The Effects and Origins of British Foreign Policy between the World Wars:
Since the Medieval Ages, Great Britain had been constantly pursuing the balance of powers in Europe. This has, to some extent, protected Britain from demise and buttressed its construction of a global Empire. Based on naval hegemony, Britain has built its colonies all around the world. British foreign policy after World War I, however, failed to show the prudent discretion exhibited by its predecessors. This paper delves into the geopolitical situation of Europe in from the Treaty of Versailles to the age of Appeasement. It furthermore discovers the necessary yet forsaken steps of Great Britain¡¯s foreign policy. In a final analysis, the origins of such maneuvers will be discovered in terms of Britain¡¯s foreign as well as domestic relations. This work has been compiled much thanks to the Seoul National University Library and the advice of Alexander Ganse, teacher of history at KMLA.
The First World War ended with the treaty of Versailles. Signed by all major participants of the war except Russia, this treaty served as the basis of the diplomatic architecture in the upcoming decades until the Second World War. Crafted mainly by the ¡°Big Three¡± countries, namely the United States, Great Britain and France, the stipulations listed in this treaty manifest the respective aims and goals of the victors. More specifically, the negotiation process shows the difference of interests among the victors. Furthermore, the steaming reaction of Weimar Germany towards the treaty serves partly as a premonition towards the future. Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, or more popularly the ¡°War Guilt Clause¡± struck a heavy blow to defeated Germany militarily, economically, and ideologically.
The nascent Weimar Republic was unstable from its beginning and had more than enough domestic trouble to care about, yet the principal concern of the government had to be the payment of the reparations or the recovery of the occupied Rhineland. Struggling to find peace among the Royalists, Communists and the Ultra-Nationalists, the Weimar administrations were frustrated in their efforts continuously by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the maneuvers of the victors, particularly France.
Finding a way out of the spiral downwards, Germany resolved to swerve through the diplomatic landscape in order to establish its firm position in the European Continent. As Stresemann became the chancellor of Germany in 1923, this pursuit for power and influence became more apparent. It is an undeniable fact that Germany did have a crippling economy due to the reparations provisions but this still is not to say that it did not rearm itself out of the demilitarization policies of the League of Nations. Once the second half of the 1920s had gone, Germany had become a formidable force to be negotiated through strenuous effort. Nonetheless, even as Adolf Hitler took control of the country in 1933, there was no significant maneuver of the Allied Powers as to contain his influence or sufficiently block his endeavors for an obvious war.
France was fully occupied and quite excessive in its efforts to contain German presence in Europe. Trying to mold a ¡°French Bloc¡± that would encircle Germany, France organized alliances with the eastern states such as Poland, while it vigorously rearmed and demonstrated its influence in occupying the Ruhr Valley in 1923, while constantly seeking a British alliance. France was utterly overwrought in its tendency towards its defeated Eastern neighbor, at least until 1933.
Then the question leads to what it was that blocked the victors from preventing another war or even the rise of Hitler¡¯s Germany. Great Britain, one of the ¡°Big Three¡± that orchestrated the Paris Peace Conference, pursued a constant appeasement policy from the start to until the actual World War. Great Britain, reminiscent of the Napoleonic Wars, feared a French hegemony in post war continental Europe. This was the reason why Britain would refuse continuous entreaty of an Anglo-French alliance. This may have been a prudent and reasonable move in the 1920s where France did overreact to German growth, but as the 1930s came and a revisionist regime established itself in Germany, the courteous measures alone could not sufficiently serve peace. Thus, the Allied powers entered the era of appeasement towards Hitler¡¯s Nazi Germany, and later saw an unprepared Blitzkrieg smashing down their backyards.
The Second World War was an unprecedented disaster affecting human beings all over the world. With a single nation¡¯s endeavor, change could have been made to prevent this doom from approaching. That nation, Great Britain, in such an influential position, nonetheless did not act keen enough and therefore contributed to the culmination of the pre-war situation. Of course, it would be an absurdity to attribute all the causes of the Second World War to British foreign policy. Nonetheless, there is considerable evidence that Britain indeed was in a position to prevent Nazi Germany¡¯s advent or its belligerence and sadly failed to do so. This paper shall delve in what specific options British foreign policy had, and what factors contributed to the miscalculation of its architects.
In order to successfully cope with such a task, the paper has been organized to first display the diplomatic situation and power dynamics of the 1920s and 1930s in two contrastive eras. The trilateral relationship among Great Britain, France and Germany has been accompanied by that with the Soviet Union and the Eastern States. After such a narration, the British reaction to the respective situation will be evaluated, and in a separate chapter, the origins of such maneuver will be analyzed in terms of the domestic and foreign circumstances of Great Britain.
