How consistent was Italian foreign policy between 1922 and 1943?
Mussolini’s main aim through foreign policy was to exalt Italy’s pride, which was seen severely deteriorated after the First World War.
By the statement ‘My objective is simple. I want to make Italy great, respected and feared’ Mussolini’s objectives are clearly can be clearly deduced.
However, historians still disagree over Mussolini’s conduct of foreign affairs, in the years between his assumption of the premiership and the conquest of Ethiopia in 1935-6. Some support the view, once he acquired strong dominance on the communists, that the imperialism of 1930s was the unplanned response to domestic problems of a dictator whose main concerns where the internal consolidation of his regime. More recently, however, the balance of opinion has tended towards the belief in the underlying consistency of Mussolini’s foreign policy.
Mussolini’s foreign policy operates along fairly well-worn paths, and his main areas of interest remained the Mediterranean, Africa and the Balkans Mussolini’s foreign policy operates along fairly well-worn paths, and his main areas of interest remained the Mediterranean, Africa and the Balkans. As these two aims were, to some extent achieved during the 1920s, Iitalian foreign policy became increasingly expansionist in the 1930s, aiming not only to control the Mediterranean but as well, the African Empire.
In the course of 1922-3 the weakness of Italy’s position became all too clear to Mussolini. He first failed to gain any substantial concessions in Africa or in the middle East from Britain and France when, at the Lausane, the negotiated a new peaceful treaty with Mustapha Kemal after his successful resistance would avoid the Treaty of Sevrï¿½s to be applied on Turkey. Secondly, he was also unsuccessful in exploiting in the interests of Italy the international crisis caused by the French occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923. Mussolini changed his role from mediator between France and Britain, who opposed the occupation, to opponent of at one point of a potentially anti-British building bloc, composed of the main Continental States. He was mistrusted by both, London and Paris and was set aside from the European stage.
The incident in Corfu, in 1923 gave Mussolini the reputation of being a dangerous firebrand. In 1923 Mussolini seized the chance to occupy Corfu, a strategically important island guarding the Southern entrance into the Adriatic, given that the Greek government seemed to refuse to pay the 50 million lira compensation they asked for the assassination of an Italian general and his staff, who were mapping out for an international inter-allied Commission the new Greek- Albanian frontier on Greek territory. Mussolini not only rejected the League’s intervention but began to build a military base in the island. The incident was celebrated as a great success for Mussolini however, in reality it was a diplomatic defeat for Mussolini, since he had been forced to leave Corfu by Anglo-French pressure.
However, Mussolini felt obliged into adopting a more conventional foreign policy. Mussolini could not run the risk of isolating Italy from the rest of Europe, therefore seeked for to establishing closer relationships with Britain and France.
Mussolini, in order to maintain an independent state, cultivated the friendship of Austria and Hungary and in 1930 a similar treaty with similar treaty with Austria. Relations with Austria became ever closer after Hitler came to power in Germany after Hitler came to power in Germany and Mussolini provided the arms and money for the Austrian chancellor’s private army.
In 1924 the Pact of Rome was signed with Yugoslavia, by which Italy received the long-disputed town of Fiume, though a part of it, Susak, went to Yugoslavia, along with port Barros. Two treaties with Alabania were signed in 1926 and 1927, firmly established Italian influence in Albania. This marked the first stage in Mussolini’s efforts to establish Italy in the Balkans where Czechoslovakia, Roumania and Yugoslavia were tied to France, Italy’s like enemy, ver closely. During the 1920 Mussolini realised that he needed the friendship of France and Britain in view that he could not yet attempt to have the Versailles treaty revised in his favour.
He went to Locarno thus in 1925 he went to Locarno and signed the treaties which guaranteed the frontiers between France and Germany, as well as the ones between Belgium and Germany, and in 1928 he signed. In particular, he drew closer to Britain, and though he privately resolved to end British power in the Mediterranean, he saw her as a possible friend in any future conflict. The frontier between Libya and Egypt was reached through an agreement, and there was a possibility of British aid for the railway building in East Africa. During the 1920 therefore, Italy remained a member of the League of Nations and acted as good citizen of Europe. Mussolini’s foreign policy therefore followed a peaceful path.
However, the peaceful pattern which Mussolini’s foreign policy followed during the 20s was to be changed suddenly in the 30s, and thus also the slight consistency it had been following so far. This was mainly caused by Hitler’s advent to power, what obviously altered things considerably. Mussolini saw the potential of a German alliance against Britain and France to revise the 1919 settlement; on the other hand he took care of having Germany too close. In April 1933 Goering and Papen visited Rome, however, all what Mussolini could achieve was German agreement to the Four Power Pact (between Italy, Germany, France and Britain) to keep peace in Europe, thus replacing the League.
