*** World War II Diplomacy

World War II: Diplomacy

World War II diplomacy
Figure 1.--The American people at the onset of World War II had two central interest, ending the Depression andf staying out of the War. 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 pounce. 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 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.

Collective Security (1919)

After the disaster of World War I, the Allies decided at the promting of American Presdent Woofrow Wilson that the way to avoid another war was through the doctrine of collective security. The cornerstone of this doctrine was the new League of Nations. President Wilson was the strongest advocate of the collective security doctrine and the League of Nations. Unfortunately the U.S. Senate rejected the Vesailles Peace Treaty and with it the League, in part becaue of Wison's instrangencence. The vrussian Revolution resulted in the creatiin of the Soviet Uniion committed to the destruction of the existiung bworld order. Other countries also appeared determined ti break the world order. Gradually these countries grew beyond the ability of the victyoitious Allies to contain, this undermined the idea of collective security. Thevriebof NAZI Germnanty was the turning point. The League was tested in the 1930s, first when Japan invaded Chinese Manchuria (1931) and then Italy invased Ethiopia (1935). Failure to act with any real force, even significant sanctions, showed that the League was of no real deterence. The League itself had no force, it had ro rely ion memnber states to act. And in both cases, no membrr states were willing to act against the agressor states. The League by itself could do nothing. As a result, when Hitler who from the very begibbibng of his regime began to thingly veiled rearmamebnt (1933) and began his forceful moves (1935), the League was a non-factor.

Rapollo (1922- )

Germany as a result of World War II was a pariah nation. Russia had beem a major part od the Allied (Entente) effort, but the new Communist Soviet Union was alsp a pariah nation. The German and Soviet Governments signed the Rapollo Treaty which provided for trade and military coopertation (1922). This provided a way that Germany could evade the Versailles restrictions. It was as loart of Rapollo exercised that the Geramns and Soviets would develop the mobile aromored vtactics that woyld dominate Wirld War II. The Red Army officers involved vin Rapollo would become tsrgets of Stalin's purges. Hitler used diplomacy to lull world opinion while he consolidated power and began to rearm Germany.

Allied Arrangements (1920s-30s)

The Allies atte,pted to encircle Germany so it could not launch anither War. The problem with this is that the Tsarist regime had been replaced by the Soviet Union. And that until after Munich, the British and French had as much fear of the Soviets if not more than they feared the NAZIs. And this was also true of the countries in Easterm and Central Europe. France was especially actived in buiding securityn relations with these states. The primary alliance was the Little Entente. This was an alliance formed by Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia aimed at a common defense against Hungarian revanchism and the prospect of a Habsburg restoration. France formally supported the alliance by signing treaties with each member country. Britain supported the group, but without any formal commitment. With the rise of the NAZIs in Germany, the Little Entente became a barrier against German expansion. Hittler out flanked the Czech Sudeten defenses by seizing Austria--the Anclussm (March 1938). This was in total violation of the Vesailles Treaty. This collapsed when France and Britain abandoned Czechoslovakia at the Munich Conference (September 1938). The countries in southern Europe after Munich, realized that they would have to deal with Hitler on their own. When Hitler then violated the Munich Agreenment by invading what was left of Czechoslovakia as wll as suzing Memel from Lithuania (March 1939). Britain and France then rushed to sign a mutual assistance treaty with Poland which was now threatened. Hitler after dealing personally with the British and French, was convinced that neither would go to war over Danzig or even Poland.

Locarno Pact (1925)