In the era from the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles to Nazi Germany¡¯s emergence, France has generally stood in the harsh and aggressive side on troubled Germany, which was denied, by the Treaty of Versailles, the means to defend herself militarily. To France, the maintenance of her superiority over Germany acquired by the war was absolutely necessary for the protection of her state.
(1) Arrangements for Security
The French Government, at the Peace Conference demanded that the left bank of the Rhine and main bridgeheads on the right bank should be placed under French control that Germany might not again be in a position to invade France, or failing this, that two independent States, Rhineland and Palatine, be created to separate France from Germany. Neither Lloyd George nor Woodrow Wilson would permit such a settlement, nonetheless.
The French Government insisted on its occupation for thirty years and took up the British suggestion for its permanent demilitarization as well as that of a zone 50 kilometers east of the (Rhine) River. Most of this was accepted in the Treaty of Versailles, except that the time length was modified into fifteen years.
The United States and Great Britain both signed treaties with France guaranteeing assistance in the event of unprovoked aggression by Germany. However, the British guarantee was made dependent upon the American, and the refusal of the American Senate to ratify the treaty caused both guarantees to lapse.
Although the French Government sought to fill the gap in its system of security caused by the failure of the Anglo-American guarantees by means of alliances with Belgium, Poland and the Little Entente- Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia- it did not abandon hope of securing an understanding with England to replace the still-born Treaty of Guarantee. As time went by, France continuously and desperately sought a military alliance with Great Britain.
Henry Kissinger described the French government as ¡°panicky¡± in its foreign policy to fending off another German assault, and that its quest for security turned obsessive. In the negotiations for the Geneva Protocol in 1924, the Locarno Pact in 1925, the French were always motivated by their fear of a German reprisal, and to keep Germany under their feet was their ultimate objective. Germany was to not recover from its wounds and needed to be kept harmless for the French as long as possible.
(2) Intense Rearmament
As France was, at the 1920s, spending large sums on armament and especially on the fortification of her eastern frontier, a very bad impression was made over them in the United States. Since delinquent war debt payments were frequently connected to such a seemingly extraneous military spending. The French army had increased in number and weaponry, and later the Maginot line, a symbol of French wariness against Germany, had been constructed on the border with Germany. France¡¯s slow economic recovery could be partly attributed to this vast investment on the military rather than the civilian economy.
(3) Harsh Reparations Demands
According to a report on European foreign policy written in the late 1930s, the early 1920s was a period in which the ¡°British and French policies were similar in that they sought to extract all the reparations Germany could pay.¡± The amount of reparations was exorbitant considering that Germany had just gone through a full scale war in which it used all resources Germany could muster. Even though the homeland had remained largely undamaged, demands such as the payment of twenty billion marks before 1921 were not a viable solution for the suffering German economy.
(4) Occupation of the Ruhr Valley- 1923
France, greatly unsatisfied with the delayed reparation payments by the Weimar Republic, launched a military campaign on the industrial region of Ruhr with the participation of Belgium. The German government, unable to strike back via force, ordered its workers to enter a non-violent civil disobedience campaign. The local trade unions and working cooperation responded to such a request, and the French occupation of the region was condemned internationally, by both allies and foes. On the other hand, Germany¡¯s economy experienced a hyperinflation as a result, and thus backfired to the French effort to collect its incomplete reparation payments. France and Belgium gave up this occupation on 1923, and the Dawes Plan was installed in 1924 by a separate commission in order to reduce the annuities on reparations and provide a viable payment plan for the crippling Weimar economy.
(5) Eventual Failure
France pursued a relentless policy of economic, military containment against the Weimar republic. It sought its initiatives from its history of invasion by Germany, its justification from the Treaty of Versailles. Nonetheless, France¡¯s journey to keeping Germany harmless ultimately failed, and as Germans became more vindictive and stronger in the same time, France put itself in a more perilous situation than before. In speaking of a stronger Germany, this paper acknowledges the vast industrial potential that Germany possessed, which could later easily outdo the French counterpart. In addition to this industrial capacity, the fact that the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles did not restrict the development of advanced and new weaponry invested more potential to the German military as well.
The diplomatic circumstances exacerbated towards the French, and eventually Briand and Stresemann met in 1926 in Thoiry to negotiate terms with a Germany stronger in its strategic position and more sympathized by many Allies. Germany gained the following: the Inter-Allied Military Control Commission was withdrawn and Saar was given back without a plebiscite mentioned in the Treaty of Versailles. France, in return, received 300 million marks for the coal mine in the Saar, and the fulfillment of the Dawes plan, which was merely a monetary and temporary compensation.
In conclusion, the French went excessive on the new Weimar Republic, and eventually failed. In particular, the occupation of the Ruhr valley had contributed to the rise of National Socialism, and thus the emergence of Adolf Hitler.
