World War II: Diplomacy

World War II diplomacy
Figure 1.--The American people at the onset of World War II had one central interest, ending the Depression. All too many like this boy at the Tulare migrant labor camp in Visalia, California were still mired in the economic down turn. The idea that America should lead a great crusade to save Western Civilization was understandably beyond their grasp. The central question in World War II diplomacy was whether the American people, who were convinced participation in World War I had been a mistake and were fundamentally oppsed to entering a another war, would realize the mortal danger posed by Hitler and the NAZIs. It was not only a matter of public opinion, but the isolatonist elements existed in the State Department, including Ambassador Kennedy in Britain. President Roosevelt was thus forced to walk a fine line, leading public opinion in the riught direction, but not getting out too far head so that the Isolationists could pince. The need to save Britain after the fall of France forced his hand in the middle of the 1940 presidential electiin. It was notat all sure how the American people would react. Source: Arthur Rothstein, Farm Security Administation.

Any history of World War II is of course dominated by the major military campaigns of the War. Diplomacy is a secondary but not unimportant aspect of the War. German Governments even before Hitler sedized power worked to undo the Vesailles Peace Treaty ending World War I (1919). The German and Soviet Governments signed the Rapollo Treaty which provided for trade and military coopertation (1922). Hitler used diplomacy to lull world opinion while he consolidated power and began to rearm Germany. Hitler also began developing the Axis alliance system, first with Italy and then with Japan. The British used diplomacy to try to appease Hitler once German had begun its rearmament program. Primeminister Chamberlain could not conceive that Hitler actually wanted war and believed he had the skills to prevent the War. His supreme effort was at Munich in which he sold out Czechoslovakia, the only democracy in central Europe (1938). Hitler's subsequent invasion of Czechoslovakia (1939) ended the Hitler's ability to deal diplomatically with the West. The War was only made possible by Hitler's diplomatic coup, the Non-Agression Pact with the Soviet Union (1939). Neither side was under any illusion, the Non-Agression Pact was an armed truce, putting off war until the two continental powers partitioned Europe. American diplomacy was aimed at assisting the German Government financially until Hitler seized power. After Hitler seized power (1933), American diplomacy was hostile to the NAZI regime, but unwilling to take any real action because of the isolationist beliefs of the great majority of the American people which insisted on the passage of neutrality laws. The United States withdrew its ambassador, but did not break relations until Kristallnacht (1938). France generally deferred to Britain before the War, unwilling to confront Germany alone. After the German victory in the West (1940), Marshall Petain adopted a policy of apeasement, believing that Vichy could could carve out a space for France between the Germazny and Anglo-Americans. The Roosevelt Administration gradually moved America away from isolationism, especially after the fall of France. After Churchill became primeminister (May 1940), America and Britain gradually forged the greatest military alliance in history which envisioned in the Atlantic Charter a few months before Pearl Harbor (1941). Soviet diplomacy changed dramatgically when the country was rocked by the German invasion (June 1941). Japanese diplomacy fluctuated with the fortunes of the Strike North and Strike South factions. Japanese entry in the War was inevitable and was a matter of the military deptermining how the country could best take advantage of the war in Europe. The Japanese feigned peace, but American code breakers cracked the diplomatic Purple Code, giving the United States a true view of the country's intentions. Unfortunately for the Japanese, American diplomacy opposing their aggression in China distracted them from the obvious action, joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union. This proved to be the most decsisive diplomatic effort of the War. Of course Pearl Harbor of course changed everything, plunging the United States into the War. American diplomacy focused on the war time alliance with Britain and the Soviets. And as the Allies and Soviets reversed the Axis tide, the diplomacy of the War shifted to the post-War settlment.

