- Following the Ruhr Crisis of 1923 and the Dawes Plan of 1924 Gustav Stresemann, the German Foreign Minister, in January-February 1925, put out feelers to both Britain and France with proposals for a security pact.
- Stresemann was intent on gaining substantial revisions of the Versailles Treaty, including changes to Germany’s border with Poland but, unlike many German nationalists, he believed that the best way to achieve them was by means of improving Germany’s relations with Britain and France.
- Although Stresemann was careful to maintain Germany’s treaty with the USSR, agreed at Rapallo in 1922, he saw it as having only limited economic and military value to Germany.
- Stresemann saw a security pact with Britain and France as the way to unlock further concessions on the issues of reparations and the early withdrawal of both the Allied Control Commission and of the Allied occupation forces in the Rhineland.
- It took until September 1925 for a meeting of Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Belgium to be held at Locarno in Italy; a treaty was formally signed in London in December 1925.
- The agreements reached at Locarno were much more substantial concerning western Europe than were those affecting eastern Europe/
- This was a result of Germany’s total opposition to any guarantee of its eastern borders and of Britain's refusal to commit itself militarily to upholding the eastern settlement created in 1919.
- Belgium, France and Germany accepted the western borders of Germany, including the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland, as upheld by the Versailles Treaty.
- Britain and Italy acted as guarantors of the Franco-German-Belgian borders in the west; ‘flagrant’ breaches of the treaty by either France or Belgium or Germany, would require Britain and Italy to intervene.
- ‘Alleged’ breaches of the Franco-German-Belgian borders in the west were referred to the League of Nations.
- Germany would not confirm its acceptance of the Eastern frontiers, but agreed to sign arbitration treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia, committing itself to settle disputes with her eastern neighbours peacefully. There was no mechanism of guarantors for the eastern part of the Locarno Treaties; Locarno obliged none of the western powers to intervene in the event of the eastern settlement being violated.
- In a bid to reassure Czechoslovakia and Poland, France renewed its treaties with them individually after the Locarno Conference.
- It was agreed that Germany should enter the League of Nations, which it did with a permanent seat on the Council in September 1926.
- The Locarno Pact did little more than confirm the Treaty of Versailles. The ‘guarantee’ provided by Britain and Italy remained very ill defined and it was not made clear what would constitute a ‘flagrant’ breach of the treaty.
- Britain remained opposed to giving any binding or full commitment to provide France with military support in the event of a German attack on her.
- France, without such an undertaking from Britain continued to feel deeply insecure.
- Indeed, from the French point of view, Locarno was a worrying agreement as it clearly revealed Britain's policy of limited liability for European peace.
- It marked the largest contribution to French security which the British government was willing to make, and the least the French felt able to accept.
- Germany was treated as an equal again, rather than the ‘criminal’ nation it was made to feel like at Versailles in 1919.
- Locarno appeared to promise a period of international co-operation, apparently confirmed by the evacuation of part of the Rhineland by the Allies in January 1926 and the ending of the Allied Control Commission in 1927.
- Stresemann signed a new treaty with the USSR in April 1926: the Treaty of Berlin. Stresemann saw this as necessary in order to reassure the USSR following his agreements with the west at Locarno.
- The USSR and Germany promised each other that they would remain neutral in the event of either being attacked by a third power.
- The three foreign ministers – Gustav Stresemann, Aristide Briand and Austen Chamberlain – were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1926.
- This award reflected the view that the Locarno Pact signalled the start of a new era of international peace and co-operation.
- However, in hindsight, it is clear that these hopes were not fulfilled and that there was no lasting rapprochement amongst the powers.
- Despite their goodwill and desire to negotiate compromise settlements, these three statesmen themselves had incompatible policy objectives.
- Austen Chamberlain had sought to enhance France’s sense of security without committing Britain to military intervention in Europe, whilst conciliating Germany.
- Aristide Briand remained preoccupied with increasing security for France against a German attack and he left Locarno without the reassurances he wanted from Britain.
- Gustav Stresemann aimed at improving relations with Britain and France as a way to achieving major revisions of Versailles; in this he had limited success.
- The ‘Spirit of Locarno’ appeared to be confirmed by further international success.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact: 1928
- In the spring of 1927, Briand proposed a treaty with the USA outlawing war between France and the USA.
- The likelihood of such a conflict was remote; in reality Briand hoped that such a treaty would aid the revival of the prospect of a Franco-American military alliance, which never materialised back in 1919.
- President Coolidge and his Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg, saw through this ploy and countered his proposal with a suggestion that all countries be invited to sign a pact in which they renounced war.
- Thus 15 countries signed the Pact of Paris, also known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, in Paris in august 1928.
- Under the terms of the pact, there was an agreement to ‘renounce war as an instrument of national policy’ whilst still reserving the right to defend themselves against external aggression.