The Weimar Republic possessed a diplomatically lethargic presence until the coming of Stresemann in 1924. After Stresemann¡¯s service in the German foreign office, his country achieved bigger influence in the continent. Germany later became bold enough to continue its violation of the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, and based partly on these armaments, the National Socialists could charge their way against timid Allied appeasement.
Before the coming of Hitler, nonetheless, Germany was troubled in multiple ways. The diplomatic system created by the Treaty of Versailles virtually bound the Weimar Republic toothless, while the vast amount of reparations continuously contributed to domestic instability. The internal conflict between Social Democrats, the Communists, and the Royalists, was such a sharp one that the average term in office for a Chancellor would not exceed a year.
(1) War Guilt Clause
The Treaty of Versailles became the subject of such controversy after its ¡°War Guilt Clause¡± was enforced to the signatories. As reparations (which will be handled in the next section) in the time after the Great War needed a moral justification, assigning war guilt was a necessity for the victors in order to demand reparations. Therefore, the war guilt was assigned to the defeated powers categorically. According to Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, ¡°The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.¡± The domestic reaction on this clause was outrage, and the German official who signed it on behalf of the Weimar Republic was assassinated by a German in the subsequent years.
Reparations were a major issue all along the 1920s, and it is a long known fact that their amounts were unable for the Germans to pay. The German economy had its own problems with the recurring Putsch (coup) and handling of these instabilities became harder for the government as the Allies pushed further on the payments. The Allies were in fact very eager to attribute all their war debts from America to Germany. ¡°Attempts to assess this liability broke down because of divergence in the expert estimates of Germany¡¯s capacity to pay and the determination of the Allies to extract all possible reparations¡± wrote a British professor on foreign policy in the 1930s. A separate Reparations Commission was established before May 1921, instead of going through the scrutiny of the United States, and thus Twenty billion marks were demanded to be paid before May 1921. This came as a severe blow to Germany, and Germans continued to acquire vindictiveness on the international system that imposed such measures.
(3) Territorial Concessions
As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, all German colonies were taken, as well as the regions taken without plebiscite such as Alsace-Lorraine, Posen and Western Prussia. The city of Danzig was taken to become a free state and construct the Polish Corridor. Together with the claims on the Saar coal mining region and the 50 kilometer demilitarized zone on the west of the Rhine River, this again sparked German hatred against the newly established diplomatic system.
(4) Gustav Stresemann- 1923
Stresemann had made his debut in solving the Ruhr valley crisis. He met with the French in order to make a deal; the Fulfillment Policy. This policy enabled the Germans to gain face again in Europe. In fact, this policy cleverly used the loopholes generated by the discrepancies between the British and the French, and therefore pushed Germany into a strategically superior position to that of France. Stresemann penetrated through the fact that the Allies were in desperate need for the reparations, and thus traded this with military parity with the allies.
In 1924, the Locarno Pact acknowledged Germany¡¯s reentrance in the normal diplomatic theater, and furthermore in 1926, the membership of the League of Nations showed the will and need of the victorious powers to include Germany in their groups. As a result of this, neither disarmament nor security could be guaranteed for the Allies. France could not give up the reparations, and therefore gave up disarmament of Germany, which turned out to be a far more important issue. The IMCC (Inter-Allied Military Control Commission), which was the only viable machinery to check German disarmament, was withdrawn from German in 1926 as a result of the deal between Stresemann and Briand.
Rearmament had been taking place in Germany since the early 1920s as a means of pacifying the Freikorps and other military factions in the country, and as time went by, this presence went unchecked and dangerous enough to confront the French or Germany¡¯s Eastern neighbors.
Under such pressing circumstances listed above, Germany had no choice but to adhere to a Realpolitik strategy. It maneuvered through the process with swiftness and eagerness, and was partly guided by the ingeniousness of its foreign minister, Gustav Stresemann.
3) Soviet Union
The Soviet Union was considered a dangerous contingency to the French and British. The Bolshevik revolution it was based basically on pursued the overthrow of the capitalist government, so the initial intimidation of these governments was understandable. In addition to this ideological discrepancy, the Tsarist indebtedness of former Russia owed towards the Western European nations became a discomforting factor between the two entities. This led to the eventual isolation of the Soviet Union in the Locarno Pact in 1923, where it was never invited to discuss peace and mutual assistance with the other European nations. This was a terrible mistake for the Allies. Even if they had considered Soviet Union as a potential threat, they should have realized that abandoning it would result in a German-Soviet alliance.
Serving as an ominous premonition, Germany and Soviet Union came into cooperation in Rapallo, 1922, in order to isolate the Eastern European nations of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia.
4) United States
The United States deserves blame for what it did not do. Maintaining its policy of neutrality and relying on the Anglo-American alliance to keep out of the European Arena, it exacerbated the problem. In the Paris peace conference, there was a discussion on an Anglo-American security guarantee for the French against the Germans. However, as mentioned before, the British guarantee was made dependent upon the American and the refusal of the American Senate to ratify the treaty caused both guarantees to lapse.
