Research Post 2: When Collective Security Abandoned Abyssinia

I have found, as I continue my study into the response of the world to the Abyssinia Crisis, that the domestic organization of each of the Great Powers directly involved heavily affected their actions during the Crisis. The three major powers directly involved with the Crisis, Great Britain, France, and Italy, each had a very different domestic set of institutions and concerns to their national governments that influenced how they interacted with each other and the League as an institution. Italy, as an authoritarian, Fascist government, organized itself so that the average Italian citizen’s opinion mattered little, and rather the industrialists and industry of the nation influenced the national government more aggressively. The French Government, while a republic, had an executive branch and military apparatus that was extremely concerned about a resurgent Germany and was committed to maintaining the Stresa Front, whilst having a divided civil population that did not express its international desires easily. Britain, as the leading world power with a Liberal Democracy, and with one of the most complex apparatuses of state, had the interesting combination of needing to follow the direction that the people and domestic institutions expressed in voting, but while also having a government apparatus that did not easily change direction and was comparatively conservative. These different styles of governance and domestic interests resulted in fundamentally different approaches between the nations regarding dealing with each other and the League.

Italy, as the aggressor, with a dictatorial form of government, had perhaps the easiest time of it, as their governmental style and domestic concerns allowed the Italian Government to ignore the domestic institutions in their nation most easily (or co-opt them into the apparatus of state, directly under the control of the dictator). The only sect of society that the regime used to maintain its power, industrialists, was appeased, and the Crisis strengthened this section of society. The sanctions, as slight as they were, started an Autarky campaign that encouraged Italians to buy only Italian Products. Due to the Price and Wage controls set by the Italian government, which forced wages to stay low and prices to remain high, Industrialists were guaranteed large profits and an expansion of the Italian industrial base, which cemented their loyalty to the regime. Additionally, Fascist Italian government controlled presses used the sanctions to solidify the Italian public behind the government, by creating a narrative that Britain and France were traitorous cowards to the Italians. The Italian Public, with martial spirits running high with reports from the Abyssinian Front and feeling betrayed by the French and British, felt no compunction to stay loyal to the League of Nations or its ideals, and as such Mussolini felt secure both at home and abroad to actively discredit and refute the League, Britain, and France.

However, Britain and France, as democracies, did not have the security to completely ignore their Civil Population, which caused them to have a far less cohesive foreign policy strategy. Britain suffered this the worst, as they had both the privately organized ‘Peace Ballot’ demonstrate that a significant portion of the British Public supported the League of Nations, even in military actions, and a general election that the Conservative Party won on a distinctly pro-League platform that drove them to publicly supporting the League. However, the organization of the British Government, including the Cabinet and numerous Imperial Security Committees, was in favor of preserving and expanding the power of the British military and alliances, which meant avoiding war with Italy to preserve the Stresa Front and the power of the Royal Navy. These very realist concerns permeated the apparatus of the British Government, and often caused it to act beyond the League and indirectly undermine the League. The French had similar concerns, though without a unified or idealistic public to give direction. The French Populace was incredibly divided, with many right-leaning public organizations often advocating against any actions against Italy and the League. The Populace was war weary, and much of the lower classes were not interested in any actions that could take them to war. As such, the French Government worked to create an alliance that would deter any aggression towards the French people. However, Britain refused to sign a defensive pact with France, which resulted in France desiring to keep Italy as a defensive ally, and refusing to take any hard actions against Italy. The League was discounted in French decision making.

Each nation’s domestic concerns and how their governments dealt with them colored their approaches in the Abyssinia Crisis. The Italian Government could be very headstrong and aggressive with the Allied Powers and the League because it had complete control over its national population, command over civil organizations, and the part of the population from which it drew power, the industrialists, grew wealthier and more powerful as a result of the conflict. The French and British were divided and their governments suffered from conflicting ideas counteracting each other, which prevented them from acting fully in the defense of the League or of their own national interests, which caused them to fail at both. In many ways, they failed everything while trying to please it, by not whole-heartedly backing the League, nor thoroughly preparing for war.

Next, I intend to look at the nations, beyond the scope of the major powers of the League, and how they affected the War in Ethiopia.