Following the Great War, Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised ‘a land fit for heroes’. After a short post-war boom, demobilised soldiers found it increasingly difficult to find work. Deprivation was widespread and industrial relations were deteriorating. War debts to the United States and non-payment by European Allies of war debts meant that the Government could not pay for many planned reforms. Britain's debts, incurred during the War, were equivalent to 136% of its gross national product. The USA was Britain's major creditor. Unemployment in Britain in 1921 reached its highest point (11.3%) since records had first been kept.
The British Mandate of Mesopotamia became the Kingdom of Iraq. The three former Ottoman provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul were in a state of revolt. In an effort to quell the unrest, Emir Faisal was made King and administrator of Iraq. King Faisal was a member of the Hashemite family, who had been important British Allies against the Ottoman Empire. Gertrude Bell was an English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator and archaeologist. She had travelled and explored extensively in the Middle East and had mapped much of the area. She was extremely knowledgeable and had many contacts amongst the Tribal Leaders. She became highly influential to British policy making and, along with Sir Percy Cox and T. E. Lawrence [Lawrence of Arabia], helped to support the Hashemite dynasties in what is now Jordan as well as in the new Iraq. Bell, Cox and Lawrence attended a conference in Cairo, convened by Winston Churchill to determine the boundaries of Iraq.
Gertrude Bell opposed the Zionist movement on the grounds that it would be unfair to impose Jewish rule on Arab inhabitants of Palestine. She regarded the Balfour Declaration with the ‘deepest mistrust’ and said that ‘it’s like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can’t stretch out your hand to prevent them’.
The Washington Naval Conference (also named the Washington Disarmament Conference) was a meeting called by the US President, Warren Harding, in November 1921. It was attended by the USA, Japan, China, France, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Portugal. Russia was not invited. The Conference resulted in three major treaties: the Four-Power Treaty, the Five-Power Treaty (known as the Washington Naval Treaty) and the Nine-Power Treaty. In December the Four-Power Treaty was signed, it aimed to prevent the kind of naval building race seen before the War. Admiral Kato told the Conference that Japan was ready to make sweeping reductions to its navy as it did not require a fleet of the same size as Britain and America.
At the end of the Great War, Britain still had the largest navy but its big ships were becoming obsolete and the Americans and Japanese were rapidly building new warships. There were no immediate dangers, but there was concern that American/Japanese rivalry in the Pacific Ocean could threaten world peace.
The Anglo-Irish Peace Treaty was signed in December. British and Irish negotiators finally agreed upon the granting of independence to a large part of Ireland. The Treaty had three main provisions:
1. The twenty-six southern counties would become independent and be known as the ‘Irish Free State’. 2. Of the eight counties which formed historic Ulster, six would remain part of the United Kingdom. 3. A Boundary Commission would draw the dividing line between the North and the South.
The Irish Free State would become an independent dominion like Canada, having its own Parliament. Irish nationalists resisted the idea of an oath of allegiance to the King, so the oath was changed to an oath of allegiance to the Free State, faithful to the King. Ultimately, it was believed, Ireland would be best served by having one Parliament in Dublin. The southern Irish hoped that the division of Ireland would not be permanent, but the leaders of the six counties would not agree to be governed by Dublin.