The problem of Reparations was closely connected in fact with that of inter-allied indebtedness. In order to pay for the enormous amount of supplies needed to carry on the war, the Allies had been obliged to borrow considerably from Great Britain and the United States, and Great Britain herself had borrowed extensively from the United States Treasury. While both the German Government and the American Government denied any connection between Reparations and Inter-Allied Debts, Great Britain and the other Allies considered the two problems inextricably intermixed. To the European victors, it was, from the start, a case of collecting one debt in order to pay off the other, both debts arising out of the War.
The British foreign ministry once implored the United States to lessen the debt pressure. Nonetheless, President Wilson replied that the United States would not consent to the remission of any part of the British debt to the United States. The gesture of friendship offered in the 1924 Dawes plan was largely ineffective since a loan to Germany by the United States would not mean investment to German infrastructure or enhancement of the German economy, but the payment to the Allies and the subsequent payment to the Americans. The 1929 Young plan, which replaced the outmoded Dawes plan, was virtually crashed by the Great Depression, where ultra-high US tariffs swarmed the world economy into failure. Therefore, the United States had worked not much, if not backwards, for the peace of Europe.
Europe faced a multifaceted trouble of interacting nations, and there was no nation to step up and change that tide. The French seemed at first confident and powerful enough to contain Germany, but later such an endeavor proved vain. Germans, in response to such harsh measures imposed to their country, grew their anger towards the Versailles system day by day until a demagogue capable of making it conspicuous arose.
3. Europe: 1933~1937. Description of Power Dynamics
As the 1930s came, the global economic crisis that started from Wall Street affected the entire European Continent. As Germany was expected to still pay enormous sums of reparations in hard currency, it was under far more economic ballast than the other European nations. The French and British had been relentless on reparation for the last decade, and domestic politics had been pressured more and more by extremists and democracy was ready to snap. Germans finally collapsed in their pursuit of democracy and turned to the once-never-heard National Socialist, Adolf Hitler. Even before this, there were some ominous signs of looming danger in Europe. Devising a scheme to survive the crisis situation in the 1920s, Gustav Stresemann used the discrepancies between the French and English diplomatic corps to gain strategic advantage in terms of geopolitics and military.
(1) The Continuous Construction of the German Military and the Absence of a Controlling Mechanism
Germany already had adhered to a secret armament plan since the 1920s, and as the 1930s came, it imposed quite a formidable pressure towards the Allies. Germany¡¯s secret rearmament had been taking as early as 1920. The minister of industry, Walther Rathenau, had consoled the German military by arguing that the provisions of Versailles that enforced the demilitarization of Germany could affect only the weapons of the past century. The obsolete and old weapons production may have been blocked, but research on new weapons technology as well as the construction of a viable industry for the production of such weapons could not be halted by the Treaty. Former Field Marshal von Hindenburg later remarked in 1926 that ¡°I have seen today that the Germany¡¯s traditional standard of spirit and skill has been preserved.¡±
Quite paradoxically, the Conference of Ambassadors on 1927 announced itself satisfied with Germany¡¯s execution of the disarmament Clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. A truly unacceptable blunder, it continued to live in through the Locarno Spirit that Germany had lost all its potentials to strike on France or Britain, at least in terms of diplomatic perception.
Now, as the 1920s drew to a close, the German government constantly maintained that it was ¡°effectively disarmed¡± and that it was now incumbent upon the allies to disarm in turn according to the obligations undertaken in the Preamble to Part V of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Allies were basically blind in their observation and control of disarmament. The Inter-Allied Military Control Commission (IMCC) had been an organization devoid of any executive powers on Germany. The most compulsory step it could take was ¡°asking¡± the German government to restrain its arms, a diplomatic distinction far from binding. Even this nominal agency for disarmament had been discarded in the spirit of Locarno, and as Stresemann came up with the deal between disarmament and reparations, the situation exacerbated. The British and the French, pressured by American demands on war debts, had to press on reparations, and the admission of Germany into the League of Nations basically gave justification to Germany¡¯s military parity with the victors.
(2) Adolf Hitler
Having risen from demagoguery, Hitler severely exploited Germany¡¯s strategic advantage over the Allies. As soon as the Nazi party seized control of Germany, the country left the global disarmament conference on October 4th, 1933. Hitler reintroduced the mandatory conscription for the armed forces for all young men in 1935 and ordered his army into the demilitarized Rhineland in 1936, marking the overthrow of the last remaining safeguard of the Versailles settlement. Hitler bluntly went against both the Locarno pact as well as the covenant of the League of Nations. Hitler continued to purse a confrontational policy and the Allies were addled by his adamancy, entering the era of Appeasement.
