June 14, 2024


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1920: The San Remo Conference Decisions and Their Lasting Impact

4 min read


The San Remo conference of 1920, a lesser-known yet crucial diplomatic event, played a pivotal role in shaping the modern Middle East. Held in the aftermath of World War I, it was at this conference where the victorious Allied powers made significant decisions regarding the future of the territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire. This comprehensive analysis delves into the decisions made at the San Remo conference, exploring their context, implications, and enduring impact on international relations and the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

Background: The World Post World War I

Aftermath of the Great War

The end of World War I left Europe and the Middle East in a state of flux. The defeat of the Central Powers, including the Ottoman Empire, opened up the question of how to manage their vast territories.

The Mandate System

The League of Nations, established in the wake of the war, introduced the mandate system. This system was designed to administer the former territories of the Central Powers, ostensibly until they could govern themselves independently.

Key Decisions at San Remo

Allocation of Middle Eastern Territories

The most significant outcome of the San Remo conference was the allocation of former Ottoman territories in the Middle East to the British and French under the mandate system.

British Mandates

  • Palestine: The British mandate of Palestine included the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, which supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
  • Mesopotamia (Modern-day Iraq): Britain also received the mandate for Mesopotamia, a region with significant oil reserves, shaping future geopolitical interests in the area.

French Mandates

  • Syria and Lebanon: France was awarded mandates over Syria and Lebanon, leading to the eventual creation of separate nation-states in these territories.

The Fate of Anatolia

  • The conference also addressed the status of Anatolia, leading to the Treaty of Sèvres, which proposed dividing Ottoman Anatolia among various entities, a decision that was later altered by the Turkish War of Independence and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Consequences and Legacy

Creation of Modern Nation-States

The decisions at San Remo played a crucial role in drawing the modern political map of the Middle East. The artificial boundaries and creation of new states have had lasting effects on regional politics and identities.

The Zionist Movement and Israel

The endorsement of the Balfour Declaration at San Remo was a key moment in the Zionist movement, leading to the eventual establishment of Israel in 1948, a development that continues to have significant political ramifications.

Seeds of Future Conflicts

The disregard for the aspirations of Arab populations and the imposition of artificial boundaries contributed to enduring conflicts, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and sectarian tensions in various regions, including Iraq.

International Law and Colonialism

The mandate system, while intended as a step towards self-governance, often mirrored colonial practices. This has led to ongoing debates about the legacy of colonialism in international law and global politics.


The San Remo Conference of 1920 marked a turning point in the history of the Middle East, setting in motion a series of events that would shape the region’s future. The decisions made at the conference, influenced by colonial interests and geopolitical strategies, had far-reaching consequences, many of which continue to resonate in contemporary international relations. Understanding the San Remo conference is crucial for comprehending the complex historical and political landscape of the Middle East today.

Additional References

For more in-depth information on this topic, consider these sources:

Explore Our Series on Middle East Peace Initiatives

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