It was even signed actually by Germany and Italy (on 15 July 1933). A crucial meeting with Hitler took place in his visit to Venice in 1934. The meeting went bad unfortunately, since Mussolini refused to have an interpreter despite his German being very poor, so the meeting meant little to either. Things became worsened by the crisis following the death of Dollfuss a month later, so that Mussolini was far from being an ally of Hitler in 1934-5. Mussolini even attended the Stressa conference in April 1935, which was called by France, and in which it had to be considered what action to take in order to guarantee the independence of Austria. Italy joined to the declarations and protests, partly in genuine hostility to Germany, but mainly to avoid British and French hostility.
In the 1920s the Italian empire was hardly promising. In Lybia, which was the territorially the heart of the Empire , but only some 2000 Italians had settled there and by 1930 it was costing over 500 million lire per annum, compared with 107 million in 1921. There were two smaller Italian colonies which looked more promising, for they bordered on to Ethiopia (Abyssinia), one of the few remaining independent kingdoms of Africa. Italy therefore took special interest in Abyssinia, sponsoring her membership on the League in 1923 and signing a treaty of friendship in 1928. However, in view that Haile Selassie (the ruler) did not intend to allow his country to be dominated by a modern power (signature of a treaty with Japan in 1930) Mussolini considered the possibility of war to force Abyssinia under Italian control.
The clue incident which brought war about was the Ual Ual incident, in which the Italians claimed the right to use this oasis, which was located in the border of Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland, which was marked in the maps as being part of Abyssinia. Italians in Ual Ual were therefore murdered in the oasis in December 1934. Mussolini demanded an apology as well as compensation from Abyssinia, while the Abyssians claimed investigation from the League of Nations, and were pleased in May 1935. Mussolini made preparations for his attack, by either building up forces and sounding out the attitude of Britain and France.
In June, Enden, on behalf of the British government offered the Abyssinians a corridor to the sea through British Somaliland if they gave Mussolini part of Ogaden, offer however rejected by Mussolini. In the summer Italian troops under generals de Bono and Graziani arrived at Eritrea. Mussolini continued to make noises about his intentions, feeling disastified by the League resolutions in which it established that neither part was to be blamed by the Ual Ual incident. Italians brought war about provided that the meeting the held with British and French, in which Italy was offered the opportunity to develop Abyssinia provided that the Abyssinians agreed, did not satisfied Mussolini, since he foreshadow that it would be unlikely to obtain such agreement.
The conquest of Abyssinia was regarded as a major triumph in Italy, ranking alongside the Concordat of 1929. Mussolini had said ‘the Italian character has to be formed through fighting’, and he stuck at this idea definitely between the 30 and until the 40s, completely contrasting the peaceful means through which Mussolini had been able to achieve good foreign relationships, by the 1920s.
When the Spanish civil war broke out Mussolini supported immediately Franco and the Nationalists by providing them with men and equipment, on the grounds that he could not allow a communist government to be formed in the Mediterranean. It deepened the rift between Italy and Britain and France, and aligned Mussolini more firmly with Germany.
In 1936, exalting the new closeness between Italian-German relationships, the October Protocols were signed. Italy conceded German predominance in Austria, while Germany recognised the Italian empire in East Africa. Both governments agreed on the danger of Communism and the need to keep a careful watch on alleged British plans for encirclement. There was also to be close co-operation between the two powers in Spain. The axis however was not a formal treaty and Mussolini was by no means committed to German alliance.
Mussolini, on his visit to Berlin in September 1937, seemed more convinced than ever that Nazism was an invincible force in Europe and Italy had no choice but to ally herself with it. He thus distanced himself further from Britain and France, and joined with Japan and Germany in the Anti-Comitern pact on November.
In 1938 Italy’s weakness was underlined by the fact that neither Shuschnigg nor Hitler bothered to contact Rome, when the Anshluss was signed. Mussolini also was powerless to back Schuschnigg in his attempt to renounce the ultimatum for the Anshluss. . Mussolini was to pay the price for his break with Britain and France in 1935.
Mussolini therefore decided to retake Italy’s traditional policy of ‘equidistance’ between the Western powers and Berlin. By the Munich agreement Musolini could effectively stop Hitler plunging Europe into war before he judged Italy to be ready for it. It was a considerable diplomatic succes for Musolini and was praised as the man who saved the world.
However, Italy’s policy of ‘equidistance’ did not last for long. Since >Mussolini decided a full military alliance with Germany, since he considered than a German alliance was intended to be more an instrument of diplomatic pressure than a prelude to war.
Mussolini’s Foreign policy was therefore inconsistent in the sense that Mussolini not only switched his ideas rather frequently (aiming first to align with the Four powers, and then switching to establish closer relations with Germany, and at the end again with Britain and France), but as well in terms of its degree of aggressiveness, since through the 1920s Mussolini’s foreign policy can be said to had been quite peaceful (foreign affairs were mainly solved through Treaties and Agreements), switching in the 1930s to a more aggressive foreign policy with the advent of Hitler. Between the 1930s and 1940s he used war mongering (e.g. The Spanish Civil War, the Abyssinian incident, and the Corfu incident).