3) Soviet Union
Germany¡¯s strategic advantage was laid not only on the foundation of its armaments, but also on geopolitics. Hitler and Stalin later in the 1930s consolidated their bonds through a secret non aggression pact later in 1939. It seemed virtually impossible for extreme rightist and leftist governments to come together in a strategic consensus. Nonetheless, according to Realpolitik calculations, it seemed mutually advantageous and easy for the two to form bonds. By joining an alliance with Germany, the Soviet Union could further extend its influence on the Eastern European nations, most importantly Poland. As France attempted to form an alliance with these states to contain Germany, the Soviet Union pursued a similar strategy. The big difference between the two states, nonetheless, was in their economic, territorial, and military capacity. The Soviet Union, boosted by its 5-year industrial plans, had been catching up with most Western European nations. Because Russia was a Communist state, the economic epidemic of the Great Depression could go away without a scratch. After this global economic crisis, the Western European nations had seen the comparative surge of this major state. Nonetheless, it was too late to offer cooperation to this giant, after all the cold treatment they had given in the diplomatic venue. As a result, Stalin joined Hitler¡¯s effort to confront the West.
4) United States
Britain had the right track at the time, but not the appropriate alacrity to enforce its direction. Effort to control France¡¯s aggressiveness was not sufficient while disarmament, a crucial provision of the Treaty of Versailles as well as the principal pillar of the Covenant of the League of Nations lagged behind the priority list, was left unconfirmed.
While the French were so eager to establish a military alliance with the British, the Anglo-French Pact was allowed to drop. This was a blunder since by forsaking a viable friendship Britain lost the most likely chance of dissuading the French from their harsh strategies on the Weimar Republic. Instead, Great Britain, in its effort of pacifying Germany, took measures that were insufficient and late.
Britain also was pressing the wrong points on Weimar. Reparations should have been kept down and demilitarization had to be constantly monitored through Anglo-French agreement and cooperation. Military parity should not have been given quid pro quo the reparations. Great Britain should have paid the opportunity cost and persuaded the French to do so too. Nonetheless, the victors were not prepared to make such a choice and tried to catch both rabbits. This provided a dilemma for the victors and thus a loophole for Stresemann to assert German military parity with France. This dilemma festered on until Hitler pursued his confrontational policies against the established powers and ultimately refused to pay any reparations at all. In conclusion, reparations and disarmament both were forsaken. The foundations for the appeasement had been laid partly due to British foreign policy.
The following is a penetrating analysis of the situation,
Stresemann¡¯s Fulfillment placed British diplomats in a difficult position as well. If Great Britain did not grant Germany military equality as a quid pro quo for Germany¡¯s meeting its reparations payments, Germany could well revert to its earlier intransigence. But military equality for Germany would imperil France. Great Britain might have made an alliance with France to counterbalance Germany, but it did not wish to become entangled in Frances¡¯ alliances in Eastern Europe or to find itself at war with Germany over some piece of Polish or Czech territory ¡°for the Polish Corridor,¡± said Austen Chamberlain in 1925, ¡°no British government ever will or ever can risk the bones of a British grenadier¡± his prediction, like Bismarck¡¯s was disproved by events: Great Britain did go to war- just as Germany had earlier in the century- and for the very cause it had so consistently disdained.
To Britain, a Europe where neither France nor Germany nor any other power exercised hegemony was as essential after the war as before and only the peace which permitted this was desirable. Therefore, no responsible British leader thought of going so far as allaying his country with Germany.
Another point that could have been improved was the diplomatic relationship with the Soviet Union. Although all capitalist nations had an innate fear on the Soviet Union, such fear of other nations was not comparable to that of Britain¡¯s. Britain officially severed diplomatic relations as the conservative administration had taken office. Any attempts of friendship by the Soviets were unconditionally rebuffed, and the Soviet Union thus was half forced to find a friend closer, Germany. This became a blunder in the early stages of the war, and the British had to pay a cost for it.