Britain

Britain has a strong hitorical reputation for effective diplomacy. We can not think of a period in British history, except during the crisis with the American colonies (1770s) that the country pursued foreign policy with such ineptitude. And at the heart of the country's foreign policy was Primeminister Nevile Chamberlain who. Chambelin became primee-minister (May 1937), but was influening policy before that. He firmly believd that he and he alone could prevent war with Germany. He believed that no one really wanted war and it was just a matter of appeasing Hitler. Rarely has a major political figure been so absolutely and tragically wrong. The British also used diplomacy address Italian Fascism and Japanese militarism through the League of Nations. Britain signed a naval treaty with Germany (1935). Primeminister Chamberlain could not conceive that Hitler actually wanted another war and believed he had the skills to prevent the War. Appeasement, however, only wetted Hitler's appetite. Chamberlain's supreme effort was at Munich in which he sold out Czechoslovakia, the only democracy in central Europe (1938). While appeasing Hitler, Chamberlain made no serious attempt to build a coalition against Hitler. He rebuffed initiatives from President Roosevelt and he was hesitant to make an arrangement with Stalin. He did work with France, but took the lead. Only when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia did British policy begin to shift (March 1939). Even Chamberlain could see that Hitler could not be appeased, although his efforts to do so nearly destoyed Britain. Once Hitler launched the War, further change began, at first with pribate exchanges between Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty an President Roosevely. When Churchill was appointed Primne-Mimister, British Foreign policy became unambiguously to join Britain as tight a possible with the nited tates as soon as posible. The fall of France caused some in government circles to consider an arrangement with Germany. Hitler expected a British Vichy. It was one reason he extended relatively generpous terms to the French. But ultimately, he himself sabatoged the effort. The earlier invasion of Czechoslovakia in violation of the Munich Agreeement demonstated even to Chamberlain and the other appeasers that his word and signaturte was meaningless. Churchill was shocked by the fall of France, but he saw that Britain had no choice but to fight. He showed that determination at Oran where he ordered an attack on tghe Fremch fleet. The primary aim of British diplomacy became cooperation with the United States with the ultimate objective being the entrance of the United Startes into the War to make possible the defeat of NAZI Germany. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the British immediately offered aid, despite the fact that the Soviets had been a German ally and had carried out a series of aggressions comparable to the Germans.

British Dominions

Hitler in his assessment before launching the War does not seem to have given much thought to the Dominions (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa) which together layed a critical role in the British war effort. The Canadian contribution was especially imporant because of their critical role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Diplomatically the Dominions, owever, did not play a major role, basically deferrng to Britain and America. Politicay they were in the midst of a national transition, no longer colonies, but also not fully independent countries. The Dominions as in Euroe and America all expeienced considerable anti-war feeling. In the atipodes, there was criticism with how the ANZUS troops were used, especially with Galipoli. Many Candians felt that their was snubbed and misused during the War. And there was considerable concern in the Dominions during the inter-War era about Britain taking them into World War I without havng any real say in the a matter. Even so, each of the Dominins loyally followed Britain into World War II. There were some discenting voices. In Canada the French comminity was not at all commited t the war effort. And in South Africa there as pro-German sentiment among the Afrikaaners. The British Dominions joined Britain in decalring war on Germany (Sepember 3, 1939), except for Canada. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, astrong supporter of Britain, none-the-less delayed the Canadian declartion of war sevral days as a symbolic statement of Canada's independence (September 10). There were few diplomatic iniatives during the War on the part of the Dominions. Britain basically handled the foreign relations for the Commonwealth countries. Canada of all the Dominions had the most important diplomatic role becuase of its geographic location bordering the United States. The Roosevelt Administration with the outbreak of the War had to walk a diplomatic tight-rope because of the influence of the Isolationist Movemnt. The long, basically unpatrolled brder, provided a way of evading the Neutrality Laws as well as sub-rosa intelligence cooperation until the United States entered the War. Canada hosted top level Allied war conferences between Britain and the United States, but did not participate in the formal diplomatic discussions. Canadian military comanders did participate in various military conferences and meetings. The Battle of the Atlantic necesitate very close coopeation among the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the U.S. Navy. There were private meetings between King and Roosevelt to discuss war and hemispheric issues. Australia after Pearl Harbor felt abandoned by Britain which was fully commited militarily in Europe and did not have the military strength to resist Japanese aggression. Australia as a result, moved to a closer relationship with the United States which played the major role after the fall of Singapore in preventing a Japanese invasion. At the time, the Australian Army ws argely deployed n the Westrn Desert (North Africa). Australia played an important role in fighting in the South Pacific, especially New Guinea (1942-43). Australia aided the U.S. military buildup. Australian Prime Minister John Curtin explained the shift in Australian diplomatic policy, "I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom." [Morgan, p.90.] While the Dominions played a limitd diplomatic role durng the War, all four moved toward real independence within the Commnwealth after the War.

