The Hoare-Laval plan, catalyst of the Rome-Berlin Axis



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The threat to Austrian sovereignty posed by Nazi Germany in July, 1934, and the subsequent threat to European peace represented by Hitler's repudiation of the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles in March, 1935, resulted in the creation of the Stresa front, in April, 1935. Stresa signified the height of British, French and Italian solidarity against the increasingly menacing German Reich during the inter-war years, and the desire to maintain the STresa front against Germany in 1935 weighed heavily in the foreign policies of Britain, France and Italy throughout 1935. Yet, the threat to European peace in 1935 was to come not from the German Wehrmacht, but from Italian colonial ambitions in Abyssinia. The Italo-Abyssinian crisis represented a direct threat to the theory of collective security embodied in the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the failure of the League to provide an adequate solution to the Italo-Abyssinian dispute led to an Italo-Abyssinian War in October, 1935, and sanctions against Italy in November, 1925. Faced with the possibility of a conflict between the League Powers and Italy, which might involve the subsequent withdrawal of Italy from the Stresa front, the British and French governments pursued a dual policy of limited support for the League of Nations, while attempting to find a basis for a negotiated settlement to the East African crisis. The result of this dual policy was the Hoare-Laval Plan of December 8, 1935. The Hoare-Laval Plan, while undoubtedly conciliatory to Italian claims in Aybssinia, was considered to be the only means by which the authority of the League of Nations could be maintained, and at the same time, insure the continued existence of the Stresa front. The Italo-Abyssinian dispute was a highly controversial subject in France; however, in Britain, the Italian cause was bitterly criticized and received little sympathy. When the Hoare-Laval Plan was released, on December 9, 1935, the adverse reaction of the British public to the apparent surrender to an aggressor was so acute that the existence of the National government was jeopardized. The British Prime Minister was forced to disown his Foreign Minister and repudiate the Hoare-Laval Plan had betrayed their Government's pledge to uphold the principles of the League of Nations, and their response to the Hoare-Laval Plan sealed its fate. The Hoare-Laval Plan represented the incapacity of the British and French governments to honor their pledged support of collective security. Nonetheless, the British and French Foreign Ministers were political realists and were fully aware of the negation of principles that the Hoare-Laval Plan represented; yet, they were also convinced that Italian friendship was more vital to European peace than Abyssinian Sovereignty. Hoare and Laval were convinced that the loss of Italy from the Stresa front would result in a rapprochement between Italy and Germany. The vacillation of the Baldwin government during the week when the Hoare-Laval Plan was under consideration however, revealed a severe lack of credibility in the British government. Faced with political disaster, but fully aware of the effects that a failure to come to terms with Mussolini might product the British Prime Minister chose to insure his political survival at the expense of European security. When the Hoare-Laval Plan died, all attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement t other Italo-Abyssinian crisis ended, and the true nature of collective security was exposed and found wanting. Mussolini's confidence in the democracies of Western Europe vanished, the Stresa front collapsed, and the foundations of the Rome-Berlin Axis were laid.



Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1936.