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Military Power and Appeasement

December 3, 2014

Earlier this week we discussed why pacifism wasn’t the answer in international relations and could cause chaos. I also shared my essay on why military power is important to keeping peace. Today, I’m going to share a practice essay on appeasement that I did for my HSC. As I argued in my essay earlier this week, appeasement and reductions in defence spending represented a sort of ‘limited pacifism’, and show the possible chaos of total pacifism in international relations.

Before we begin today though, a few things:

1. ‘Growth of European Tensions’ means tensions in Europe in the 1930s (specifically 35 onwards) leading to war

2. I got into the habit of forcefully agreeing with all questions. I could tell you appeasement was paramount, I could argue that Collective Security’s collapse was what caused war, I could argue it was the Nazis etc.

3. Appeasement has legitimate reasons for being pursued. And Munich should not be seen as saying that appeasement and negotiation always fail and that we must take a hard line and build military arms. It does not. I’m simply arguing today that pacifism could not stop war, as pacifism is a far ‘weaker’ response than appeasement.

4. I’ve bolded and put into italics some important parts of my essay for you. I’ve also added a footnote or 2 for interest.

Now, onto the show!


Question: Assess the importance of the British and French policies of appeasement, on the growth of European tensions.

The British-French policy of appeasement was of paramount importance to the growth of European tensions. Appeasement emboldened the German and Italian dictatorships to pursue aggressive foreign policies, and to re-arm for war, increasing tensions. Appeasement greatly undermined the Collective Security and the League of Nations (LON) and accelerated the growth of tensions. Appeasement also, by alienating the Soviet Union, led to the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non Aggression Pact, which increased tensions significantly and led Germany to invade Poland on the 3rd Sept. 1939.

The policy of appeasement was critical to the growth of European tensions by allowing Germany to re-arm. Anglo-French appeasement over Germany’s announcement of conscription and a new air force in March 1935 gave Germany the impression that it was okay to rearm. Furthermore, appeasement gave Germany the signal that breaking the Treaty of Versailles (TOV) was permissible, emboldening Germany to pursue an expansionist policy in contravention of the TOV that grew European tensions. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement 1935, signed in June 1935, allowed Germany’s navy to be 35% the size of Britain’s, and significantly contributed to European tensions by weakening the Stresa Front and re-arming Germany. By acting independently on the agreement, Britain weakened the Stresa Front and encouraged Italy to find other allies, such as Germany, setting the stage for WWII, and again showing that the policy of appeasement, by allowing German rearmament, contributed to the growth of European tensions.

While it can be argued that the dictatorships played a role in leading to WWII, appeasement was far more important because it emboldened the aggressive foreign policy of the dictatorships. Without appeasement, the dictatorships would not have been aggressive, dangerous, and contributed to the growth of European tensions. Anglo-French appeasement over Germany’s remilitarisation of the Rhineland on March 9th 1936 shows this, as Hitler said himself “if the French responded… we would have been running with our tails between our legs”. Instead, because of the policy of appeasement, Germany gained vital resources for war, was given the implicit support for further territorial expansion and the pursuit of Lebensraum, and Hitler was emboldened by a massive upsurge in support on the German home front, all contributing to the growth of European tensions. Before the Rhineland and appeasement, Germany’s idea of ‘living space’ was merely an ideology. Immediately after the success of the Rhineland, Germany introduced the Four Year Plan for rearmament, inevitably increasing tensions, and conceived the Hossbach memorandum in November 1937, outlining expansionist foreign policy plans because they were emboldened by appeasement. Anglo-French appeasement over the German Anschluss with Austria, despite being against the TOV, further contributed to the growth of tensions by encouraging Germany’s expansionist foreign policy goal of creating the Volksgemeinschaft and uniting all Germans, as well as giving Germany access to valuable deposits of coal, iron and oil, usable in a war. Finally, Anglo-French appeasement at the Munich Conference in September 1938, by legally supporting Hitler’s right to annexe the Sudetenland and open Czecksolvakia for dismemberment, emboldened the German dictatorship. This can be seen in Hitler’s immediate call on October 1st 1939 for the ‘further dismemberment of the rest of Czechslovakia’ to his generals; Hitler was emboldened by opponents he saw as ‘worms’ at Munich, and now was prepared to take the rest of Czeckslovakia. Clearly, though the dictatorships had a militarist, expansionist foreign policy, what truly mattered was appeasement, which emboldened the dictatorships to pursue this policy and increase European tensions. [1]