France

France generally deferred to Britain before the War, unwilling to confront Germany alone. This meant that British Prime Minister Chanberlain made the key decesions. And after Munich he was hailed a hero in both Britain and France. This quickly evaporated as it becamecclear that Hitler was intent on expansion and war. After the German victory in the West (June 1940), Marshall Petain adopted a policy of colaboration, believing that Vichy could could carve out a space for France between the Germazny and Anglo-Americans. It was a terrible misjudgement of Hitler's character and plans after he won the War. Petain did manage to spare France the cost of continuing the War with theBritish or joining the NAZIs in the antti-Blosjhevik crusade in the East. By failing to stand with Britain and making peace with the NAZIs, Petain essentially put the future of France and her peopke in the hands of Britain and America. If France was to be saved, it would have to be the British and Americans who would do it.

Germany

The Versailles Peace Treary ending Workd War I shocked the German people, both the punative measures and the loss of territory. German Governments even before Hitler seized power worked to undo the restrictions of the Treaty. The German and Soviet Governments signed the Rapollo Treary wjhich provofed for trade and military coopertation (1922). Hitler used diplomacy to lull world opinion with a modernate initial foreign policy. Adolf Hitler after his appointment as Chancellpr (January 1933) intially pursued a moderate foreign policy. Germany at this point was militarily weak and Hitler did not want to cause an Allied intervention. Thus his first few years in power were focused on gaining absolute control of Germany, secretly laubching a massive rearmament program, and projecting a moderate internatiinal image. This enabled him to consolidated power and began to rearm Germany in secret. Hitler also began developing the Axis alliance system, first with Italy and then with Japan. As Germany rearmned, Hitler's foreign policy shifted. German diplomacy began using its growing economic and military power to force concessions from neigboring countries. Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia (1939) ended the Hitler's ability to deal diplomatically with the West. The War was only made possible by Hitler's diplomatic coup, the Non-Agression Pact with the Soviet Union (1939). Neither side was under any illusion, the Non-Agression Pact was an armed truce, putting off war until the two continental powers partitioned Europe. After launbching the War, diplomacy was no longer of interest to Hitler as he launched on a massive effort to reorder Europe by firce of arms. Hitler also wanted to keep the United States out if the war. Here he was powefully aided by the Isolationists. The German Embassy in America quite passed money to Isolationists. Hitler wanted to complete his conquest of Europe and the Soviet Union before America entered the War and swung its immense industrial power into the conflict. One in possession of the resources of the East, he believed that German dominance of the continent could not be challenged, even by the United States. Hitler esentially acted alon despite his Axis allies and thy returned the favor. One he decided to attack the Soviet Union. Then he began to put together a coalition.

Italy

Italian diplomacy was not a carefully crafted effort. It was essentially the expression of the personal whims of Facist dictator Benito Mussolini. Andhe apointedvhis son-in-la Count Ciano foreign minister to imprint his pesonal stampbon the Foreign Miistry. Mussolni had a drem of reviving the Roman Empire, but this would have mean war with Britain and France. Even Mussolini knew that Italy did not have the capacity to wagec war against Britain nd France or even one of these countries. And he was at first converned about the rise of Hitler and the NAZIs, feaing that they ould reclim the territory won at great costvin Wirld War I. Hus Ethiopian adventure changed this, He was outraged with criticism and meaingless scantions. Hitler supported him which was the beginning of a diplomatic iniative that led to the Axis alliance. While the countries moved closer together diplomatically, Mussolini was still cautious about war. The German victory in Poland impressed him and the drive into France led him to fear that he would not be able to share in the spoils. He declared war on Britain and France, linking Italy's future to Gdermany and the German war effort. Frim the beginning, Italy's share of the spoils would be limited. Not only would Italy get only a small part of France to occupy, Hitler refused to transfer the French colony of Tuniia to Italy. Unable to attackwest, Itatly was left with the option of attaking east to seize Egypt and Suez from Britain.

