luni, 9 mai 2011

The Capitulation of the Democracies in front of Dictatorships: The Policy of Appeasement towards Germany (1935-1939)

This study tries to demonstrate that the policy of appeasement of the Western democracies, England and France manifested towards revisionists states, especially towards Germany, after the First World War, in the second half of the ‘30’s, represents one of the essential reasons for the outburst of the Second World conflagration. This attitude of clemency adopted by both countries in dealing with the III rd Reich, known as appeasement was evident during Rhine crisis of 1936, in question of the Anschluss (March 1938) and especially during Czechoslovakian crisis of 1938-1939. Thus, the apogee of appeasement was considered the Munich Conference, organized in the autumn of 1938.
Appeasement policy of Western democracies concerning Hitler's Germany implied tolerance towards aggressive actions of the latter and even concessions, compromises, [1. Le Breton, J.-M., Central and Eastern Europe between 1917 and 1990, Editura Cavallioti, Bucharest, 1996, p. 37]. Great Britain and France hoped that peace could be saved this way, using concessions and renunciations. English and French politicians such as Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Anthony Eden and Lord Halifax had hoped this policy, promoted at all costs, through direct negotiations with Germany, would moderate Führer’s attitude. Promoting appeasement policy England and France aimed to prevent a general war. However, the effect was not that the boths countries expected for. Aware of Western democracies weakness, Nazi leader tended to conquer other territories, feeling himself encouraged in his hegemonic and aggressive projects. Germany’s attitude demonstrates perfectly the words that Appeasement brings aggression.
The appeasement was based on several principles, the most important of them being the hate for war, the conviction that dictators had justified claims which must be satisfied in order to obtain a new balance in Europe.The others principles were the mistrust in diplomatic commitments in Europe, the awareness of British military weakness and faith in personal diplomacy. [2. Dictionary of International Relations. The twentieth century, volume coordinated by Maurice Vaïsse, Polirom Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008, p. 86].
At the end of January 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Even eight years earlier, he has clearly presented his priorities of foreign policy in the work Mein Kampf [3. See Hitler, A., Mein Kampf, Beladi Publishing House, Bucharest, 1994] writen while he was in detention in Landsberg prison after the failed attempt to do a coup d'etat in Munich, in November 1923. [4. Milza, P., Berstein, S., The history of the twentieth century. The End of the European World, Volume 1, Editura BIC ALL, Bucuresti, 1998, p. 180]. The program set out by the future Nazi dictator had three phases: first, he intended to remove the German military burdensome constraints, imposed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919; then he wanted to bring together in one state all Germanic peoples, including Austrians. Finally, the Germans aimed to conquer the so-called Lebensraum (vital space) on account of Soviet Union and other Slavonian peoples.[5. Ibidem, p. 341]. According to Henry Kissinger, U.S. secretary of state during Richard Nixon’s presidency, Hitler is guilty for collapse of international order established at the peace conference from Paris like a castle of cards. [6. Kissinger, H., Diplomacy, Editura BIC ALL, Bucuresti, 2003, p. 251].
Due to a very demagogic and penetrating speech, Hitler speculated well Germans’ hurt pride and their frustrations after the first world conflagration. He obtained the support of internal public opinion for his hegemonic foreign policy. He managed to fulfill revisionist plans relating to the Treaty of Versailles because of the inertia of the Western democracies.
In order to prepare his next blows, Hitler decided to withdraw his country from the Conference on Disarmament of Geneva and from League of Nations in the autumn of the year 1933.
