Hitler had four main Foreign policy aims after he came to power.
1. Overturn Versailles: establish Germany’s right to re-arm and to recover the lands lost in 1919, especially the right to re-militarise the Rhineland, to recover Danzig, and the Polish Corridor.
2. Gross Deutschland policy. To extend Germany’s frontiers, to include all people of the German race, especially Austria and the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia. Again this appears moderate and reasonable. Gave GB and Fr reason to believe they really did not need to go to war with Hitler over the Sudeten issue in 1938.
3. The racial policy. To make the Germans the dominant race in Europe at the at the expense of the racially inferior races to the east. The Aryans were to rule the Slavs and the Jews were to be eliminated. Hitler has been described as a Malthusian, fearing that Germany would not be able to feed her growing population and therefore she was entitled to take the lands to the east to colonise.
4. The policy of LEBENSRAUM or living space at the expense of the Poles and Russians.
Hitler chose to make an issue of the 3 million Sudeten Germans there who had been part of the Austro Hungarian Empire, but denied self-determination and given to Czechoslovakia at Versailles.
Hitler approached the case in the same way as the Anschluss: a Versailles grievance concerning self-determination while he encouraged Nazi influence among the Sudetens led by Konrad Henlein. The latter demanded independence for the Sudetens as a prelude to incorporation in the Third Reich. The issue was complicated by the fact that by 1938 the Sudetenland was an integral part of Czechoslovakia, which manifestly did not want to see the area secede. If the Anschluss could be passed off as wanted by the majority of Austrians, this certainly could not. Many Czech defences were in this border area as well as iron and steel plants and the Skoda arms factory.
Chamberlain made 3 visits to Hitler in an attempt to resolve the crisis peacefully. On 15 September at Berchtesgaden, Hitler insisted on the transfer of the Sudetenland to Germany. On 22 September at Godesberg on the Rhine, Hitler demanded the immediate military occupation of the area. On 27 Sept Chamberlain spoke of his determination to meet Hitler a third time to secure peace given the ‘horrible fantastic, incredible fact that Britain was preparing for war because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.’
What resulted was a four-power conference (30 Sept at Munich) between Hitler, Mussolini, Daladier of France and Chamberlain (with the Czech delegates kept waiting in the corridor outside and the Russians not invited at all) provided for German occupation of the Sudetenland within 10 days. Czechoslovakia was dismembered and left wide open to subsequent German aggression. There was enormous public relief in all countries at the time that war had been averted.
Before he left Munich Chamberlain secured a further agreement with Hitler: The Anglo- German Agreement, which declared the intention of both countries never to go to war with each other.
This was the famous piece of paper, which Chamberlain waved on his return to Britain declaring ‘Peace in our time’. Chamberlain may have been convinced that he had pacified Hitler and averted war; in fact Hitler gave instructions as early as 21 October for the invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia. Whether Chamberlain actually believed he could trust Hitler or not, he certainly believed that Hitler’s demands could only be met if they were legitimate and he laid great store by Hitler’s statement that the Sudetenland was the last of his territorial demands. Any further aggression by Hitler could not be met by appeasement.
Apart from its Sudeten German minority, Czechoslovakia also contained Poles, Hungarians and Slovaks. These too Hitler encouraged in separatist ambitions. His excuse for invading the country was to establish a protectorate for the Slovaks. In fact it was a clear act of aggression. For the first time Hitler had acted without the veil of acting on a redress of Versailles: there was no possible claim here. His actions were seen for what they were; an act of lebensraum: convincing all that his ambitions in fact had no limit.