Research Post 3: When Collective Security Abandoned Abyssinia

Economics. As it does with many things, the Economics of a situation dominates how nations will and can respond to it. Whether to invade or to not invade, to stand against an enemy or to yield, or to apply sanctions or to not, the economics dictate what a nation is willing to commit. This was especially true after the Great Depression, where, in 1935, nations were just starting to recover, but national economies were still very weak compared to their 1928 statuses. Adherence to the gold standard in nations continued to hurt national recoveries by constricting the money supply and preventing the necessary forced economic expansion. Two nations, Great Britain and Italy, that were still very much feeling the strain of the gold standard, knew this, and knew that taking strong economic actions against each other could severely hurt the other’s economy, or at least, that was the strategy that was forwarded by the world populace at the time. However, what I have discovered, through my research, is that the League sanctions, no matter how well intentioned, could not have been successful due to both a British unwillingness to see the sanctions through to their logical conclusion, and by the supplies and businesses of nations outside of the League.

The first point, the British unwillingness to see the sanctions through to their logical conclusion, is based on British Reactions to Italian signals of what would happen if the British were to apply oil sanctions on Italy, understandings of the Italian High Command of British intentions, and the concerns of the British Admiralty. Early during the consideration of sanctions, the Italian government stated very clearly that they would regard any oil or coal sanctions, or the closure of the Suez Canal, as acts of war against the Italian State. This clear indication of what the Italians expected to happen put most of the strain on Britain, because, as I noted earlier, Britain was keen to avoid war with the Italians, not matter the cost. Mussolini, acting as the Italian Commander in Chief, believed that the British were not willing to go to war over Ethiopia, and he was correct in his assessment. The British Admiralty and rearmament committees were more concerned about saving British Military Power for military confrontations with Germany, and not for use in a trade war with Italy. The British unwillingness to see the sanctions through to their logical conclusion, war, and to affect the Italian economy where it was most deficient, critically undermined any economic war against the Italians, fought with sanctions or with weapons. It was said during the time that any sanctions would fail without the will to back them up by military means; they were right.

However, even if the British were willing to back up League sanctions with military measures, and the League sanctions were one hundred percent effective, it is highly unlikely that the Italian economy or military machine would have been tremendously adversely effected, thanks in large part to nations beyond the scope of the League, namely the United States and Brazil. These two nations could have easily supplied the necessary raw materials to the Italy, especially the United States, which controlled over 50% of global production of oil in the 1930’s. President Roosevelt demonstrated a desire to comply with League sanctions, but Congress passed Neutrality Acts during the 1930’s that prevented President Roosevelt from independently acting against any one nation. The US Congress effectively allowed the flow of weapons and supplies to Italy to continue to come from the United States by these acts, and it is safe to assume that US producers would have supplied Italy’s need for oil and other raw materials, given the economic depression. Non-League production could have easily provided the materials necessary for the Italian War economy, sans a complete blockade of Italian ports, an action that the British Admiralty was simply not willing to take.

Though I will continue to look through data and other papers regarding the event, the more I research, the more the Failure of the League seems to be less the result of a structural failure of the League, but rather because players were not willing to play inside of the structures of the League. The League create the platform of discourse, but what good is that when it is not used. The League did everything right, but when the world is determined to go to war, it cannot be avoided by any action of the League.