The Locarno Pact was signed by the major European powers except the Soviet Union (Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy). Belgium was included because it had played an important role in both World War I and World War II. German Foreign Minister Stresemann who dominated Weimar foreign policy played a key role. Unlike the Versailles Treaty which was impossed on Germany, this was a major European agreement in which Germany participated voluntarily. Stressman believed that it was important for Germany to rejoin the European family of nations. He was convinced that after World War I that a peace pact would help build confidence in Europe that Germany could be a trustworthy peaceful country that could be trusted not to start another war. Stresemann insisted that it muust mot be only Germany that made concessions. There were three elements to the Locarno Pact. First to eliminate potential conflicts by permaently settling the Franco-German border. Second to ensure the permanent demilitarisation of the Rhineland. This was a key issue on which France insisted on because Germany had invaded France twice from the Rhineland (1870 and 1914). Third to begin negotiations to prepare for German admission into the League of Nations. He also wanted the Allies to disarm as Germany had dome. Stresemann was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1926). Extremist parties such as the Nazis and Communists wanted to destoy the Weimar Republic and saw it as a contiuation of the Versailles Treaty. Stressmn became a hated target. And the fact that he had a Jewish wife added to the the venom aimed at him. This was the case even though his goal was to schieve much of what the baztionlisrs wanted, an end of occuption of the Rhineland, renegotiation of the eastern border, easing of reparations, Abchluss with Austria, and other matters. Only Stressman wanted to achive these goals through negotiation, not another war. the NAZIs, who are not yet a consequential party, and other right-wing parties saw it as just a continuation of Versailles.

Treaty of Berlin (1926)

The Treaty of Berlin was a German-Soviet Neutrality and Nonaggression Pact. It was signed ( April 24, 1926). The ch Germans and Soviets agreed to neutrality in the event of an attack on the other by a third party. The treary had a duration of 5 years. The treaty was a reaffirmatiom of the German-Soviet Rapallo Treary (1922). The NAZI-Siviet oact whichg sdhoicked the world actually had a long history begunning with Rapallo.

Kellog-Briand Pact (1928)

The Kellogg-Briand Pact was surely the most absurd, one source styled it 'garndiose dipomatiuc peace keeping effort after Woeld War I. It was negotiated in 1928 was named after the American and French foreign ministers who played key roles in the negotiations. It was also known as the Pact of Paris. The official name was the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy which explains its purpose and intent. It was an effort to involve the United States, which had not joined the League of Natioins, in peace keeping efforts. The signatory states committed not to use war to resolve 'disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise'. War had been an instrument of nation power since the dawn of civilization. And all it took was one country to launch war. And tghere was mothin in the Kellog-Briand Pact to prevent an agressor nation to launch a war. The Pact had no mechanism for preventing this. Even worse, there were countries determined to change the existing world order and willing to go to war to change it (Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union). And only 5 years after the Kello-Briand Pact was signed, Hitler abd the NAZIs seized power in Germbny and launched a nassive rearmament program. As a result, by 1939. these countries had amassed the ballance iof world miltary power, bcause the democracies were primarily interested iun preventing another waranbdrefused to match the militry exoanbsioin effots of these ciuntries.

Diplomatic Corps

Europe over time developed mutually accepted customs and norms. This was particularly the case of diplmats who fealed with their counterparts on a day to day basis. They and theirvfamilies lived in other coutries. They tended to be urbane, cultured, an vhighly educated. And most spoke one or more foreign languages. There were wars in the 19th century, but not for the most part wars bent on destruction og other states. Rather the wars were over terroitorty, in some cases only a small province ot two. This changed in the 20th century with the rise of toitalitarian states, first the Soviet Union (1917), than Fascist Italy (1923), militarized Imperial Japan (1920s), and finally NAZI-Germany (1933). Semi-Fasicist regimes arose or were imposed in a number of smaller states. The goals and methods of the totalitarian states were very differentb than these regimes were very different than the exiustung world orderw hich they souht to change fundamnenatally. This of course changed the diplomatic scene. Soviet, German, Japabese, and Italian diplomats no longer ough to reach agreement, but as state agents to force compliance with aggressive demands ultimately seeking to extend control over targetted states. And then once occuopied to impose explotive demands on puppet regimes. Mothing more exemplifies this sift than the change over in Germany from Gustaf Stresemann to Jochim von Ribentrop and in the Soviet Union from Maxim Litvinov to Vyacheslav Molotov.


