Diplomatic Background : Europe

Hitler, the democratically-legitimally appointed, dictatorially ruling chancellor of Germany, from the first day in office prepared Germany for war. The Government Priniting Agency was ordered to print money in order to finance the construction of AUTOBAHNs, as well as a policy of massive ARMAMENT. Hitler's declared policy of territorial expansion, of undoing the "wrong done to Germany by the Treaty of Versailles", of acquisition of "Lebensraum im Osten" (living space in the east, for the Germans who were declared to live in an overpopulated country) he had published in his book "MEIN KAMPF" in 1926.
In the year Hitler took office, 1933, Germany withdrew from the LEAGUE OF NATIONS. Hitler's first attempt to annex Austria in 1934 only provoked a demonstration of Italian strength. Hitler learnt that in order to succeed he had to break his diplomatic isolation.
When the League of Nations imposed economic sanctions on Italy in 1936, Germany openly ignored them and came to Italy's aid (preparing the road for the ANSCHLUSS of Austria in 1938); in 1936 the AXIS PACT between Germany and Japan was signed, joined by Italy in 1937. When Spain's CIVIL WAR broke out, Germany and Italy sided with the Nationalists of General Franco.
In 1938 Hitler staged the Anschluss of Austria (Austria, among the powers defeated in World War I, had no defensive Alliance with any of the Western countries) and forced Czechoslovakia to cede the SUDETENLAND. Britain and France, partially unwilling, partially unready to stand up to Hitler, for the moment pursued a policy of APPEASEMENT.
Hitler now offered Poland an Alliance directed against the Soviet Union, and, after the Polish decline, signed the HITLER-STALIN-PACT with Russia, a Non-Aggression Pact with the implication to split up the chain of states located between Germany and Russia.

The alliances Nazi Germany offered and engaged in were opportunistic, intended to result in immediate gain or in the establishment of concealed German supremacy over it's respective partner. Germany broke the conditions of these and other treaties (such as Danish, Norwegian, Belgian, Dutch neutrality) at will, whenever it suited Hitler. In June 1941 it suited him to invade the USSR (in violation of the Non-Aggression Pact of 1939).
Other Fascist states, such as Franco's Spain, had a similar view on the obligation of loyalty - only as far as it was in your interest. Indebted to Germany and Italy for assistance during the Spanish Civil War, when World War II broke out, Franco politely refused German requests to join the war. Spain remained neutral, the Falangist dictatorship lasted until Franco's death in 1975.
The Anglo-French system of collective security had failed in 1938 when Czechoslovakia, without being represented in Munich, in the MUNICH PACT was forced to cede the SUDETENLAND to Germany. When POLAND was attacked in 1939, France and Britain declared on one aggressor, Germany, but not on the other, the USSR; they chise to remain inactive (PHONEY WAR) rather than to come to Poland's aid.
After the fall of France, Britain held out alone - with quite a number of exile governments (Poles, Latvians, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgian, French, Czech, Ethiopian, soon to be joined by Greek and Yugoslav) seated in London. This alliance, with some modification, was to form the backbone of (western) post-war order.
The USSR, in pursuit of the long-term goal of the world revolution, lodged a set of exile communists preparing themselves to take over government in their native countries, from countries wjere revolutions have failed (Germany, Hungary, Spain) and from many others; they were to play a critical role in the establishment of PEOPLE'S DEMOCRACIES in eastern central Europe after the war.
The US again, for a long time, was irresolute when it came to the wars in Europe and Asia. Yet, experience taught that neither Germany, the USSR nor Japan bothered very much about diplomatic formalities such as declarations of war. When Germany invaded the USSR, the western dilemma to choose between two evils was solved, and the NATURAL ALLIANCE between Britain, the USSR and the USA was given. The US formally was not yet at war; the ATLANTIC CHARTER of August 1941, setting conditions for a post-war European order, hinted otherwise.

DOCUMENTS Munich Pact, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Atlantic Charter, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Anti-Comintern Pact (Axis Pact) 1936, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact 1939, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 16th 2004

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