- However the pact did not provide any machinery to enforce its terms, nor did it define aggression.
- Nonetheless, by 1933 65 countries, including the USSR, had signed the pact and many saw it at the time as a significant achievement.
- However, signing this pact did not prevent Japan, Italy or Germany all launching wars in the 1930s, in flagrant violation of the pact’s terms.
The Young Plan
- This was a new plan that replaced the Dawes Plan of 1924. the terms included:
- The reduction of German reparations from 132 billion gold marks to 121 billion gold marks of which Germany would pay an annual sum until 1988.
- Germany was initially to pay 1.7 billion marks each year, increasing gradually to 2.4 billion marks by 1966. Her payments in the first 10 years would be lower than under the schedule laid down by the Dawes Plan.
- The Reparations Agency was abolished. Instead a new Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland would supervise reparations payments.
- Another foreign loan to Germany of $300 million was agreed.
- It was agreed that all Allied troops were to be withdrawn from the Rhineland by June 1930, though Britain actually withdrew all it troops before the end of 1929.
- The German government accepted the Young Plan in spite of reservations. Stresemann had hoped for a better deal for Germany, but was won over by the agreement by the Allies to end their occupation of the Rhineland five years ahead of the timescale laid down by the Versailles Treaty.
- Hitler’s Nazi Party, as well as the DNVP, campaigned against the Young Plan in Germany as they believed that Germany was not guilty for starting WWI and therefore should not pay reparations at all. However the Reichstag eventually approved the Young Plan in March 1930.
- However the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the resultant Great Depression meant that the Young Plan never really got off the ground.
The Hoover Moratorium (1931) and Lausanne Conference (1932)
- In 1931, a serious banking crisis occurred in Europe, with the collapse of a number of important banks.
- President Hoover responded by proposing, in June 1931, a one-year moratorium on all war debt and reparation payments.
- French opposition delayed international acceptance of the proposed Hoover Moratorium; the French suspected that if reparation payments were suspended, they were unlikely to recommence at the end of 1932.
- French suspicions were to be proved correct because reparations were effectively abandoned in 1932, as a result of the Lausanne Conference (June-July 1932).
- At Lausanne, it was decided that reparations should be suspended for three years with the bill reduced to a final payment of just 3 billion marks.
- Indeed when Hitler came to power in 1933, he announced that Germany would pay no more in reparations.
The Great Depression and Threats to Collective Security
- The most important single factor in the collapse of the ‘Spirit of Locarno’ in the late 1920s was the impact of the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression.
- The Great Depression dislocated the international economic system and created huge unemployment and social distress.
- In the USA, 25% of the labour force was unemployed by 1933; in Germany the unofficial figure for unemployment in 1932 had been put at 8 million.
- One consequence of this crisis was that it undermined confidence both in the capitalist system and in parliamentary democracy.
- The effects of the Great Depression was felt around the world but two of the most badly hit countries were those of Germany and Japan and these two countries went on to pose the greatest threats to the international order.
- Indeed this crisis was different from the periodic recessions of before in that it lasted much longer and economic output fell much more sharply.
- In 1931-33, a banking crisis hit the USA and many parts of Europe, as thousands of banks collapsed.
- Many governments reacted to the Great Depression by trying to protect their own industries from foreign competition by means of raising tariff barriers against imported goods.
- In 1930 a tariff in the USA called the Hawley-Smoot Tariff greatly restricted foreign imports but, in the process, sparked off a tariff ‘war’ with other countries.
- For example, in 1932 Britain and its imperial partners set up the Imperial Preference System which discriminated in favour of members of the Empire but discriminated against goods from outside the Empire.
- World trade thus fell by around two-thirds in the period 1929-32 thus intensifying the effects of the economic crisis.
Impact on Germany
- Germany’s economic recovery in the mid-1920s was very fragile and highly dependent on the continuation of US loans.
- The Great Depression was the key factor in the collapse of the Weimar Republic and led to the rise of Hitler, with his attendant aggressive foreign policy.
- The year before the advent of the Great Depression, the Nazis polled fewer than 3% of the votes in the 1928 Reichstag elections; in 1932 with unemployment peaking at 6 million, the Nazis became the largest party with 37% of seats.
- Thus President Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor in January 1933 and within months Hitler had established a single party state and, by 1935, was rapidly rearming Germany.
- Under Hitler, Germany quickly revived as the most powerful industrial and military power in Europe; with an aggressive dictator in charge, driven by a racial vision of winning Lebensraum or ‘living space’ in the East for the ‘master race’.
- Indeed both the Paris peace settlement and the international order were to be challenged and disrupted from the mid-1930s onwards.