Hermann Göring made public the third Reich’s intention to form an army of the air, and on 16 March 1935, Führer brought to the attention of André François-Poncet, French Ambassador in Berlin, that he had promulgated a law to reintroduce compulsory military service in Germany, setting to 36 the number of divisions. Although this was a flagrant violation of one of the clauses of the Versailles Treaty, Germany motivated its action, taking as argument the rearmament of the other powers: England, France and Russia. Poncet protested against the violation of Versailles Treaty and against the method of fait accompli. [7. Duroselle, J.-B. , History of international relations 1919-1947, vol Publishing Social and Political Sciences, Bucharest, 2006, p. 138]. Because Great Britain made efforts to reinclude Germany in a system of collective security, it signed a naval agreement with this state on 18 June 1935. The Reich had the right to possess a fleet of war equal to 35% of the England’s fleet and also an equal number of submarines. [8. Milza, P., Berstein, S., op. cit. , P. 342; Kissinger, H., op. cit. pp 258-259]. The representatives of Great Britain and France, along with those of Italy, meeting at Stressa conference, on 11 April 1935, confined to protest against the method of unilateral denunciation of treaties. [9.Taylor, AJP, Origins of the Second World War, Polirom Edition, Iaşi, 1999, pp 82-84; Johnson, P., A history of the modern world 1920-2000, Editura Humanitas, Bucharest, 2005, p. 314]. The historians spoke about a so-called front from Stressa, Benito Mussolini’s Italy being by same side as Great Britain and France. But further developments of events marked the break of the front. One can see, an approach between Mussolini's Italy and Hitler’s Germany especially after the outburst of civil war from Spain, in 1936.
The appeasement attitude of Western democracies stimulated revisionist efforts of Germany, which will adopt the same policy of fait accompli in relations with Great Britain and France. The conciliatorism of the two countries facilitated and mediated this. In this context, the third Reich prepare the ground for further actions to violate stipulations of the peace treaties signed at the end of First World War. According to peace treaty concluded with Germany on 28 June 1919 at Versailles, in the Mirror Hall (a symbolic fact, given the historical precedents), Renania, designating the left bank of the Rhine had to be permanently demilitarized, and also 50 kilometres on the right bank. [10. Milza, P., Berstein, S., op. cit. , P. 98]. Nazi Germany denounced the Pact of mutual assistance, signed in 1935 between France and Soviet Union, considering it an act against Reich. Hitler saw this Pact as a violation of Locarno agreements from 1925. Those latters agreements had a clause of non-aggression between France and Germany. [11. Dufour, J. L., International crises. From Beijing (1900) to Kossovo (1999), Corinth Publishing House, Bucharest, 2002, pp 82-83]. French-Soviet Pact was a pretext for Germany, which decided to occupy Renania. Despite signals provided by its ambassador in Berlin, the French authorities did not adopt the measures designed to contain Nazi blow. However, despite objections raised by his generals, Hitler ordered on 7 March 1936 that 30,000 people should occupy the demilitarized zone of Renania. [12. Duroselle, J. B., op. cit. , pp 147-148]. In front of this flagrant violations of the Versailles Treaty and the Rhine Pact of guarantee from 1925 French reaction was modest. The government decided the occupation of fortified Maginot Line. Moreover, Foreign Minister of Great Britain, Anthony Eden suggested to France an appeasement attitude. In fact, this latter country does not have any real interest for a demilitarized zone of Rhine. England hated the idea of war, even if alongside Italy, it guaranteed the Locarno Pact. In accordance with that pact, Germany recognized its western borders with France and Belgium. Even before German demonstration of force and the occupation of Rhine, the UK advocated for resolving the issue, in an advantageous manner, but disagreeing a military intervention: "It would be preferable for the UK and France to enter in time into negotiations with the German government to surrender on the basis of our rights in the area, as long as this surrender still has a value in the negotiation." [13. Kissinger, H., op. cit. , pp 265-266]. On the other hand, the legislative elections made mobilization difficult to achieve. We can add to these reasons which determined French behavior, the belief of France that Germans had a superior army and also the public pacifism. [14. Milza, P., Berstein, S., op. cit. , p. 346].
League of Nations Council, decided not to adopt any concrete measure against Germany although this state did not respect its obligations. [15. Dufour, J.-L. , Op. cit. , p. 84]. This really meant a Hitler’s moral victory. On the other hand, the French security had suffered after the occupation of Rhine, France was deprived of a vital buffer-zone. France could not intervene any longer in favor of its allies from Central and Eastern Europe. This reality had negative repercussions on its prestige. [16. Ibidem, p. 85].
The next events will fully prove the inertia that Western powers stimulated Germany’s aggression. After Rhine crisis, one can see an approach of Italy to Germany. Thus, Rome-Berlin Axis was built. After cutting burdensome provisions of the Versailles Treaty, Hitler could proceed to territorial annexations, aware that democracies were unable or reluctant to oppose a strong resistance.
Britain also influenced France during the Civil War from Spain (1936-1939), the decision of non-intervention in the conflict being adopted at the suggestion of the British [17. Dictionary of International Relations. The twentieth century, p. 86], but agreement was not observed, mainly by Germany and Italy.