Anglo-French appeasement played a paramount role in leading to the growth of European tensions by undermining collective security. Collective security’s focus on internationalism was undermined by the national foreign policy decisions of appeasement. The Hoare-Laval Pact in November 1935, an act of Anglo-French appeasement, critically undermined LON efforts to resolve the Italian invasion of Abysinnia, and made obvious to Italy and German the discord between the LON and Britain and France. This emboldened further expansionist foreign policy and heightened tensions. The Hoare-Laval Pact’s failure and subsequent use of economic sanctions distanced Italy from the Stresa Front and emboldened it to sign the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936, setting the battle lines for WWII. Furthermore, Anglo-French appeasement in the Spanish Civil War undermined the LON principle of mutual protection and collective security, and allowed Germany and Italy to ‘blood’ their armies in battle, in preparation for war in Europe. This contributed to the growth of European tensions, and reiterates that it was appeasement which undermined collective security. [2]

Though it can be argued that the Nazi Soviet Non-Aggression Pact contributed to the growth of European tensions, appeasement was far more important because it was the catalyst for the Pact. Anglo-French appeasement at Munich, wherein the Soviet Union was excluded from negotiations, both fractured Western-Soviet relations and convinced Stalin that a deal had to be done with Hitler. The weakness of the Soviet military, combined with a weakness in military strength due to appeasement in the West, and the remilitarised German army – again, a result of Anglo-French appeasement – necessitated the Nazi-Soivet Non  Aggression Pact’s signing on the 23rd August 1939. Appeasement drove Stalin into the Pact, facilitating the German invasion of Poland on the 1st September 1939 which grew and escalated European tensions to war on the 3rd September 1939. Thus is can be seen that while the Nazi-Soviet Non Aggression Pact was important, the policy of appeasement, by leading to the Pact, was of even greater significance, and absolutely crucial to the growth of European tensions. [3]

It is obvious that appeasement was of paramount importance in causing the growth of European tensions. Appeasement emboldened the dictatorships of Hitler and Mussolini to pursue expansionist foreign policies, and condoned German and Italian remilitarisation, growing tensions. Appeasement fatally undermined the LON and collective security, and fractured the Stresa Front, causing the further growth of tensions. Finally, appeasement drove Stalin to sign the Nazi-Soviet Non Aggression Pact which led to the final growth of tensions – to war over Poland in September 1939. Together, these points demonstrate that appeasement was of vital importance in causing the growth of European tensions. [4]


1- The comment about ‘worms’ can be related to the idea of deterrence. Without deterrence, Hitler is emboldened to act. Also, what this weakness shows is that if you don’t have any credibility to enforce rules / act, you’ll be ignored. The Rhineland, I’d argue, was pivotal because it demonstrated to Hitler that Anglo-French responses would be forever weak. When a child asks “or else what?”, you need to have a consequence planned. Thats lacking in a pacifist society, and it was lacking for Hitler.

2- The LON was rather powerless for various reasons, but what we’re seeing here is that without a military response tensions grow.

3- From the Soviet POV, their army was weak, and so was the West because of appeasement. Here, we have a classic case of a power vacuum, of instability. This is created by the weakness of arms, as with a pacifist ideal. And what was rising in this vacuum? Germany (and to a lesser extent, Italy) . Just like a rogue state in pacifism. The Soviets were scared of Germany, and decided to ally themselves with them.

4 – In the end, of course, Germany lost WWII. So, were the allies militarily enough prepared? Thats an interesting question, and it is tough to relate to appeasement because Britain started rearming after Munich and such. Furthermore, how much Germany was ready for war is an oft debated question. I think my answer would be that the Allies were – as hindsight kindly tells – ready enough to defeat Germany with the Soviet Union and US assisting. But if they had totally abandoned arms spending and been pacifist…

5- A final point. Appeasement is extremely easy to roll our eyes at. It is all too easy to laugh at Chamberlain’s comment “peace in our time”. But the 1930s were a complex time, and in many situations ‘appeasement’ style diplomacy has worked marvelously. Don’t be so quick to mock appeasement (except in essay writing) . Appeasement had its merits… And you can follow a policy of appeasement with a strong military at your back and deterrence by your side. All I attacked today was appeasement when it was used with a tiny military, and only then to show the deficiencies of pacifism.

I hoped you are enlightened!


From → Foundations

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