Hitler’s Foreign Policy Aims
- Foreign policy was of primary importance to Hitler. His main priority from 1934, once he had established his dictatorship, was to rearm Germany and revising the Versailles Treaty was a means towards the larger aim of winning Lebensraum, though not the ultimate goal.
- Breaking the restrictions that Versailles had imposed on Germany’s armed forces was a prerequisite for expansion.
- Hitler’s racist ideas meant that he was committed to the creation of a Greater German Reich, incorporating all German speakers.
- However he wanted to go much further than that, seeking Lebensraum for the German ‘master race’ and also to seize areas which had the resources that Germany needed.
Hitler’s early challenges to international order
- Initially Hitler had to proceed cautiously because, in 1933, Germany’s armed forces were considerably weaker than those of its neighbours such as France and Poland.
- However, from 1936 onwards, the pace of Hitler’s foreign policy accelerated sharply, disrupting international relations in the process.
- Nonetheless, in 1933 Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations and from the League’s Disarmament Conference, using France’s refusal to allow German rearmament as an excuse.
- Hitler actually sought to win British support by claiming that he was prepared to accept a limit of 200,000 for the German Army.
- By this time many British politicians were arguing that the Versailles Treaty had been too harsh and that revisions should be made.
Revisions of the Versailles Treaty (1935-36)
- Reunion with the Saar (January 1935) – In January, the inhabitants of the Saar, run by the League of Nations since 1920, voted by a vast majority in favour of reunion with Germany. This was in accordance with the Versailles Treaty and the plebiscite was administered by the League of Nations.
- Reintroduction of conscription and Hitler’s plan for rearmament – Hitler announced that he was reintroducing military conscription, intended to create and army of 550,000 mean and that Germany had already begun to build, in breach of Versailles, an air force. These announcements alarmed Britain, France and Italy who consequently came together in the short lived Stresa Front (April 1935), under which they pledged co-operation against further violations of the 1919 treaties.
- The Anglo-German Naval Convention (June 1935) – Britain angered France and Italy by signing the Anglo-German Naval Convention in June 1935, allowing Germany to have a navy with a tonnage of 35% that of Britain’s. Effectively, Britain was unilaterally sanctioning a breach of the military restrictions laid down by the Treaty of Versailles, since a German Navy of that size would far exceed the limitations imposed on Germany in 1919.
- Re-militarising the Rhineland (March 1936) – Hitler generally proved adept at reading how his opponents were likely to respond. Encouraged by the collapse of the Stresa Front (as a result of the Anglo-German Naval Convention and the Abyssinian Crisis) and by the international community’s preoccupation with the Abyssinian crisis, he felt confident enough to remilitarise the Rhineland. This was a breach of both the Versailles Treaty and Locarno Pact and despite League condemnation of this neither France nor Britain did anything about this.
The impact of the Great Depression on Japan
- Japan had been an expansionist power since the late 19th century, taking advantage of China’s weakness to extract concessions and take territory from it – notably, Taiwan and, following their victory over Russia in 1905, Korea. Japan had also won important economic concessions in Manchuria from China.
- The Wall Street Crash created an unprecedented economic crisis in Japan, which had led to a dramatic change in Japanese foreign policy, and, to an increasingly authoritarian style of politics that involved the undermining of Japan’s parliamentary system and the growing political influence of Japan’s armed forces.
- By 1932, the price of silk fell to 20% of its 1923 figure. Half of Japan’s farmers were dependent on silk; peasants and factory workers blamed the government.
- Many Japanese, particularly in the armed forces, turned their back on co-operation with the West and with China, and saw imperialist aggression as a way out of Japan’s economic difficulties.
- Starting with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Japan embarked on an aggressive foreign which challenged the West and disrupted the international order. This course was to lead Japan into the full-scale invasion of China in 1937, the occupation of Indo-China in 1940 and the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, provoking the entry of the USA into WWII.
The impact of the Great Depression on Italy
- Mussolini during the 1920s, with the exception of his occupation of Corfu in 1923, followed a relatively peaceful and restrained policy because much of his attention was focused on extending and then consolidating his political position within Italy.
- However, the Wall Street Crash in America hit Italy hard, unemployment rose to over 2 million by 1933 and living standards for most ordinary Italians fell.
- The government obliged industrial workers to accept wage cuts in 1930 and 1934, whilst agricultural wages dropped by between 20 to 40% during the 1930s.
- Indeed the growing economic difficulties facing Italy appears to have been one of the factors that account for Mussolini’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy in the 1930s.
- This saw Mussolini invade Abyssinia in 1935-36, in part, as an attempt to revive support for his regime among Italians. The Abyssinian invasion led to diplomatic ties, breaking his links with Britain and France and seeking ever closer relations with Nazi Germany.
- Mussolini made a military alliance with Germany and this support is one factor that gave Hitler the growing confidence to challenge Britain and France and revise the Versailles treaty’s territorial settlement in the East.
