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Italy in the Period of 1922 – 1939 Essay

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To What Extent Did Mussolini Achieve his Foreign Policy Aims of making Italy “Great and Respected” in the Period of 1922 – 1939?

When considering this question, we must first look at what Mussolini’s aims were, in 1922. These were quite clear; he wanted to overcome the humiliation of Italy’s “mutilated victory” of the First World War.

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The Italian people felt that they had fought the war, like the other Allies, yet not gained the fruits of victory; Italy had entered the war in 1915, on the basis that they would gain their unredeemed land and the Dalmatian Coast, they were promised this in the Treaty of London, that Italy signed with the Allies before entering the First World War. However, the reality was that Italy not only faced great debt, but that she also failed to gain all that she was promised in the Treaty of London.

Mussolini, a man very obsessed with Italian protection, aimed to make the Italian army, one that was committed to the country and always on alert. This way, the country’s safety was always ensured.

Mussolini wanted revenge on the African colonies that were a constant threat to Italy. In particular this idea was aimed at Abyssinia, who had defeated Italy in 1896 in the Battle of Adowa. Mussolini also believed that if Italy were able to get revenge, she would also gain the respect she lacked in international affairs. This led on to Mussolini’s want for territorial expansion. By gaining Italian colonies, Mussolini would achieve the idea that Italy was great and would have respect from other countries. By invading Africa, Italy would not only gain more land, but also it would provide her with good access to raw materials for Italy’s increasing population.

By doing all of the above, Mussolini would also have the opportunity to pursue his aim of civilising Africa, and thus giving way to the expansion of Fascist ideology. It would be spread across the continent without exposing control.

Another one of Mussolini’s aims was to unify the Italians. Although Italy had been unified sixty-three years prior to 1922, it was still a recent unification, so therefore Mussolini, as a Nationalist, wanted all Italian’s to unify as one, Fascist group. He aimed to do so through war and conquest. By doing this, he would, in addition, make Italy look great and respected with a nation of loyal, athletic warriors.

Mussolini aimed to challenge the French domination of the Mediterranean, and in its place, expand the Italian dominance in places such as Greece and the unredeemed land.

Above all, Mussolini had his grand dream of re-creating the great Roman Empire. He wanted a civilised nation and to civilise, in turn, the territories to be conquered.

Italy worked hard to gain influence in North Africa, even before Mussolini came to power. The Battle of Adowa, 1896, was a major defeat of Italian Forces by the Abyssinians. Italy suffered many casualties, the prisoners endured horrifying torture and it was a humiliating defeat at the hands of an African country. This led to the huge inferiority anxiety that built up, and added to the feeling that Italy suffered a “mutilated victory” after the First World War. Italy didn’t get the Dalmatian Islands that were promised. Consequently a nationalist rising took place in 1919, headed by D’Annunzio, the very popular poet. This rising proved to Mussolini that aggression and force was able to gain land. The invasion of Fiume was very inspirational to Fascist ideology.

In 1922, Mussolini’s aims were really no different to that of the Liberal politicians before him. They too had wanted unification and respect. However, both the Liberals’ and the Fascists’ faced constraints. Italy lacked both the economic and military resources of a great power. Italy had never been strong enough to compete no challenge the French, nor North Africa or the Austrians in the Balkans.

The Italian lack of Empire led to great tensions with the French, particularly in North Africa. An example of this was 18881, when the French took control of Tunisia, Morocco and Corfu. This was when many Italians had immigrated to Tunisia, so consequently they resented the French rule.

The international strategy of Italy was to build up her resources, which would enable her to use military strength, and in addition, to use diplomacy. Italy would exploit international relations to achieve the best deal for her. The Liberal politicians used this Makeweight Policy when entering the First World War; they played the two equal power blocks against one another. Italy could offer to join one side, or another in return for concessions.

In the 1920’s this policy didn’t work. Germany was completely crushed by the First World War and Britain and France totally dominated foreign affairs. Therefore, there were no two clear power blocks for Mussolini to play off against each other. This meant that Italy was dependent on British and French goodwill.

However, by the 1930’s, the makeweight policy could be revived as Hitler rebuilt Germany.

Mussolini gave foreign affairs a central importance, as he believed it to be the route for Italy to become great and respected. Mussolini made himself Foreign Minister between 1922 and 1929, but Fascist actual achievements in foreign policy during these years were extremely modest. Mussolini’s claim was, ” I want to make Italy great, respected and feared”. Yet his policy seemed somewhat erratic. Mussolini was constantly seeking to put pressure on the diplomatic fabric, to see where it would yield. Moreover, Mussolini aimed to be pragmatic and an opportunist, however he sometimes became irrational and was unable to resist the chance of glory.

An example of this was in 1923, the Corfu incidents. These were to promote Italian

power and prestige. It indicated Mussolini’s petulant outburst, which seemed to go

against the pragmatic trend of Italian diplomacy. Likewise, the Fiume incident of 1924

was a Fascist propaganda victory. In 1925 Italy signed the Locarno Treaties, which

confirmed the permanence of Germany’s western borders and entered into the Kellogg-

Briand Pact of 1928 outlawing war. At first Mussolini was not interested in the pact, he

rarely took the time to read the details. However, Mussolini did understand the advantages of signing the pacts, it was an opportunity to improve his prestige and power within Italy. The result of Mussolini signing the pacts, were that the British opinion of Mussolini became more favourable and Locarno seemed to indicate that he had, at last moved to a more moderate and sensible course of action.

