s accession to power after 1924? What was the role of the Auswärtiges Amt and that of Carl von Schubert in particular prior to 1924? Was Stresemann only the executer of a strategy developed long before by Schubert, or does he really deserve his place in history as the founder of German Westpolitik ? Further, which role did Schubert play in the initiation of German-American relations during the first half of the 1920s? This article will investigate the policies of the Auswärtiges Amt and Schubert’s role towards the Western powers and try to find out if there was a coherent strategy prior to Stresemann’s accession to power or not.

Historiography on Weimar Foreign Policy

Almost eighty years after the downfall of the Weimar Republic, scholarship on the subject of Weimar foreign policy has reached the stage, where judgments can be made, however, with different accentuations. Throughout Weimar historiography there is common agreement that revision of the Versailles Treaty was the ultimate guide and driving force behind Weimar foreign policy making. The ultimate goal was to bring Germany back on the international stage and make it again a respected great power among the European concert.

One of the first comprehensive works on Weimar foreign policy was published by Ludwig Zimmermann, Deutsche Aussenpolitik in der Ära der Weimarer Republik in 1958. It remained so for the next thirty years. Zimmermann argues that the problems of Weimar foreign policy were driven by the rigid and unbending policies of the Allied powers, conducted through the regulations of the Versailles Peace Treaty and the reparations issue.[2] He puts Weimar foreign policy in the European framework and relates foreign policy reactions mostly to external factors. In his conclusions, Zimmermann remains within the spirit of interwar historiography, which underestimated or ignored the manifold external, as well as, internal factors that affected Weimar foreign policy.

In the meantime, scholars investigated various particular issues, such as German-American, -British, -French, and -Soviet relations, and closed remaining gaps within historiography. It was Peter Krüger, Die Aussenpolitik der Republik von Weimar, who published a new comprehensive study on Weimar foreign policy that considered the contemporary scholarly works. It is a synthetic study, unmatched until today. He shows how in post war Germany a specific “republican foreign policy”[3] evolved and took place, which distinguished itself from its Wilhelmine past. Its basic principles were the peaceful mediation of international differences, a liberal foreign trade policy, and a new style of diplomacy designed to give other nations confidence in Germany's reliability and credibility. He clearly explains the importance of economic factors as the guiding theme of Weimar foreign policy and its orientation toward the West.[4] It was also Krüger, who worked out the important role of the Auswärtiges Amt in Weimar foreign policy and also that of distinguished high ranking Weimar diplomats like von Maltzan (Ostpolitik), and von Schubert (Westpolitik) in creating and pursuing foreign policy making prior to 1924,[5] at a time when Weimar politics were in disarray with changing governments and ministers and with no consistent strategy.[6]

One of the most recent studies on Weimar foreign policy remains written by Klaus Hildebrand, Das Vergangene Reich. Deutsche Außenpolitik von Bismarck bis Hitler 1871-1945.[7] It is a monumental synthetic work on German foreign policy with considerable chapters on the Weimar era. His thesis for the Weimar period is summarized under the subtitle “struggle for revisionism.” Hildebrand analyses Weimar foreign policy by observing events and decisions, and makes interpretations of policy formulation by statesmen, diplomats and generals. He argues further that German foreign policy actions have to be regarded within the framework of the European Staatenwelt.[8] He follows Krüger’s analysis of a republican foreign policy, which evolves clearly under Stresemann’s leadership and ends with his death and Schubert’s departure from the Auswärtiges Amt.

The German Foreign Office was a major player in shaping Weimar foreign policy. The reform of the Auswärtiges Amt during 1918-1920 (Schülersche Reform)[9] and its adaptation to the new international order with diplomacy based on negotiations, economic cooperation and trade at the forefront were crucial for a successful goal-oriented strategy. This so called “republican foreign policy” marks one of the major changes in German foreign policy making with Schubert and Stresemann as its ardent advocates. Many studies have been published in book or article form dealing explicitly with the reform of the Auswärtiges Amt, and the composition of its diplomatic corps. Thereby, the authors investigate the role of old school diplomats versus new outsiders from the business world, or political parties, and how they affected foreign policy making.[10]

In the Oldenbourg edition, Encyclopedia of German History, Eberhard Kolb, Die Weimarer Republik,[11] and Gottfried Niedhart, Die Aussenpolitik der Weimarer Republik,[12] have both written a well founded analysis and concise history of the Weimar Republic and Weimar foreign policy respectively. Both authors underline Krüger’s and Hildebrand’s analysis and interpretations of Weimar foreign policy. Both books have a handbook character and give a rich overview on historiography and literature on the subject.[13]

Most of the literature on US-Weimar relations is devoted to the Stresemann era. Two significant studies are written by Robert Gottwald, Die Deutsch-amerikanischen Beziehungen in der Ära Stresemann,[14] and Manfred Berg, Gustav Stresemann und die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika.[15] Whereas Gottwald focuses on the role of the media and public opinion in general, Berg stresses the economic relations instead. For Gottwald as well as Berg, the turning point in German-US relations and European affairs is the Ruhr-crisis of 1923. Only after the aggravation of French-German relations and the dangers of an economic as well as political downturn, did the United States finally recognize the importance of American involvement. America’s determination supported by public opinion to intervene in European affairs helped substantially to bring about a financial and economic consolidation of German and European affairs and paved the way for the following economic cooperation and political reconciliation between France and Germany that culminated into the acceptance of the Dawes-Plan and the signing of the Locarno Treaty.[16] Overall, Stresemann saw the importance of the United States from early on and it was only US-backing that enabled him to pursue his successful foreign policy after the mind 1920s.