Japan

Japan signaled it imperial visions in China during Workd War I when it issued its 21 Demands. The United States became the primary country resistung Japanese expansiion diplomar=tically. And this earned the enminty of the uktra-nationalists in the military. Japanese policy after World War I was dominated by two goals. First to gain control over China. Second to expanhd north so as to negate Bolshevick influence and obtain access to Siberian resources. Japan after seizing Manchuria (1931), had virtially no diplomacy with the West. Their invreasingly active military, essentially conducted in diplomacy though the barrel of a gun. Japan invaded China proper (1937). Chinese resistance, however, proved more substantial and protracted than anticipated. Escalating American support for the Chinese further antagonized the militarists who had gained control over the Japanese Government. Japanese diplomacy fluctuated with the fortunes of the Strike North and Strike South factions of the military. After tghe German victories in the West, Japanese entry in the War was inevitable and was a matter of the military deptermining how the country could best take advantage of the war in Europe. This left the United States the only country capable of resisting Japanese agression in the Pacific. And to counterbalance America and Soviet power, the Japanese moved to cement a relationship with Germany and Italy through the Axis alliance. Japanese policy of conusulting diplomacy through military force not only led them into a protracted struggle in China, but into a disaterous military confrontation on the Manchurian-Mongolian border. It did not change the military's advocay of using military force, only the targets to be selected. Hitler negotiated the NAZI-Soviet Niono-Aggression Pact without consulting the Japanese. This led to the defeat of the Strike North faction orientation within the military establishment. Even after the victory of the Strike South faction, Japanese diplomts feigned peace. American code breakers cracked the diplomatic Purple Code. The resulting decrypts (Magic) gave American officials a crystal clear view of the country's true intentions. (Ironically Magic proved to be the single best source of information on NAZI Germany during the War as the Americans read reports submitted by Japanese diplomats to Tokyo.) Unfortunately for the Japanese, American diplomacy opposing their aggression in China distracted them from the obvious action, joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union. The American opposition to Japanese aggrssion in addition to supporting Britain thus proved to be the most decsisive diplomatic initiatives of the War. Japanese diplomact did court nationalist figures in the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) they coveted for their empire.

Soviet Union

We note Russian authors addressing the subject of Soviet World War II diplomacy by beginning with the German Barbarossa invasion (June 1941). [Russian diplomacy ...] Actually that is only half of the story, but one many Russian authors who justifiably lionize the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) would prefer not to address. In fact Soviet diplomats were active before the invasion, both to resist German aggession and then to join in an alliance wuith Hitler and the NAZIs in order to carry out a series of aggrsssions of its own as a NAZI ally. Hitler's seizure of power shocked Stalin who had seized control of the Soviet state a few years earlier (1933). Soviet policy in Germany was to consider the socialist SDP as its primary enemy. Germany had a large Communist Party ((DKP) and the Soviets hoped they could eventially seized control. Thus they ordered the KPD to join with the NAZIs to bring down the SDP and Weimar Republic. Stalin was agast that within weeks of seizing contril, Hitker moved against the KPD, arresting its leadees and many members, many of whom would be killed in the Dachau, the first concentratiion camp. Hitler then ordered an end to the secret Rapollo military copperation. Soviet agents kept Miscow well informed on the secret NAZI remilitarization effort. The Soviets signed a mutual military assistance treaty with France (1935). As in World War I this would have meant a two-front war for Germany. The Soviets were the only country to offer significant support to the Republic during the Civil War. And as the War was waged, Communists assumed greater control over the Republic. The Munich Agreement was another shock for Stalin (September 1938). He concluded that the Allies were not going to resist Hitler and were prepared to encourage him to move against the Soviet Uniion, leaving the Red Army to fight Hitler alone. This led to the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (August 1939). Both the Allies and the NAZIs courted the Soviets after Hiter seized Czechoslovakia (March 1939). Stalin chose to join with Hitler. It is cifficult to plot Stalin's thought process with any surity. So we do not know what were the deciding factors. Buiut the Paxt essenhtially partitioned Eastern and Central Europe, offering enormous territorial gains. The other major factor was a lack of confidence in the Allies. After Munich this was not unreasonable. But Stalin seems to have gone a step further, cinvincing himself that the Allies were trying to push him into a war with the Germans that he would have to fight alone. His political calculation was just the opposite that the Non-Aggression Pact would direct Hitler west and in a war with the Allies, both would be weakened, creating enormous opportunities for the Soviet Union. The Pact was a green light for war as Hitler could not have launched the War if the Soviets had backed the Allies. Stalin's calculation disaterously backfired. The quick German vivctoty in the West came as ahock to Stalin (June 1940). Thec destruction of the French army meant that he nowfaced the Germans along a long border without aowerful ally. For months Soviet policy was to appeased the Germany. They delivered enormous quantities of critical matrials. At the same tome they moved to expand territorially as forseen in the Non-Agression pact. Soviet diplomacy was to use foreign Communist parties and front irganizatiions to oppose defense spending in the West. Soviet diplomacy changed dramatgically when the country was rocked by the German invasion (June 1941).

