How far do you agree that Mussolini’s foreign policy in the years 1933-41 was a complete failure? ‘I want to make Italy great, respected and feared’ said Mussolini in 1925. Mussolini’s foreign policy included a number of positive and negative factors which all contributed to the rise, and the ultimately to the downfall, of both Mussolini and the Italian empire. Mussolini was intent on revising the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles and was very keen to show off Italy’s power. He felt that Italy had been hard done by at the end of world war one and sought to claim what he felt Italy deserved.
Mussolini’s foreign policy clearly reflected his ambition to reinstate the Italian empire. Once Mussolini was made prime minister in 1922, he put together his foreign policy plans. Mussolini said, ‘Foreign policy is the area which especially pre-occupies us’. For many years, tension had been building up between Italy and Greece, and when an Italian official was killed in a Greek- Albanian border dispute, Mussolini saw this as an opportunity to begin the building of a great Italian empire.
Mussolini ordered Greece to apologise and pay 50 million lire in compensation for the death of the Italian official and though the Greeks paid part of the compensation, they did not apologise and Mussolini was not satisfied and seized the opportunity to invade the Greek island of Corfu. And so began the process of building Mussolini’s great Italian empire. The League of Nations condemned Mussolini’s action against the Greeks and Britain threatened naval intervention. Nevertheless Mussolini only withdrew after Greece paid full compensation.
The campaign effectively enhanced Mussolini’s position and popularity back home as the Italian people saw him as a strong and all-powerful leader. The Italian people saw the campaign as a huge success. The campaign also managed to put Mussolini in the spotlight for the rest of Europe to be aware of Mussolini’s wish to become a powerful influence in European matters. Mussolini’s control over propaganda, including control over Italian media, meant that he could sugar coat his defeat of Corfu as a victory for the fascist.
Nevertheless, Mussolini knew that Italy was still too weak to ever challenge Britain and France over the Mediterranean. In 1924, an agreement was made between Mussolini and Yugoslavia over the port of Fiume, stating that is should go to Italy. As a result a diplomatic relationship was formed between the Yugoslavian government and the Italian fascist state, despite the fact that Mussolini was extremely anti-communist. Britain also gave in and agreed to give Mussolini the Jubaland, and some territory on the Egyptian borders to Italy.
This was the land, which Italy believed should have been rightfully given to them in the Treaty of Versailles. Mussolini had now established a respected position among the European powers, and so this was a great success for his foreign policy. Mussolini attended a meeting in Locarno, in 1925, which sought to guarantee the existing boundaries between Germany, France and Belgium. Mussolini tried to gain Italy’s Brenner border with Austria included within the guarantee but in the end he failed to achieve this.
Though he failed, Mussolini managed to raise his status as a European leader during this time and offered the role of acting as a joint sponsor and liaison of the Pact with Britain, which secured the Belgian- German and Franco- German borders. In 1933, Mussolini called the major powers of Europe together. The German, French, British and Italian leaders met to discuss the creation of rival organisation to the League of Nations. This rival Pact was to be named the ‘Four Powers Pact’ and would aim to sort out European affairs.
One of the reasons for this was due to the incident with Greece. Mussolini was angry that the League of Nations had intervened. By suggesting the creation of a ‘rival’ organisation he may have seemed to have Europe’s interest but he had his own plans for the Pact. Mussolini saw the Pact as a jump start in creating the Italian empire Mussolini had longed for through claiming Austria and the Balkans. Mussolini believed that forming an alliance with Britain and France would persuade them to hand over the Mediterranean to Italy: It is destined that the Mediterranean should become ours, that Rome should be the directing city of civilisations in the whole of Western Europe. ‘ However, despite the hype it causes back home, the truth was the four-power Pact was pointless. As a result Mussolini’s secret attempt to create an empire crumble. In order for Mussolini to create an empire he needed Germany to remain weak, but once Hitler came to power, Germany grew much too fast for Mussolini. When the pair met in 1934 Mussolini realised that Hitler wasn’t going to let Mussolini take over.
Hitler’s eagerness to expand was now apparent despite breaking the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In April 1935, Britain, France and Italy, the wartime allies, attended the Stresa conference to discuss measures against Hitler, after he broke the terms of the Treaty. They all agreed to band together and prevent further expansion attempts by Hitler, yet the agreement was never signed. But like Germany, Mussolini was keen on expanding the Italian empire and in October 1935 Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. The invasion of Abyssinia was Mussolini’s revenge.