Year 1937 marked a relative detente after the tensions of 1935 and 1936. It was very clear that appeasement policy towards Germany would continue after the premier of Great Britain has become Neville Chamberlain and ambassador at Berlin, Neville Henderson. On this line, a proof was offered by lord Halifax’s visit to Führer’s residence at Berchtesgaden. After Halifax stressed the important role of Germany in fighting Bolshevik danger, he has expressed solicitude concerning a few old claims of the Germans regarding Austria and Czechoslovakia. Tacitly, Britain agreed some changes in geo-political configuration of Central Europe, but Germany was not allowed to proceed to war. Moreover, it appears that Foreign Office, through the voice of Eden, even suggested that it had agreed annexation of Austria by Reich. [18. Taylor, A. J. P., op. cit., p. 113; See Aster, S., Appeasement and All Souls. A portrait with Documents 1937-1939].
The first Germany’s attempt to achieve Anschluss (Austria’s annexation by Germany), was in 1934 , when Nazi Germans tried to organize a putsch against Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss, but the coup d’etat failed due to the opposition of Austrian public opinion and of the Italian government.
Hitler presented his expansionist plans relating to Austria and Czechoslovakia to the closest collaborators, in a secret conference, known under the name of Hossbach Protocol, on 5 November 1937. At the beginning of the year 1938, Germany proceeded again to its project, especially that recently, Italy had begun to show its lack of interest concerning Austria. The leader of Nazi Parti from Austria, Seyss-Inquart was appointed Minister of the Interior. Chancellor von Schuschnigg intend to organize a plebiscite on the question of independence of the country, but on 11 March 1938, was forced to resign under Nazis’ pressure. Seyss-Inquart became chancellor. On 12 March, German army entered Austria. It is interesting that the Anschluss was ratified by an overwhelming majority of the populations from Austria and Germany. [19. Taylor, A. J. P., op. cit. , P. 121-122, Le Breton, J.-M. , Op. cit., p. 40-41; Milza, P., Berstein, S., op. cit., p. 351].
Anschluss violated the peace treaties of Versailles and Saint Germain en Laye, signed with Germany and respectively Austria. However, the Western powers, especially Britain tacitly consented to Austria’s annexation, and then had to accept the fait accompli.
According to protocol Hossbach the next target for Germany was represented by Czechoslovakia. This state with a very developed economy, dominated by Skoda factory, also enjoyed a great strategic position. During the period between the two world wars, Czechoslovakia was a democratic, multiethnic state. In addition to Hungarian and Polish communities, German ethnic minority was very important. It comprised about 3.5 million souls. A lot of Germans from Czechoslovakia lived in the zone of Sudeţi Mountains, in Sudetenland.
The most important and popular party of the German ethnic minority from Sudetenland was, after 1935, the Sudeten Deutsche Partei, leaded by Konrad Henlein. Henlein's Party was very close to Germany and has committed, since mid-March 1938, to respect all the directives given by German Embassy from Prague. The Anschluss worried the authorities of Czechoslovakia. Henlein’s party developed Karlsbad program, which among others, claimed: full equality between German ethnic group and the Czech people, an autonomous government to establish, a protective legislation for the Germans who did not live in Sudetenland, the right to adopt Nazi ideology, the creation of services and public authorities of German language in Sudetenland. But Karlsbad Program was designed in close connection with Adolf Hitler. Hitler and Wilhelm von Keitel have already elaborated Grün plan, which envisaged the attack of Czechoslovakia. The invasion of Czechoslovakia was to take place after negotiations which would continue with a crisis.
