Why – and with What Success – Did Britain and France Persue a Policy of Appeasement in the 1930s?

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Why – and with what success – did Britain and France persue a policy of appeasement in the 1930s?

To fully understand the political actions of Britain and France during the 1930s, a concise definition of the term appeasement must first be provided. As a policy, appeasement is the act of negotion with a country deemed to be a threat to peace and stability, through the provision of limited concessions in which to satisfy its demands. In this case, it was Britain and France's belief that showing leaniance to an increasingly powerful and threatening Germany under fascist leader, Adolf Hitler, would secure eventual peace and stability within Europe. The outcome, as we know from hindsight, was unsuccessful and lead to the outbreak of war in 1939, however before it can be dismissed as a failure on behalf of Germany's rivals, futhur investigation has to be made into why it took so long for Chamberlain to abandon his policy of appeasement in the eye of the storm, and why it was carried out in the first place.

The consequences and political implications in the aftermath of World War I had left Europe an unstable power vaccum. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made way for smaller states with little military strength or defense borders, and Russia, with its new Communist agenda declared itself hostile. The USA, after its decisive intervention in the War, had gone into a state of isolation and Britain and France, with their previous desires of European leadership, were far from relishing in a victory which had in reality, left them socially and economically wounded. This left Germany, in its defeat, burdened with the guilt of the outcome of the war and subject to punishment in the form of the Treaty of Versailles, within which the country was faced with six million pounds worth of debt, reduction of vast areas of land such as Alsace-Lorraine and a disarmament programme which left the German Army at a seemingly unthreatening force of 96000 men. Drawn together by what is described by historian E. Mantoux as a “turbulant collision of embarrassed damagogues” the harsh implications of the Treaty of Versailles is often criticised by historians as provoking an invitable German backlash.

And backlash did come, when, in 1935 Hitler went against the disarmament programme bound to Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and introduced conscripton, drawing up a total of thirty six invantry divisions. The exsistance of a 2,500 strong Nazi military airforce, the Luftwaffe, was also made public and although both Britain and France made formal protests against these advancements, very little action was carried out, despite it being an indefinate breach of already imposed regulations. The British then, in a swift change in attitude and without any consolidation with the French, signed a naval agreement almost immediately afterwards with the Germans, permitting them to build a naval fleet thirty five percent of the size of the Royal Navy. Britain was descrediting the plans drawn out by the League of Nations in one of many unilateral alliances going on at the time, and Hitler, tactful as ever, used the leaniance he received to push his plan of Lebansraum furthur and begin his expansionist plans into the Rhineland in 1936. Historian P.M.H Bell describes this move and its effects on the position of France as “the closing of (the) door by military occupation”, as it blocked the French entirely from its allies in Eastern Europe. Yet again, formal protests towards Hitler's advancements were made by Britain and France, but still no actions were carried out, despite it severely affecting their defence stretegies.

Germany took it's next step on the 11th of March 1938, when after a series of threats to the Austrian government, German troops marched into Austria to the sound of bands playing and celebration. A country once protected by a number of allies vanished under Hitler's control in a matter of days, under the guise that Germany had a right...
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