He was determined to take revenge for the humiliating defeat at Adowa in 1896. The war was fought on a large scale despite the fact in reality it was a reasonably small-scale war. As a result Italy used up a huge amount of their resources and it was very costly. Abyssinia was conquered in 1936 and king Emmanuel was crowned emperor. Mussolini hoped that this war to transform Italy into a fighting nation and radicalise the fascist party. The war was seen as a huge success and was the most popular war in Italian history. The war had proved helpful for the prime minister.
However Mussolini’s foreign policies began to cause tension between Italy, Britain, France and the League of Nations. Despite the fact that he developed the whole four-power Pact, he didn’t seem to be working in support of the Pact when he didn’t offer the Pact Italian support against Hitler. When Mussolini linked with Franco to fight against the socialist government in Spain, tensions increased. Mussolini had felt that his support for Franco was just as he was a fellow fascist but it is said that Mussolini went into this war to show off to the Italian people how powerful and successful he was a he thought he would win.
However, this was an extremely bad decision for Mussolini, not only did he cause a rift with the main powers of the world but he also entered a war thinking it would be a short war but it lasted 3 years and they Italian army were defeated at Guadalajara which left Italy crippled militarily and financially. Italy was now struggling financial and militarily and he had aggravated main people and so he sought to strengthen his alliance with Hitler as a means of protection. The four-power Pact was now crumbling but Mussolini and Hitler’s relationship was strengthening.
In October 1935, the Rome Berlin Axis between Germany and Italy was put into place and the two countries were strengthened in 1937 when Italy joined Japan and Germany in the Anti- Comintern Pact against the USSR. By this point it was clear that, Mussolini had lost his way with his foreign policy. Italy had broke with the League of Nations by forming an alliance with Germany, and he managed to cause tension between Italy and the rest of Europe. This is clearly not considered an efficient foreign policy.
On the other hand, the relations between Italy and Germany had improved greatly and the Pact of steel was signed, which marked an alliance between the two powers, in may 1939. They agreed that they would support each other in the event of war. This worried the rest of Europe and any relations between Italy and the rest of Europe was seriously strained, despite it being quite beneficial for Italian foreign policy. However this agreement didn’t just worry the rest of Europe but it worried Italy as well.
Italy had just come out of a long and costly war and they were completely crippled, militarily and financially; it would have taken years for Italy to build up its economy enough to go into another war. At home, Mussolini gave the impression that he was being a strong and effective leader and that his foreign policy was working. He wanted to boast about his country’s power even if it was all an illusion. Mussolini managed to boast that Italy’s air force was so large that it could blot out the sun, that Italy could summon up ‘eight million bayonets’, and that the Italian navy could control the Mediterranean.
Instead, the truth was that his army’s resources were old and in need of modernisation. The army had no long-range bombers and the navy lacked a Fleet Air Arm and aircraft carriers. His foreign policy had taken Italy into wars for which they were ill equipped and resulted in the loss of resources. Weaknesses were being exposed in Mussolini’s foreign policy and military planning and leadership were in chaos. Although Mussolini was in charge of all three armed forces he could only retain the support of the military leaders if he let them do as they pleased. This was not an effective way of organising a national military machine.
All was not going well for Mussolini. He had been faithful to the anti Comintern Pact he signed with Germany, believing that both Germany and Italy viewed the Soviet Union as a common enemy. However, Mussolini was devastated when he found out that in august 1939, Germany had signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact and breaking the Anti-Comintern Pact. Furthermore, it became clear than Hitler was going to invade Poland, which was most likely to spark a war with Britain and France. Mussolini had completely lost control of the Italian foreign policy and instead he was being dragged into supporting German foreign policy as laid down by Hitler.
However in a feeble attempt to regain any shred of control over the Italian policy, Italy declared to be a non-belligerent nation, after accepting that they were not physically, financially and militarily ready for war, but, Mussolini tried to remain on Hitler’s side by agreeing to send agricultural and industrial workers to Germany in support. It was clear that, Mussolini’s foreign policy between 1922 and 1939 was not effective. His dreams of creating a powerful Italian fascist empire had crumbled.
He had managed to overstretch Italy’s resources and he made desperate alliances to inappropriate foreign powers in order to gain any strength to continue his dream. Instead, he lost control of his foreign policy and contributed to the downfall of Italy. Mussolini seemed to have believed his own propaganda that Italy was in a powerful and successful position and was respected in Europe. Instead the truth was that Italy had become a puppet of Hitler, who was used in order for them to get into power and Italy was left behind Mussolini’s foreign policy was driven by ambition rather than common sense.