Fascist foreign policy consisted of 3 main compone
1. A continuation of Italy’s traditional objectives that had been apparent before WW1. Seeking increased influence in Europe.
- Diplomatically it had been allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary since 1882 (WW1 calculated best bet was with Britain and France)
- Wanted to expand influence in Med and Balkans
- Empire in Eritrea and Tripoli
- Attempt in 1896 to conquer Ethiopia
2. Disappointment of Treaty of Saint Germain in 1919 (part of Paris Peace Settlements) only gave them gains in South Tyrol and Trentino, which meant that Italy’s share of the collapsed Austria-Hungary was less than that of Poland, Rumania and Yugoslavia.
3. Mussolini provided a Fascist vision for the future, based on the past both recent and distant. The recent past had focussed on creating the modern Italian state, this prioritising is known as ‘etatsim’ or directing focus to the state itself. Mussolini wanted also to go beyond etatism and restore the imperium or empire. In essence, to reincarnate the vitality of the Roman Empire.
The development of Mussolini’s foreign policy
In 1922, Italy was essentially secure but lacked influence, diplomatically or militarily. Friendship with France meant little threat from the North and the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, meant Italy had no powerful enemies. It was Britain and France who controlled the status quo, and any dealings with them would have to be carefully managed.
Between 1922 and 1929 Mussolini was tempted by the longer-term aims of Italian statesmen and hoped to revise the Treaty of St. Germain. Nothing much happened as he was mainly concentrating on consolidating power at home.
- Corfu, where in August 1923 an Italian General and 4 of his staff were assassinated in Greece where they had been working for the international boundary commission discussing the location of the border between Greece and Albania. Mussolini claimed the Greek govt. was responsible and demanded a full apology and 50 million lire in compensation. With no apology forthcoming, he ordered the bombing then occupation of Corfu. The European powers led by the British demanded immediate withdrawal. The Duce had to agree; he did eventually receive his 50 million but never an apology
- Corfu was of course hailed as a great success, but it did indicate how Mussolini was in no position to stand up to the strength of the British.
- Fiume. In 1924 Italy finally received Fiume in the Pact of Rome. This again brought great prestige and increased popularity for the Duce
- Locarno Pact of 1925 that was essentially:
- The principal treaty concluded at Locarno was that between Germany, France, Belgium, Britain, and Italy, under which the first three signatories undertook not to attack each other, with the latter two acting as guarantors. In the event of aggression by any of the first three states against another, all other parties to the treaty were to assist the country under attack.
- Well liked by Churchill, ‘Roman genius in person’. Did not get on with the French however, they harboured many outspoken Italian anti-Fascist exiles, and also the French had designs on the Balkans like Mussolini and were working hard to form alliances which meant a lack of activity in the area for Mussolini
Between 1929 and 1934
Scope for more active involvement increased largely as a result of the Great Depression. Between 1930 and 1935 Mussolini aimed to make more of an impact. He planned to emerge as Europe’s senior statesman and arbiter.
Relationship with Germany
- It has to be said that despite Mussolini’s probable financial aid that he had given to the Nazis in the 1920s, the relationship between the two was often difficult.
- Mussolini said he was pleased to see the spread of his Fascism throughout Europe, but he also was wary of being overshadowed by Hitler. Another concern was that Germany would overtake Austria and pose a threat on the Italian border.
- He wanted to promote rival blocs where he would fall in the middle. Germany on one side and France and Britain on the other for example, this is called a policy of equidistance. His plan was that Britain and France would have to rely on him to contain Hitler, so that they would have to grant concessions in the Med & Africa, if they did not he could always side with Hitler.
- However did not quite work like this. Germany began to pose a greater threat than France ever did. It became increasingly apparent that Germany wanted to absorb Austria into her empire. Mussolini wanted to avoid this as he regarded Austria as a client state and as a military buffer zone.
relationship with germany 2
- In 1934 crisis loomed when Austrian Nazis assassinated the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss. Mussolini was thinking that Hitler would take control of Austria in the ensuing chaos. M sent Italian troops to the border. He also had to swallow previous grievances with France who also of course dreaded an enlarged Germany. In January of 1935 he dropped his designs on the Balkans and formed an accord with France, in April this was followed by the Stresa Front where France Britain and Italy all declared their hostility to Hitler’s re-armament programme. This gave him added protection against an Anschluss.
