To what extent did Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy lead to the outbreak of World War II?
Adolf Hitler’s foreign policy during his rule over the Nazi Party and Germany in the 1930’s contributed greatly to the outbreak of WWII. Hitler’s main aim was to work toward a “Greater Germany”. This gave him the goal to defy the Treaty of Versailles which was made in 1919 and to expand the grounds of Germany. He claimed that he would create an empire that would last up to a “thousand years”. Many of the allied forces followed a policy of appeasement toward Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy. This gave Hitler the space that he needed to build a powerful army that would eventually greatly influence the beginning of WWII. (8/12)
Many of the limitations from the Treaty of Versailles stopped Germany from conscripting soldiers and gave the allies power over key areas in Germany such as the Rhineland. When Hitler took power he began to aggressively dismantle this treaty. This struck fear into the allies as Britain and France could not afford another war, either socially or economically. Hitler’s aims to destroy this treaty gave him great support from the German people who despised the horrible treaty. In 1935 when Hitler reintroduced conscription, unemployment fell greatly. During the Weimar years between 1919-1933 unemployment rose to a massive 6 million. However, Hitler impressively managed to move this number to far below one million. His actions which defied the original treaty pushed the allied forces into a corner that would eventually lead to WWII. (8/12)
Hitler always aimed to further his control over land. His foreign policy showed that he aimed to achieve as much land as he could in order to create his “Aryan race”. In 1934 when an attempt was made by Austrian Nazis to capture their government, Hitler originally supported it. He backed down however when the poor attempt of a rebellion failed. This showed exactly how much Hitler wanted to expand the country. In fear of Hitler’s aggressive policy and his treatment toward the Treaty of Versailles, the allied forces created the Stresa Front in 1935. This was greatly weakened by Britain’s feelings of remorse for the Germans over the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty. They felt the Germans had been mistreated in the treaty. This led to a naval agreement between Britain (Anglo-German Naval Agreement 1935) and Germany that the German navy could expand to 35% the size of Britain’s. This did not limit how many submarines the Germans could create however. (7/12)
In 1936 Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy forced the allied forces to again be backed into a corner. The Rhineland under the treaty stated that German forces could not station troops there. In March 1936 Hitler sent his forces in to take control of the Rhineland. This was a test to see if the allies would crush his action or if he could get away with an even further aggressive foreign policy. At the time the British were not prepared to take any action and the French would not take any without British support. This led to Hitler’s conclusion that the allies were weak and he could now adapt an even more aggressive policy which would eventually force a traumatic WWII. (8/12)
In 1936 Hitler developed a new goal in his foreign policy. He planned to create an alliance with Mussolini that essentially would destroy the Stresa Front. When Italy and Benito Mussolini launched an attack on Ethiopia, Hitler rose to support the Fascists. This led to the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936 and later the “Pact of Steel” in 1939 that promise to destroy the spread of Communism. This put Britain and France in an awkward position who would now have to prepare for powerful action in the future. Hitler’s foreign policy was again pushing toward the outbreak of WWII. (7/12)
Italy was not Hitler’s only promising ally. In 1938 he signed the Anschluss that meant the union of Austria and Germany as one. Hitler announced that they were “once and forever, indivisible”. The allies yet again did not act. Neville Chamberlain, the new British Prime Minister continued the policy of appeasement. Hitler achieved this Anschluss through his new alliance with Mussolini. The Italian now allowed Hitler to approach Austrian government. After interrogation and influence from a strong Nazi Party in Austria, Hitler was “invited” into Austria. His aggressive policy had led to key alliances that allowed him to construct his “Greater Germany” and pressured Britain and France even further to react. (8/12)
After uniting Germany and his homeland Austria, Hitler now aimed to take control of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The Sudetenland was home to over 3 million Germans who had been separated during the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler’s demand that the Sudetenland be returned to German control greatly contributed to the outbreak of WWII. Czechoslovakia was in an alliance with France which meant if Hitler invaded that France would enter the war and that would lead to the outbreak of a European war. Chamberlain feared this and met with Hitler on two different occasions to try and persuade him to rethink his plot. When Mussolini realised that WWII looked almost inevitable, he proposed a conference between Britain, France, Germany and Italy to resolve the issue. It became known as the “Munich Confrence” because it took place in Munich. (7/12)
In this conference, Britain and France caved to Hitler’s demands. This made the Czechs almost powerless to Hitler’s plan. His aggressive foreign policy had nearly caused an outbreak of war in 1938. However, despite catering for Hitler’s demands for the Sudetenland, his foreign policy did not ease up. Hitler became even further aggressive and in 1939 gained control of Czechoslovakia. This caused the end of appeasement as Britain announced if any further countries were attacked they would come to their aid. In 1939, Hitler aimed to return any land that previously belonged to Germany before WWI. When he asked Poland to return this land, under British promise they refused. Hitler slandered this refusal. (7/12)
Hitler plotted to take Poland but only one country stood in his way, the USSR. In 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. This meant that if Germany invaded Poland they would not have to face a two-front war. Knowing that he would have no opposition from the Soviets, Hitler invaded Poland on 1st September 1939. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany. This marked the beginning of WWII. Hitler’s foreign policy had finally caused the outbreak of WWII. If the allied forces had interfered earlier in Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy, maybe they could have prevented such a horrible war. Or at least postponed one.
The agreements that Hitler and his Nazi Party made with Italy and the USSR under the Nazi-Soviet Non Aggression Pact and the Pact of Steel, allowed him to throw the Germany’s weight around. There is no question that his foreign policy was the leading contributor to the outbreak of WWII. Many historians have debated over the years that if Britain or France had acted earlier, then war could have been prevented. (7/12)
Very good work. Just remember to include Hitler’s aim explicitly at the start of the essay; ‘Grossdeutschland’ / End of the Treaty of Versailles. Also, just a mention of his anti-Semitic policies as part of his foreign policy would be welcome.
Don’t forget to mention his foreign minister by name = Von Ribbentrop.