The impact of the Great Depression on Britain and France
- The Great Depression was one factor that contributed to the policy of appeasement followed by the British government in the 1930s.
- Indeed the British Government had decided that some of the Versailles Treaty’s restrictions’ were unreasonably harsh and believed that by pursuing a policy of concession making to Hitler, he would be induced to behave more reasonably thus maintaining peace in Europe.
- Indeed there are several links between the Great Depression and appeasement. First of all, it gave rise to Hitler’s regime and more aggressive Japanese and Italian foreign policies; hence, Britain was faced with the prospect of a variety of challenges to its interests and to international order. Appeasement was Britain's response.
- The British government was preoccupied with resolving the economic problems caused by the Wall Street Crash thus leading to rearmament was delayed until 1934.
- The British government was reluctant to confront Germany because they could not count on support from the USA, which was following an isolationist foreign policy during the 1930s. It had been isolationist in the 20s but the Great Depression strengthened this attitude.
- Thus this allowed the aggressive nation to pursue their aims thus posing a threat to collective security – yet another knock on effect of the Great Depression.
- Just as with Britain, the impact of the Great Depression on France made its leaders much less inclined to stand up to Hitler’s violations of the Versailles Treaty in the mid and late 1930s.
- French preoccupation with bringing down unemployment and reviving economic output – French steel production, even in 1938, was still one-third below what it had been in 1928 – took priority over rearmament- something that would only seriously commence in 1936.
- The French government felt too weak to prevent Hitler breaking the Versailles Treaty unless Britain took joint action alongside France.
- British politicians, on the other hand, were more favourably disposed towards German revisions of the treaty as long as this was done through negotiation.
- There were other factors that explain France’s passive attitude towards Hitler’s foreign policy in the 1930s, such as the fact that it was much divided in the 1930s; many of the Right were more concerned with the French Communist Party and the threat of Soviet expansion than about Hitler.
- In Britain's case, politicians were concerned about the possibility of being dragged into a European conflict at a time that there was growing unrest in several parts of its Empire, for example India and its mandate with Palestine.
- Equally important in accounting for appeasement was the strong current of pacifism evident in Britain in the 1930s; in 1935, a Peace Pledge Union was organised which staged a ballet in which 9 million people voted to reject war.
- Indeed memories of the horrific death in WWI meant that many people in Britain and France were committed to the prevention of another war.
The impact of the Great Depression on US Foreign Policy
- The USA had withdrawn into isolationism in the 1920s but this had been far from total, nor could it be; the USA had involved itself in trying to resolve the crisis caused by reparations, with loans to Germany under the Dawes and Young Plans.
- In addition they had sponsored the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and played a key role in the naval disarmament conferences.
- The Great Depression, however, was to lead US politicians to withdraw even further from international collaboration and to put US economic interests before all else.
- For example, in July 1933 President Roosevelt blocked agreement at the World Economic Conference by refusing to take joint action to stabilise currency exchange rates.
The USA’s reluctance to confront the Japanese aggression
- The USA’s drift into isolationism was reflected by its failure to intervene when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and it was only until 1941 that the USA was prepared to take a strong stand against escalating Japanese aggression in the Far East, when it embargoed oil exports to Japan.
- A provisional and then full Neutrality Act in 1935 and 1937 respectively committed the US government to neutrality in the event of future wars between foreign countries.
- The USA’s reluctance to involve itself in international crises in the 1930s in part explains the weak stance taken by Britain and France in dealing with acts of aggression by Germany, Italy and Japan.
The Arms Race
- Growing threat posed to Britain and France by Italy, Germany and Japan led to them joining what became an international arms race like that seen in Europe before WWI.
- Soviet rearmament started in earnest under Stalin in 1930 and, by 1936, the USSR had built nearly 16,000 planes and just under 19,000 tanks; rearmament accelerated even more rapidly from 1937 onwards under Stalin’s Third Five-Year Plan.
- Britain began serious rearmament in 1934, with a programme of military spending in the period up to 1938.
- France commenced large-scale rearmament in 1936.
- Hitler accelerated his rearmament of Germany sharply in 1936, with his Four Year Plan, designed to make Germany ready for war by 1940.
- Both Japan and Italy substantially increased their military spending in 1938.
Stalin’s search for security in the 1930s
- Faced by growing threats to the USSR, at a time when it was still far behind the West in terms of industrialisation, Stalin sought to increase Soviet security by ending the USSR’s diplomatic isolation.
- For much of the 1930s, Stalin looked to the West for ‘collective security’ against the threat posed by Hitler but eventually in 1939 Stalin did a complete U-turn and signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact.
- Up until 1938, was Stalin looking to play off the western democracies against Germany.