04 — the Interbellum period pt2

In this unit

  1. The Poisoned Peace of 1919: The Big Three, their aims, and their plans for Germany, Italy’s reaction to ToV, Terms of ToV, its goals, successes + failures
  2. The Good Men: Peace initiatives of the 1920s (while failing to address underlying grievances)
  3. …Doing Nothing: GD and its link to rise of totalitarianism; breakdown of collective security in 1930s

Questions to consider

  1. What were the main causes of WW2? Which factors seem the most important?
  2. In what ways did the peacemaking process at the end of WW2 help create conditions for the Cold War?   

The Good Men… 

As the great powers slowly recovered from the effects of WW1, it became clear that the treaties signed at the Paris Peace Conference were not enough to maintain peace. International leaders now made efforts at collective security, the idea that all nations would unite together to face a common aggressor. Collective security would be upheld by: a neutral, international peacekeeping organisation (the League of Nations), international peace treaties and agreements, and general disarmament

The League of Nations — designed by Wilson (though ironically the US refused to join) as an alternative to the pre-WW1 alliance system. Its job was to prevent war through collective security; this meant acting as a neutral, third-party mediator to international disputes, bringing in the full weight of its members to support the sovereignty of small nations, and promoting international disarmament and open diplomacy. Unfortunately it was hamstrung by fundamental weaknesses:

League function / strength… …but…  
Mediate as a neutral third partyLeague rulings were not enforceable
Bring to bear the full weight of its 44 member statesSome key states were missing: the US never joined (retreated back into isolationism); Japan and Italy left in 1931 and 1937, respectively; Germany joined in 1926 and left in 1933; the USSR joined in 1934 and left in 1939
Morally condemn aggressionAll decisions had to be unanimous before being carried out
Impose economic and military sanctions on aggressors, if moral condemnation didn’t stop themSanctions were imposed entirely at the discretion of member states. The League lacked its own army
British cartoon, 1919. 
Was the cartoonist confident about the League’s abilities as a peacekeeping body? Was this a fair assessment in 1919?
  • Though the League was able to mediate and defuse crises between smaller nations (eg. Aaland Crisis, Greek-Bulgarian War, boundary disputes between Yugoslavia and Albania, etc), its fundamental weakness was never addressed: it simply could not enforce its will if an aggressor refused to cooperate, and as events showed in the 1930s, individual League members were willing to undermine collective security by appeasing an aggressor (giving them what they demanded in order to avoid war) rather than stand by League rulings and apply sanctions
  • Starting with the Corfu Crisis (1923), the League showed itself unable to stand up to aggression by major powers; from 1931 onward first Japan, then Italy, then Germany became increasingly aggressive in their foreign policy (withdrawing League membership either shortly before or after a major act of aggression), while the League was never able to punish their aggression even once. By 1937 the League of Nations had become irrelevant 
  • Whenever the sovereignty of smaller nations was threatened by aggressors, all eyes inevitably turned to Britain and France (the most powerful League members) for leadership. But neither, between 1930-39, proved willing to oppose aggression:
    • Much of their self-interest was because of the Great Depression, which hit first the US and then the rest of the world in 1930; Britain and France failed to apply economic (nevermind military) sanctions for fear it would exacerbate the worldwide depression. This not only gave the aggressors what they wanted, but sent the message that aggression pays off — this only encouraged further aggression
    • At the same time they simply were not ready for another war: their economies had been weakened, and the horrors of WW1 were still fresh in their minds
    • There was also some sympathy for Germany; as Hitler aggressively overturned the Treaty of Versailles in the 1930s, some British diplomats (particularly those who had disapproved of the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles) saw his actions as just and fair. Hitler also shrewdly invoked national self-determination in his aggression before 1939, which appeared to give his actions some legitimacy
  • Instead of applying League pressure to aggressors, Britain and France chose to appease them; thus the League had become irrelevant by 1937

International peace treaties — these were the second ‘leg’ of collective security; like the League, these seemed to promise much, but were undermined by fundamental flaws (nb these treaties were not underwritten by the League):

Locarno Treaties
Signed in 1925 by France, Britain, Belgium, Italy, and Germany, who promised to respect Germany’s western borders as laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, and to never attack each other (and to support each other if one signatory was ever attacked by another). This rapprochement seemed very promising at the time……but it did very little to address Germany’s underlying grievances with the Treaty of Versailles. It also implied that Germany’s eastern borders might be changed, which alienated Poland and undermined collective security
Kellogg-Briand Pact
Signed in 1928 by some 65 states worldwide (including the US and USSR), who agreed never to use war as a means of settling international disputes, though military force could be used in self defence). This generated quite a lot of goodwill… …but again it did little to address the underlying grievances of Germany, Japan, and Italy; the Pact was also completely unenforceable, while also failing to clearly define what ‘war’, ‘military force’, and ‘self defence’ meant (which created easy loopholes). It did very little overall to reinforce collective security
Stresa Front
This was jointly issued in 1935, in response to Hitler’s announcement of German rearmament, by Britain, France, and Italy. It reaffirmed both the Locarno Treaties and the Treaty of Versailles, and seemed to unite the three biggest League members……but it fell apart very quickly as first Britain chose to appease Germany through the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (1935), then Italy invaded Abyssinia. Collective security was thus greatly undermined

General disarmament — this was the third ‘leg’ of collective security, consisting of a series of disarmament conferences and treaties. Like the peace treaties however, and like the 1899 disarmament conference, these proved ineffective at securing peace:

Washington ConferenceTook place in 1921, and produced the Five Power Treaty, signed by Britain, the US, Italy, and Japan. Though this set the limit of naval sizes for Britain, the US, and Japan at 5:5:3, respectively……it addressed only naval disarmament, not general disarmament. At the same time it was completely unenforceable, while also leaving Japan deeply resentful of the unequal ratios
London Naval Conference
Took place in 1930, and produced the London Naval Treaty, signed by Britain, the US, and Japan. The ratio from 1921 was amended to 10:10:7……but this failed to address the existing problems of the Five Power Treaty: the 1930 treaty was still unenforceable, while failing to address Japan’s resentment, and only further alienating her.
In fact a special clause was added to the London Naval Treaty, stating that if one signatory power exceeded its set limit, so could the others. By 1933 it had become irrelevant, Japan proceeding with her naval programme with no reference to the 1930 ratios
Geneva ConferenceHeld from 1932-34, attended by delegates from over 60 nations, and aimed at general disarmament…  …but seriously marred by mutual suspicion, with the US proving particularly unwilling to reduce the size of her ground forces. It was also undone by Japan’s ongoing aggression (she had invaded Manchuria in 1931), and Germany’s withdrawal in 1933, when Hitler came to power and secretly rearmed Germany. Delegates started questioning the wisdom of disarmament when collective security was so clearly failing to secure peace
British cartoon, 1932 (Disarmament Conference refers to the Geneva Conference)
  • In a way collective security did survive: as the League, disarmament, and peace treaties became increasingly irrelevant in securing peace, large powers turned to alliances to secure themselves: the Rome-Berlin Axis, the Anti-Comintern Pact, the Pact of Steel, the Anglo-Polish Alliance, and others. The European powers had reverted to pre-WW1 methods of banding together to secure peace
British cartoon, 1935, titled Cause precedes effect. The men on the right represent the leaders of the European powers, including France, Britain, and Italy. Why has the cartoonist portrayed the European leaders as supporters of Hitler? Is this accusation a fair one?

Continue to part 3

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