5. The British Reaction to Europe: 1933~1937
The ¡°Locarno Spirit¡± from 1924 went abroad in Europe and security lost its imperative character under the influence of growing confidence. This spirit had been alleged by many optimists and idealists to have lasted until the 1930s. Sir Austen Chamberlain called the Locarno Pact as ¡°the real dividing line between the years of war and the years of peace.¡± The French had been considered a bigger problem to the British and letting it gain more power and dominance in the Continent seemed dangerous. The British therefore had been adamant on the French apprehension on Germany¡¯s burgeoning military powers. The only figure that seemed to grasp the danger of this kind of thinking was Winston Churchill:
¡°The awful danger of our present foreign policy is that we go on perpetually asking the French to weaken themselves. And what do we say is the inducement? We say, ¡°weaken yourselves,¡± and we always hold out the hope that if they do it and get into trouble, we will then in some way or other go to their aid, although we have nothing with which to go to their aid. I cannot imagine a more dangerous policy. There is something to be said for isolation; there is something to be said for alliances. But there is nothing to be said for weakening the Power on the Continent with whom you would be in alliance, and then involving yourself more [deeply] in Continental tangles in order to make it up to them. In that way you have neither the one thing nor the other; you have the worst of both worlds.¡±
The Romans had a maxim, ¡°Shorten your weapons and lengthen your frontiers.¡± But our maxim seems to be, ¡°Diminish your weapons and increase your obligations.¡± Aye, and diminish the weapons of your friends.¡±
Moreover, the affiliation of the British Government with the German became so close that the anti-Semitic movements and eugenic craze in Nazi Germany were, by official British authorities, treated as unfounded, exaggerated, or were simply ignored. The British press instead concentrated on the suppression by Stalin and the secretive system of the Soviet Union. Although Germany after Hitler¡¯s control had boosted up its armaments, the British administration responded with further disarmament, and Stanley Baldwin, then prime minister, regarding a possible German invasion, ¡°did not consider such an attack likely¡± Britain, confronted by a Germany that walked out the Disarmament Conference, ironically drew the conclusion that disarmament had become more important than ever.
To elaborate this further, the state of British defenses was, in Baldwin¡¯s own words, disquieting, a greater British defense effort might indeed have seemed to be in order. Yet Baldwin took exactly the opposite approach. He continued a freeze in the production of military aircraft, which had been instituted in 1932. The gesture was intended ¡°as a further earnest of His Majesty¡¯s Government¡¯s desire to promote the work of the Disarmament Conference.¡±
Even worse, in February 3, 1935, the French and British Government issued a communique recognizing Germany¡¯s right to rearm, but not without consulting the other Powers, and asking for a direct exchange of views. German Government announced that it considered itself no longer bound by Part V of the Treaty of Versailles and openly organized an army of 600,000 men recruited by compulsory service. The British Government immediately protested to Berlin against this independent action which rendered an agreement well-nigh impossible. Nothing could alter the fact, however, that Germany had rebelled against the imposition of the Treaty. A separate Naval Accord with Germany marked the British tendency to avoid the trouble of collective security when it came to its direct interests. In this treaty, the German navy was required to become 35 percent of the strength of the British Navy.
To conclude, there was no desire, born of fear, as there was in France, to keep Germany permanently weak and harmless. This was the principle belief behind the Appeasement policy that resulted in a more confident Nazi Germany. Even after the Stresa Front reaffirmed the ¡°spirit of Locarno,¡± Hitler would not stop any of his pursuits. And his race towards the Lebensraum continued to tempt the German people into further belligerence. Yet, Neville Chamberlain, in 1938 after the Munich Conference, still proclaimed that ¡°My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.¡± Sadly, this policy ended in shambles as the Second World War commenced.
6. Factors that Caused the British Maneuver
Even after Hitler¡¯s advent, the British continued to consider France more of a threat to British security than Germany. Great Britain, too adherent to its policy of balance of power in Europe, did a dangerous miscalculation in weighing and comparing the belligerence and preponderance of Germany and France. The first question that strikes is why Britain would commit this blunder.
The basic tenets of British diplomacy after the Great War relied largely on the latent power of the United States. This was because the United States had been the main supplier of war supplies in the former war and therefore had gained enough liabilities in the British government to induce certain attitudes. The United States basically adhered to an isolationist stance on the European continent, the mission for peace had ended and the interest of the American people were believed to be best saved by assuming higher tariffs and strict neutrality. This neutrality, more negatively put as avoidance, resulted in the absence from the League of Nations and the major treaties that needed more ballast in the Allies¡¯ side. The Anglo-American bond furthermore restricted the British from taking a more active role in the continent. The principle of balance of powers was first too sparsely enforced and then miscalculated the distribution of powers. Both could be easily attributed to the Isolationist American foreign policy at the time.
Based on this context, many other factors can be enumerated to form an indefinite list. Nonetheless, John Gunther clearly summarizes them in concise language. The paper intends to expand on some of the factors insufficiently explained.
a) Many Tories feared bolshevism, and stupid ones thought of Hitler as a sort of guarantee against future encroachments westward on the part of Russia. England and Germany should be allies against Russia, the great communist enemy. Moreover, Russia has always been a ¡°traditional¡± foe; communism serves to make it doubly dangerous.
b) The city of London, with enormous investment in Germany, allowed itself to be dazzled by the spurious brilliance of Dr. Schacht.