The evolution of events in Europe was in favour of Germany. In France, in the government led by Édouard Daladier, the minister of Foreign Affairs was Georges Bonnet, a defender of the appeasement policy. During Franco-British summit from London, the representatives of Western democracies decided to recommend to government from Prague to negotiate directly with Sudeten Party and show a lot of benevolence towards it. [20. Duroselle, J. B., op. cit. , pp 163-165; Milza, P., Berstein, S., op. cit. , P. 353]. Britain was very reluctant concerning a military intervention in favour of Czechoslovakia, this country being considered a minor punt and, consequently, wanting to be involved only in the case of an obvious aggression. As Jean-Baptiste Duroselle assessed, his assessments being proved by the evolution of events, “the British refused the scenario of a European war with unlikely finale, and having its roots in Czechoslovakia’s problem.” [21. Ibidem, p. 165]. On the other hand, the treaties concluded by Czechoslovakia with France in 1925 and Soviet Union, in 1935 could theoretically protect the first. But a military aid of the USSR was difficult to grant because the Soviet troops would have to transit the Romania’s and Poland’s territories, and these two states were very reluctant to give right of passage, given the strained relations in the past. Given the British position and the impossibility for USSR to support Czechoslovakia, France was also unable to effectively help its ally from Central Europe.
Following appeasement policy, in the summer of 1938 the government from London sent to Prague Lord Runciman, who had the role to mediate discussions between Czechoslovakian authorities and the representatives of Germans from Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia was forced to make concessions and it had to accept almost completely the Karlsbad Program. Subsequently, the events will precipitate. On 12 September 1938, Hitler had at Nürnberg a very violent speech, telling that the Germans from Sudetenland were tortured with the complicity of the government from Prague. The desire to annex Sudetenland came out from Führer’s speech, even if it was not explicitly expressed. Hitler also told about the right of peoples to dispose of themselves. Certainly, his speech was well understood by Konrad Henlein, who almost immediately decided to stop negotiations with the Czech Government and asked for Sudetenland’ annexation by Germany. [22 Ibidem, pp 166-168].
Later, Neville Chamberlain had two meetings with Hitler at Berchtesgaden and Godesberg. Nazi dictator clearly expressed the desire to annex the region of Sudetenland and with this purpose, he was to decree a general mobilization on 28 September. Peace was in danger, despite the conciliatorism consistently promoted by the Western democracies, particularly the United Kingdom.
At the Chamberlain’s initiative, in a desperate attempt to save peace, seriously threatened, Mussolini proposed Hitler the organization of a conference with the participation of Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy. In a paradoxical and strange way, Czechoslovakia, the state directly concerned has not been invited to participate. Thus, on 29-30 September 1938, the heads of government of the four powers (Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini) were meeting in Munich. [23. Goldstein, JS, Pevehouse, JC, International Relations, Polirom Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008, p. 73]. In exchange for concessions, Hitler obtained annexation of Sudetenland by Germany. Then, the contracting parties committed to ensure the new frontiers of Czechoslovakia. Because of France’s and England’s attitude towards Germany, [24. Duroselle, J. B., op. cit., pp.168-170; Dufour, J. - L., op. cit. , pp 90-91; Kissinger, H., op.cit. , pp 271-274] Czechoslovakia was forced to accept Munich Dictate. This conference could be considered a dictate, as the Great Powers decided territorial cessions and the representatives of Czechoslovakia have not even participated. After this new sign of weakness towards Germany, England and France still expected to reach an understanding with Hitler. Neither the British-French collaboration has worked very well, because on 30 September 1938, the British signed a non-aggression agreement with Germany, but the French authorities were not informed about. [25. Milza, P., Berstein, S., op. cit. , pp 353-354]
According to Joshua Goldstein, the appeasement, the conciliatorism had a negative meaning in international relations .Treaty of Munich seemed to encourage the future territorial conquests of Germany. [26. Goldstein, J. S., Pevehouse, J. C., op. cit. , p. 73]
Hitler had understood that democracies were weak and continued the policy of force in 1939, proceeding to the destruction of entire Czechoslovakian state. Since the fall of 1938, Poland occupied Teschen region, despite the pressures of France. Hungary obtained Southern Slovakia by arbitration in Vienna, under Germany’s and Italy’s patronage. After that, Slovakia proclaimed its independence, becoming a state friend of Germany. German troops occupied Bohemia on March 15, 1939. Führer ordered the making of a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, in fact a satellite state, while Hungary absorbed too Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia. [27. Milza, P., Berstein, S., op. cit. , pp 354-355].
The complete disappearance of Czechoslovakian state demonstrated the lack of efficiency and represented the failure of conciliatorism (appeasement). Hitler did not respect his promise made to Chamberlain that he would not try to conquer non-German populations. [28. Dictionary of International Relations ...., p.87]. The premises of a general conflict were obvious as the responsible circles from London and Paris realized too late the true intentions of Germany.