- Mussolini was now free to seize the initiative. In Jan 1935 in discussions with the French foreign minister Laval, it appeared that the French would give a free hand to Mussolini regarding Ethiopia in return for Mussolini backing the French if Hitler expanded into Austria. A kind of unwritten agreement.
- From 1936 onwards Germany exerted a new found influence on Italy due to growing diplomatic confidence and military strength. Within Italy this took the form of a new racial program. Mussolini realised that a relationship with Hitler would frighten the British and the French, so he could play the two off against each other, his policy of equidistance.
- From 1935 Italy entered a period of frantic activity, behaving like an expansionist power. In the process Mussolini allied himself disastrously with Hitler.
- Ethiopia (1935-1936)
Partly internal reasons for this. The Duce required a boost at home; a successful war can provide this!
Ideological reason also - the Fascist yearning for expansion and conquest.
- War was sparked by the Wal Wal Incident. In December 1934 a party of Italians was fired upon at an oasis on the Ethiopian side of the border with Italian Somaliland. An apology was demanded by Ethiopia as the Italians had claimed the right to use Wal Wal. The matter however was referred to the League of Nations whilst Italy over the following next 10 months prepared for a full-scale invasion. Britain and France were unwilling to condemn M’s attitude.
- In Oct 1935 M went ahead with the invasion commencing from Eritrea under the leadership of Graziani and De Bono. A victory quickly occurred at Adowa (where defeat humiliatingly occurred in 1896). But after this Italy began to use poison gas against Ethiopian troops. The League had to intervene and put economic sanctions on Italy from October. Not very effective and Italy continued her march on Addis Ababa reaching there in May 1936.
- The sensible option would have been a programme of consolidation after Ethiopia but Mussolini became committed to assisting Franco’s National Front against the Spanish Republic. Mussolini wanted to help Franco because of M’s hatred of Leftist government. The future lay with Fascism, nationalism and right wing militarism. Influence over Spain could well have led to influence over Salazar’s Portugal, and generally more influence around the Med. Italy also could test the efficiency of armed forces in a different theatre of war. By 1937, 50,000 Italian troops were active in Spain. Also provided 763 planes, 950 tanks, artillery and bombs etc. Hitler helped Franco also and Stalin helped the Republic, but Italy provided the most help.
- But to what effect? Mussolini was unable to make up the loss of equipment before WW2. This being of course quite serious for Italy. By this time both France and Britain regarded Italy as hostile and both had begun to re-arm at pace that Italy could not match. All the major powers were stronger in 1939 than 1936 except Italy who was weaker. Also there was no real gratitude from Franco who announced that Spain would remain neutral against any hostility towards Italy!
- Mussolini had no choice but be allied with Hitler, even though he did not like the German dictator. The connection was formalised by the Rome-Berlin Axis on 1st November 1936, a phrase coined by Mussolini himself. This was further cemented by the Anti-Comintern Pact signed with Germany and Japan in November 1937; and the Pact of Steel in May 1939 which committed Germany and Italy to mutual support in the face of any hostility.
- Unfortunately for Mussolini Germany’s superiority in the axis soon became apparent. Hitler forced the pace and often showed open contempt for Mussolini. For example in March 1938 he only gave Mussolini a few hours notice before sending troops into Austria. Mussolini was able to save some face as a mediator at the Munich Conference of Sept. 1938, but really this was because Hitler wanted him in this role.
- On 2 occasions in 1939 M was given virtually no warning of Hitler’s intentions:
- Invasion of Bohemia in March
- Nazi-Soviet pact in August
- Also Mussolini was confused by Hitler’s timetable. He thought that Hitler had no intention of waging war until 1943, so when Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, Mussolini was simply not ready with rearmament and his military obligations under the Pact of Steel. In fact the Italian foreign minister Ciano had to give a list of requirements to Berlin urgently needed by Italy.