[1] See Viscount D’Abernon, An Ambassador of Peace. Vol. III. The Years of Recovery. January 1924 – October 1926 (Hodder and Stoughton: Limited, London, 1930), 28.

[2] „Die rechtzeitige Revision der Friedensverträge würde wahrscheinlich die Weimarer Republik und den Frieden gerettet haben.“ See Ludwig Zimmermann, Deutsche Aussenpolitik in der Ära der Weimarer Republik (Musterschmidt Verlag: Göttingen, Berlin, Frankfurt, 1958), 65-74.

[3] See Peter Krüger, Die Aussenpolitik der Republik von Weimar (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: Darmstadt, 1985), 9-13, 17-30.

[4] Ibid, 17-30.

[5] See Peter Krüger, „Schubert, Maltzan und die Neugestaltung der auswärtigen Politik in den zwanziger Jahren“, in: Gedenkfeier des Auswärtiges Amtes zum 60. Todestag von Staatssekretär Ago Freiherr von Maltzan und zum 40. Todestag von Dr. Carl von Schubert, Bonn, 18.09.1987 (Sonderdruck hrsg. vom Auswärtigen Amt) and Peter Krüger, „Carl von Schubert und die deutsch-französischen Beziehungen.“ In: Stephen A. Schuker (ed.), Deutschland und Frankreich. Vom Konflikt zur Aussöhnung. Die Gestaltung der westeuropäischen Sicherheit 1914-1963 (Oldenbourg Verlag: München, 2000), 73-96 and Peter Krüger, „Zur Bedeutung des Auswärtigen Amts für die Außenpolitik Stresemanns“ (1979) In: Wolfgang Michalka und Marshall M. Lee (ed.), Gustav Stresemann (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: Darmstadt, 1982), 400-415.

[6] See Wolfgang Elz, „Die Weimarer Republik und ihre Aussenpolitik. Ein Forschungs- und Literaturbericht“, Historisches Jahrbuch, Vol. 119 (1999), 310-311.

[7] See Klaus Hildebrand, Das Vergangene Reich. Deutsche Außenpolitik von Bismarck bis Hitler 1981-1945 (Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt: Stuttgart, 1995)

[8] “Über weite Strecken der nationalen Geschichte und der internationalen Entwicklung trieben seine [Deutschlands] Staatsmänner Weltpolitik und fielen ihr gleichzeitig zum Opfer … Das beschreibt historische Ambivalenzen, die vor allem im Zusammenhang der Staatengeschichte nicht selten anzutreffen sind. Kaum eine große Macht verfügt über soviel Kraft und unbestrittenen Einfluß, dass ihr alles Relevante gleichermaßen zu bestimmen verfügbar ist.” Ibid, 850, 892.

[9] See Kurt Doß, Das deutsche Auswärtige Amt im Übergang vom Kaiserreich zur Weimarer Republik. Die Schülersche Reform (Droste Verlag: Düsseldorf, 1977)

[10] See Peter Grupp, Deutsche Außenpolitik im Schatten von Versailles 1918-1920. Zur Politik des Auswärtigen Amts vom Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs und der Novemberrevolution bis zum Inkrafttreten des Versailler Vertrages (Ferdinand Schöningh: Paderborn, 1988), 11-172; Gerhard Stuby, Vom „Kronjuristen“ zum „Kronzeugen“. Friedrich Wilhelm Gaus: ein Leben im Auswärtigen Amt der Wilhelmstraße (VSA Verlag: Hamburg, 2008);

Hajo Holborn, “Diplomats and Diplomacy in the Early Weimar Republic.” In: Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert (ed.), The Diplomats, 1919-1939 (Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey, 1994), 123-171; Kurt Doß, „ Vom Kaiserreich zur Weimarer Republik. Das deutsche diplomatische Korps in einer Epoche des Umbruchs. “ and Peter Krüger, „ Struktur, Organisation und außenpolitische Wirkungsmöglichkeiten der leitenden Beamten des Auswärtigen Dienstes 1921-1933. “ In: Klaus Schwabe (ed.), Das diplomatische Korps 1871-1945 (Deutsche Führungsschichten in der Neuzeit, Band 16, Harald Boldt Verlag: Boppard am Rhein, 1985), 81-100, 101-169.

[11] See Eberhard Kolb, Die Weimarer Republik, 6., überarbeitete und erweiterte Auflage (R. Oldenbourg Verlag: München, 2002)

[12] See Gottfried Niedhart, Die Aussenpolitik der Weimarer Republik (Enzyklopädie Deutscher Geschichte, Band 53, Oldenbourg Verlag: München, 1999)

[13] See Eberhard Kolb, 23-35, 54-71, 195-211 and Gottfried Niedhart, 11-28, 46-91.

[14] See Robert Gottwald, Die Deutsch-amerikanischen Beziehungen in der Ära Stresemann (Colloquium Verlag: Berlin-Dahlem, 1965)

[15] Manfred Berg, Gustav Stresemann und die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika. Weltwirtschaftliche Verflechtung und Revisionspolitik 1907-1929 (Nomos Verlag: Baden-Baden, 1990)

[16] See Robert Gottwald, 12-22 and Manfred Berg, 123-124.


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Title: Carl von Schubert, Auswärtiges Amt, and the Evolution of Weimar Westpolitik, 1920-1924