In the early days of Mussolini’s regime (he came to power in 1922), Italian foreign policy seemed rather confused: Mussolini knew what he wanted, which was ‘to make Italy great, respected and feared.’ But he was not sure how to achieve this, apart from agitating for a revision of the 1919 peace settlement in Italy’s favour. At first he seemed to think an adventurous foreign policy was his best line of action, hence the Corfu Incident and the occupation of Fiume in 1923. By an agreement signed at Rapallo in 1920, Fiume was to be a ‘free city’, used jointly by Italy and Yugoslavia; after Italian troops moved in, Yugoslavia agreed that it should belong to Italy. After these early successes, Mussolini became more cautious, perhaps alarmed by Italy’s isolation at the time of Corfu. After 1923, his policy falls roughly into two phases:
At this stage Mussolini’s policy was determined by rivalry with the French in the Mediterranean and the Balkans where Italian relations with Yugoslavia were usually strained. Another consideration was the Italian fear that the weak state of Austria might fall too much under the influence of Germany; Mussolini was worried about a possible German threat via the Brenner Pass. He tried to deal with both mainly by diplomatic means: 1.He attended the Locarno Conference: but was disappointed when the agreements signed did not guarantee the Italian frontier with Austria. 2.He was friendly towards Greece, Hungary and especially Albania, the southern neighbour and rival of Yugoslavia. Economic and defence agreements meant that Albania was virtually controlled by Italy. 3.He cultivated good relations with Britain. He supported her demand that Turkey should hand over Mosul province to Iraq, and in return, Britain gave Italy a piece of the Somaliland. 4.Italy became the first state after Britain to recognized the USSR; a non-aggression pact was signed between Italy and the USSR in September 1933. 5.He tried to bolster up Austria against the threat from Nazi Germany by supporting the Anti Nazi government of Chancellor Dollfuss, and by signing trade agreements with Austria and Hungary. This anti German stance improved relations between Italy and France.
Mussolini was bored.
Mussolini gradually shifted from extreme suspicion of Hitler’s designs on Austria to grudging admiration of Hitler’s achievements and a desire to imitate him. After their first meeting Mussolini described Hitler contemptuously as ‘that mad little clown’ but later he came to believe that there was more to gained from friendship with Germany than with B and F. The more he fell under Hitler’s influence, the more aggressive he became. His changing attitude is illustrated by events: 1.When Hitler announced the reintroduction of Conscription, Mussolini joined B and F in condemning the German action and guaranteeing Austria. (The Stresa Front) Both B and F carefully avoided mentioning the Abyssinian crisis which was already brewing. M took this to mean that they would turn a blind eye to an Italian attack on Abyssinia, regarding it as a bit of old fashioned colonialism. 2.The Italian invasion of Abyssinia in October 935 was the great turning point in Mussolini’s career. Italian involvement went back all the way to 1896. M’s motives were: 1.Italy’s existing colonies in East Africa were not very rewarding and his attempts to reduce Abyssinia to a position equivalent to that of Albania had failed. The Emperor of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, had done all he could to avoid fallin under Italian ecoomic doination. 2.Italy was sufering from the depression and a victorious war would divert attention from internal troubles and provide a new market for Italian exports. 3.It would please the nationalists and the colonialists, avenge the defeat of 1896 and boost Mussolini’s sagging popularity.
The Italian victory over the ill equipped and unprepared Ethiopian was a foregone...