The Cabinet Papers banner

German threat and rearmament

The Four Power Pact

In December 1932, nine months after the Geneva Disarmament Conference, Britain, the United States, France and Italy conceded to Germany's demands for equal rights in armaments. Hoping to defuse German aggression through concessions, MacDonald presented a plan that gave Britain, Germany, Italy and Poland equal conscript armies over five years. France was to have larger numbers of troops stationed in the colonies to be called upon in emergencies. This was the basis of the Four Power Pact. The pact was signed in Rome in July 1933 but was never implemented.

German rearmament

Germany was by now actively rearming, and Hitler's aggression dominated international relations in Europe. In October 1933 Germany withdrew from the disarmament conference and the League of Nations.

In April 1935 Britain, Italy and France met at Stresa to discuss events in Germany and reaffirm the Locarno Treaties. The USSR was interested in cooperating with countries threatened by Hitler, and in May 1935 made pacts with France and Czechoslovakia.

In March 1935 the British Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, visited Berlin. In June he agreed to a separate naval treaty with Germany but in doing so undermined the Stresa Front. The front was dealt its fatal blow in 1936 by Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia.

The Hoare-Laval Plan

The Hoare-Laval Plan, a joint Anglo-French initiative whose objective was to make concessions to Italy, failed, and the machinery of the League of Nations invoked against Italy. This alienated Italy from Britain and France, and Mussolini realigned with Hitler.

The Rome-Berlin Axis

In October 1936 Mussolini entered into an agreement with Hitler and the Rome-Berlin Axis was born. Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan, and Italy joined the pact in November 1937, polarising international relations.