However, elsewhere in Europe, Mussolini was destabilizing the international scene. He was making up for lack of influence in the West, by pressing for advantages in the Balkans. His main target was the “little entente” of French-sponsored Yugoslavia, Romania and Czechoslovakia. Mussolini wanted to use the Balkan States as client states. At first he used peaceful means, he drew up a commercial agreement with Czechoslovakia and formalised a friendship treaty with Yugoslavia. However, he then over-reached himself in a sudden lunge for territory and glory. This showed Mussolini’s obsession with the image of Italy being great and respected. This was when Italy became involved in the Albanian civil war, Mussolini decided to support the rebel group Noli, fighting against Yugoslavia’s prot�g�, Zogu. This was how Mussolini came to establish Italy’s virtual protectorate over Albania. His plan was to make it an area for Italian living space, which, he hoped would help to boost Italy’s economy.

This did not go as Mussolini planned, Yugoslavia felt threatened by Mussolini and he lost the chance to detach Yugoslavia from the French system. The Little Entente tightened their link to France and Mussolini felt obliged to sponsor a counter – bloc, consisting of Albania, Hungary and Bulgaria.

In 1930 Mussolini’s aims became slightly different to that of his in 1922. Between 1930 and 1935, Mussolini aimed to make a more definite mark on European diplomacy by a more consistent and less random policy. Mussolini was frustrated by the failures of his aims of the 1920’s. Therefore, Mussolini emerged as Europe’s senior statesman as he had always intended. This gained the respect he had always wanted.

Mussolini did this by reshuffling the cabinet in 1932. He was dissatisfied with Dino Grandi’s conduct of foreign policy, thinking he had been too soft on disarmament. Mussolini therefore, made himself the foreign minister. He said Fascism demanded a spectacular foreign policy achievement, and this would only happen with the conquest of Ethiopia.

Mussolini went back to the idea that he would promote the rival blows; Italy would act as a mediator between countries, maintaining a calculated equidistance between the powers involved in any problems. On one side, there was Britain and France, and on the other lay Germany. Mussolini was determined not to commit Italy to either side. Mussolini created the tensions and therefore always benefit. In this way, should Britain and France ever take Italy for granted, Mussolini could always extend diplomatic pressure on them by producing the “German Card”. This helped Mussolini to appear great and respected by the main powers.

Before long, however, this policy became increasingly difficult as Germany came to pose a greater threat to Italian interests that France had. Austria was the source of this trouble. Germany had long favoured the absorption of Austria from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, particularly when Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933. Mussolini was desperate to avoid the “Anschlufs”, as Mussolini regarded Austria as Italy’s client state. If she lost this, Mussolini would loose respect from other countries.

Mussolini tried once again to be a moderator and appear, once again, great and respected by the great powers of Europe. He tried to put together the Four-Power Pact between Britain, France, Germany and Italy, aiming to mediate the tension. However France and Germany would not compromise on anything. Mussolini’s plan did not work.

In 1934 the Austrian Nazi party was involved with the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor and Hitler wanted to take advantage of this. Mussolini was worried that he wanted to expand Germany territory into Italy and had to not only give up his policy of equidistance, but had to for an Accord with France in 1935 and had to drop his designs in the Balkans. The alliance with France led to the Stresa Front in April of that year, where Mussolini joined Britain and France in condemning German rearmament. In doing this, Mussolini felt Britain and France would be more sympathetic towards Italian ambitions of overseas territory.

With this in mind, Mussolini decided on his invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. Ethiopia was a traditional target of Italian colonial aspirations since the 1870’s. It went back to Mussolini’s aim in 1922 of eradicating the humiliation of Italy’s defeat by the Ethiopians in 1887 and 1896. A shooting of Italians at an oasis on the Ethiopian side of the border with the Italian Somaliland triggered off the attack. An immediate apology was demanded from Ethiopia and the matter was referred to the League of Nations. Over the next 10 months, Italy prepared for a full-scale invasion of Ethiopia.

At first, all seemed well for Mussolini, especially as Britain and France were unwilling to condemn his attitude. Mussolini decided to go ahead with the invasion. By May 1936 Abyssinia fell to Mussolini, and he stated, “The Empire has returned the hills of Rome”. Mussolini had wanted the war to stir up the nationalistic pride of the Italian people and it had. Mussolini was more popular in the summer of 136 than ever before, he was seen as great and respected by the Italian people. But the war narrowed the range of Mussolini’s future diplomatic options, as Britain and France were alienated by his method of conquest and were never to trust Mussolini again. It also increased Hitler’s strength in Austria.

In conclusion, Mussolini’s foreign policy lacked not ambitious aims, but means to go about them. It has been argued that Mussolini’s inexperience deterred him from doing well. However, Mussolini did make Italy gain respect from Britain in the early 1930’s. Mussolini built up a conventional diplomatic role and became respected. Mussolini did have control of Fiume, and had gained real influence in Albania. Yet he did not have any real gains in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The French out manoeuvred Mussolini.

Mussolini’s hands were tied by guarantees. He had no real gains in Austria and therefore no real benefits and in Corfu he had been defeated.

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