c) A great many powerful persons in Britain hated France and the French, and therefore tended to be pro-German
d) A group of personalities around Lord Lothian (formerly Philip Kerr, Lloyd George¡¯s alter ego at the Peace Conference, and now British Ambassador to the United States), for a considerable time thought that a stable Germany, under Hitler, would insure peace. Lothian is a Christian Scientist and Christian Scientists, who do not believe in death or evil, found it easier than members of other religions to accept at face value Hitler¡¯s promises.
e) The London Times (Lothian and Geoffrey Dawson, its editor, are close friends) is, of course, irrefragably independent; its Berlin correspondence has performed noble service in revealing Nazi brutality and prejudice; but it dislike the communists more than the Nazis, and sometimes it gave Hitler more than the benefit of the doubt in matters of foreign policy.
f) A tendency existed in England to be sorry for Germany in its role of conquered but honorable foe. (By contrast, the French will never forgive Germany for the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles.)
g) Oddly enough, some forces in the Labour party were pro-German. It is obvious that British socialist and trade unionists under Nazism would suffer even as their German colleagues, but labor foreign policy in Great Britain was erected on dislike of the Versailles Treaty and plea for fair play to Germany, and even outrages performed upon labor by Hitler did not much modify pro-Germanism in some circles of the British Left.
The British reply to Hitler¡¯s program of aggression was a typical compromise; first, the British bought off competition at sea by the famous Anglo-German naval pact; second, the cabinet announced measures to triple the British Air Force, and the great rearmament program got-slowly-under way.
The sympathy for Germany in England produced a certain paradox. It was that they were pro-German and (many of them) anti-Fascist at the same time, which was tantamount to eating an orange, say with one half of the mouth, and spitting it out at the same time with the other half. In policy it was that Britain was rearming against Germany, the only conceivable enemy, while a powerful share of opinion did what it could to strengthen the putative enemy¡¯s mind. Britain was, of course, waiting, playing for time, until its own tremendous rearmament plans should be complete.
On factor a), Russia, under the Bolshevik regime, was beginning to evolve some order out of the chaos of the war and so long as she would let other nations go their own way, the bulk of British opinion wished her well. However, the Labor Government went rather further than most people approved in making a commercial treaty that also provided, under not very clearly defined conditions, for a loan. This was in any case one of the issues of the election of 1924 (though the voters were at first chiefly concerned with their own social problems); it became the dominant one after the publication of the Zinovieff letter. The Russian Government, while anxious for the overthrow of all capitalist administrations, was in no way averse to borrowing their money. The labor administration disclaimed all connection with the third international (Comintern), but the opinion of the public was still suspicious and the incumbent government was heavily defeated in the next election. The Conservatives came into power with Stanley Baldwin as premier and Austen Chamberlain at the foreign office. The treaty was of course dropped. Similar to the relations with the United States, domestic politics in Great Britain tended to become more and more isolationist. If Britain were to join hands with the Soviet Union, Hitler would have found less and less leeway in his aggression against the Eastern province, or, for that matter, the Polish Corridor.
On the contrary, British foreign policy from 1930 onwards was focused on a highly conservative stance. Quite a number of speculations can be made on the cause of such anti-socialist stance of the government. Still adhering to their traditional policy of balance of powers, Britain traditionally gave a hand to the seemingly weaker coalition in the continent. The judgment of the power dynamics within the continent, nonetheless, seems to have been utterly mistaken when it came to the post war decades following the First World War.
There indeed are a myriad of reasons and speculations that might try to explain the matter, yet the most concrete and principal explanation lies on the macroscopic power balance the British perceived in the 1920s and 1930s. That is, the capitalist forces versus the Socialist and Communist coalition. This might have been based on the belief that a Socialist coalition might overcome the capitalist forces in Europe. The Chimaera of a coalition between the French and the Soviet Union that would threaten British security intimidated its foreign ministry into the misjudgment.
As soon as Leon Blum was elected and the Popular Front administration was established in France, Britain¡¯s apprehension started to take substance. Several meeting of the Comintern pledged to help the fledgling socialist coalition in every country possible. Moreover, the Popular Front in France itself included a considerable portion of Communists. Soviet support of the Popular Front government in fact was based partly on the tenuous hope to disrupt the capitalist system. This movement between those two countries was restrained by France since there still existed gaps between a Socialist system and a Communist one.
Based on this perhaps stretched prediction of the future, Great Britain nonetheless took diplomatic steps to isolate a possible Socialist bond and to create friction between France and Russia.