Spain

Generalisimo Francisco Franco owed a great deal to Hitler and Mussolini. He probably could not have defeated the Republic without them. Much of the aid was free, but there were also loans, some $212 million which in modern terms would be in the billions. And there were ideological afinities, although no uniformity. It cetainly looked after the fall of France that Germany had won the War and wuith German armies on the Spanish, placating the Germans would have seemed to be a primary goal of Spanish diplomacy. And the Spanish Ambassador in Berlin dutifully presented a memorandum in which Franco declared he was "ready under certain conditions to enter the war on the side of Germany and Italy" (June 1940). Spain after 3 years of Civil War was in no conditiion to enter a major war, but at the time it looked like Britain would soon capitulate. The German Führer did not, however, encourage Franco's offer, believing the War was already won. In the ensuing weeks, two major development caused Franco to reconsider his offer. First, not only did the Brutish not capitulate, but they actually defeated te vaunted Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain (September 1940). This had to give Franco pausee because ni country in Europe was more exposed to the Royal Navy than Spain, with extensive coasts on both the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Second, Admiral Canaris, head of te German Abwehr, who had worked with Franco during the Civil War, explained that Hitler ws prepariung to invade the Soviet Union ad would not divert resources to an expedition to Spain. Hitler in the meantime, frustrated by the stuborn British refusal to accept that they had defeated, now w more interested in Spanish entry into the War as a way of applying more pressure on Britain. Wehrmacht planners began developing Operation Felix, the seiuzure of Gibraltar which involved the German Army moving through Spain. Hitler and Franco met at Hendaye, France on the French border (October 23). The meeting did no go well. Hitler expected Franco out of gratitude to quickly join the Axis and willing accepot German troops. He did not and instead made demands, espcially demands for colonies in North Africa. These were demands that Hitler coild not meet without complicating his relations with Vichy and Italy. Hitler was not accustomed to be spoken to as Franco did. He told told Musolini that, "I would rathger have three or four teeth extracted than go through that again". After the meeting with Franco, he traveled on to meet with Pétain and Mussolini which also proved to be frustrating exercizes for the Führer, now accustomed to extreme deference. Not only did Franco not show the requisite gratitude, but he did not seem to understand (thanks to Canaris) that Hitler was the master of Europe. We are not sure to what extent Franco understood that if he joined the Axis and allowed German troops to enter Spai that it woukd fundamentally chanbge economic relations. Countries like Romania which joined the Axis no longer sold theur exports to Germany, but essentially donated them for the war effort. Spain would remain a non-beligerant, but wuth a tilt toward the Axis. Germany wold be allowed, for example, set up a radio listening operation in Spain. The Blue Division wa committed toi the campign against the Siviet Union. As the War went against Germany, Franco shifted to a more strict neutrality.

United States

American diplomacy was aimed at assisting the German Government financially until Hitler seized power. The Dawes Plan helped stabilize the German economy. After Hitler seized power (1933), American diplomacy was hostile to the NAZI regime, but unwilling to take any real action because of the isolationist beliefs of the great majority of the American people which insisted on the passage of neutrality laws. The United States withdrew its ambassador, but did not break relations until Kristallnacht (1938). The Roosevelt Administration gradually moved America away from isolationism, especially after the fall of France. After Churchill became primeminister (May 1940), America and Britain gradually forged the greatest military alliance in history which envisioned in the Atlantic Charter a few months before Pearl Harbor (1941). Histories of the War generally focus on the dramatic German military campaigns during the first 2 years of the War when the United States was neutral. America was neutral, but among all the World War II combatants, the United States was the only country that had the human and industyrial resources to wage a global war. And while America did not intervene militarily, American diplomacy fundamentally altered the course of the War. First, The United States acted tonhelpn Britain continued the War, assistance that would eventually be formalized in Lend Lease. Second the United States destracted the Japanese from joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union and with the oil embargo virtually forced the Japanese to attack the United States rather than the Soviet Union. Of course Pearl Harbor of course changed everything, plunging the United States into the War. American diplomacy focused on the war time alliance with Britain and the Soviets. And as the Allies and Soviets reversed the Axis tide, the diplomacy of the War shifted to the post-War settlment.

Sources

Morgan, Kenneth. Australia: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford U.P.: 2112).

"Russian diplomacy during WWII, " The Voice of Russia (May 6, 2010).







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Created: 5:51 PM 5/12/2011
Last updated: 4:25 AM 4/7/2014