The Spanish Civil War is now a rather classical example that illustrated the alignment along ideology and national interests. Great Britain was no exception in this war, and therefore showed its concern against a government consisting at least partly of Communist elements. While the Republican faction had been alone in its struggle against fascism, Franco was vested with the utmost support from Hitler and Mussolini. The egregiousness of the war had been well conceived by the British, yet diplomatic steps to balance the situation were missing. Either provoking or embarrassing Germany in front of a Communist threat seemed unreasonable to Great Britain. Hitler indirectly functioned as the bulwark against Socialism. Although never signed into a real treaty, there were ample discussions on an Anglo-German alliance. Even when Germany¡¯s armament did become a threatening factor late in the 1930s, Great Britain refused to work on a collective solution but rather signed a separate naval treaty with the Germans that limited the German Navy to 35% of the British Navy. This conciliatory attitude laid the foundations of the Appeasement, and thus the dawn of the Second World War. Although British nonchalance in front of the Spanish Civil war was justified as a sound and peaceful way to avoid an escalation of another major war, it also is true that the seeds of a bigger and far more dreadful war had been watered once again.
To give a broader historical analysis on the British maneuver on the Socialist component in Europe, we must pay attention to the fact that on the Continent there was a vast power vacuum that had been created by the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. On such a sudden absence of power due to a devastating war, it was rather natural to think that the remaining powers would try to dominate that region. Soviet Russia had been active in its pursuit of hegemony on the Eastern European states. France had joined Treaties of Mutual Assistance with those states in order to form the little Entente. The assumption that the two ponderous nations were in cooperation and were hostile towards Britain would have alarmed some portion of the British public and would have spread around to become a predominant force. Nonetheless, the attempts of the two continental powers were insignificant compared to the bluntness of Hitler¡¯s Anschluss and his pursuit of the Lebensraum. The true threat in the power vacuum was Nazi Germany that had a self proclaimed justification for a possibly militant action. This possibility amplified as the British considered Hitler as a useful shield against the Communist threat. The British, later in the Sudetenland issue, once went so far as to return the German colonies that had been confiscated in the Treaty of Versailles. Such was the fear of the British against a Socialist coalition against them.
Factor b), on the other hand, describe the economic benefits associated with Germany. Since Bismarck, the German industry had been known for its excellence and productivity. With its infrastructure largely unharmed, the German industrial production could take flight as Hitler dispelled the reparations claims off the German economy. Although disturbed by this rebellion against the Treaty of Versailles, the British saw more incentive in investing on the German economy than any other. Colonialism became not as profitable as before and a new direction for the British economy to some seemed the German industry. This boost in trade accounts partly for the penchant of the British public towards the German industry.
Factor c) addresses the traditional antipathy of the British public towards the French since the 100 years war. Defeated by the bravery of Joan of Arc, the British had to suffer another French offensive centuries later by Napoleon, which the legendary admiral Horatio Nelson defeated at Trafalgar in 1805. Even after these events, the British and French had been traditional foes in the European continent as well as the overseas colonies. The most illustrative example of this was the Fashoda Crisis back in 1898, where Britain¡¯s Cape to Cairo policy had been confronted by the French pursuit of the Sahel trade route. The mutual antipathy between France and Britain needed the slightest instigation, and thus the harsh treatment of the French on Germany as well as the advent of a Socialist government by Leon Blum gave rise to the dormant opposition towards the French.
In conclusion, it can be said that both foreign and domestic factors had directed Great Britain to bear a principle of isolation and neutrality in most diplomatic matters. Furthermore, the antipathy towards the French and the Soviet Union contrasts drastically with the good will towards Germany even after Hitler. All of these explain why the British had been so tolerant on the harshness of the French. This also explains why Chamberlain appeased Hitler¡¯s confrontations on Sudetenland and Austria. While the British may have considered this as generous and gentlemanly, in reality, it seemed closer to clumsiness and irresolution.
Looking back into the 1920s, there was not necessarily a problem with an economically strong Germany. There would have been problems with a militarily strong one, though. Germany¡¯s presence could have been strong as well as peaceful should the necessary provisions for such peace be keenly crafted. Germany could have revitalized its economy and together combat the Great Depression and lead a peaceful Europe without further wars. Nonetheless, Britain was unable to settle down the French in the 1920s and was too clement in its diplomacy against Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
According to a scholar in the 1930s, British foreign policy up to that point rested upon three main goals; ¡°effective naval supremacy; the denial of the Coast of the Low Countries to a strong military power; the preservation of a balance of power among the European Great Powers.¡± Yet, as the 1930s drew to a close, just the reverse had happened. Naval supremacy was compromised when the Washington and London Naval Conference reduced the construction capacity of British warships. Although there were separate ¡°Naval Accords¡± with Germany, the verifications for these terms were questionable. The balance of power was long broken in the European Continent where France frantically searched for security and Germany rapidly emerged as a military power. Belgium, one of the Low Countries, was taken in the ¡°Phony War¡± phase of the Second World War, and thus Britain had lost all of its principal commitments.
Britain ultimately failed to fulfill all three of its crucial principles. This fact is quite ironical because if the British diplomatic corps did not rest on its background of French and Soviet antipathy and directed an unorthodox policy of active engagement, its orthodox commitments might have been preserved and war could have been prevented.
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