Appeasement was a foreign policy largely based on the horrors of World War I. It is most associate with Primeminister Neville Chamberlain, but in fact was a widely popular policy in both Britain and France. Much of the public in the democracies (Britain, France, and the United States) were convinced that the War had beeb maistake which should never be repeated. While this was in fact true, the resulting thinking was deeply flawed. Many peoplein tghe democracies came to think that Germany should have been appeased in 1914. That thinking simply does not follow with a Germany that wanted a more dominant position in Europe and was prepared to use war to achieve thar position. This was the situation in 1914 and in the late-1930s the situatiin was ecen more desperate. You had aGermany that did not only want more influence, but one that wanted to rule Europe and to destroy millions of innocent lives to change the ethnic map of the continent. The inter-War policy of appeasement is today a disgraced policy, largely because its assoiciation with Munich and the start of World War II. The fact is, that it might well have precented war if Chamberlain had been working with a German leader who also desired to avert war. It was beyond Chamberlain's understanding that a leader of a great European nation could actually desire a war. John Lennon wrote a beautiful song,'Give peace a chance'. It has become a theme song for the Anti-War movement and modern pacifists. It should always be remembered that Neville Chamberlain gave peace a chance. The result was the most horrific war in human history and 50 million deaths. This is a fact, not an opinion. While historically intert-War policy of appeasement is disgraced. There are in fact many in the West who are modern appeasers. Much of this thought is today directed towared Iran. And becuse of the modern appeasers, Iran will soon have a bomb a development which will dramatically change international politics. The Obama administration has clealy adopted a policy of apeasement towar Russia when he backed off on the missdle shiekd, leaving Czechoslovakia and Poland in the lurch. Russia at the time was of course nit an aggressive NAZI Germany. Perhaps appeasement in this case was the best policy. But no one knows just where Russia is headed. Subsequent Russian actions in Crimea and the Ukraine suggest that agaim appeasement has failed. Even so, President Obama seemed intent on again pursuing appeasement, in this case with Iran. And President Biden seemms determined tompursue the same policy.

Axis Arrangements

Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact September 27, 1940. The agreement allied Germany and Italy (which were at war with Britain) and Japan (which was at war with China). Germany and Italy has since 1939-40 been at war with Britain. Japan since 1937 had been at war with China. The alliance did not require the partners to join these wars, but it did require them to come to each other's aid if attacked by any country. The alliance became known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis alliance, or commonly the Axis. The three Axis partners recognized German hegemony over most of Europe; Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean, and Japanese hegemony in East Asia. After the Axis agreement was signed, several German allies joined the Axis, notably Vichy France and Fascist Spain refused to do so. Japan had no Asian allies, except for the puppet state of Manchukuo.

Allies/United Nations (1941-45)

With the fall of France (June 1940) Britoan was on its own except for the Empire and escalting American assistance. There would be no alliance treaty signed beteeen America and Britain, but te two countries would forge the closest and most important alliance in all of history. Not only the Dominions joined in the effort to defeat the Axis, but the Soviet Union, Free Feench and n expanding list of occupied (often called the 'captive natiomns') and unoccupied nations. For the most part these countries had similar goals and objecrives and a range of common bonds. The only major issue separating them as the colonial empires od Britain and several other European countries (Britain, France, and the Netherlands). The only major country that did not share common values and war goals was the Soviet Union. This is best seen in the fact that the Soviets were a NAZI ally for nearly 2 years (August 1939-June 1941). We now refer to these countries as the Allies. The Soviets were a vital part pf the coalition to estroy the NAZIs, butbhives its different values and goals, as more of a co-beligerant than an ally. Early on, President Roosevely negan calling the antti-Axis alliamce, the United Nations, this was 4 years befire the UnitedVnations acttually ca,e kinto existence (October 1945). And it was the United States that tied the international rffort to defeat the Axis together. This was accomplished through the mechanism of Lend Lease. The United States provided vast quantities of arms and equipment to the countries fighting the Axis powers. The most important recipients were Britain and thevUnited States. This provided a mechanism for coordinating the war effort as there were strings attached to Lend Lease aid. THe only country which the United States did not apply some degree of pressure was the Soviet Union. President Roosevelt was concerned that Stalin might make a separate peace with Hitler and the Red Army was such an important part of the of the war effort, he decided that Stalin had to be treated with kid gloves.


The diplomatic history of World War II has to be divided between the totalitarian powers which decided to fundamntally change the world order through war if necessary and the mostly democratic countries which attempted to avoid war and who ventually had to fight World War II to preserve their indepdence and no less than Western civilization. There were also countries who attempted to remain neutral. Geography and cooperatio with the NAZIs largly dictated the success of this policy. Germany pursued an active diplmatic campaign, both Weimar and NAZI Germany. The War was launched by Hitler and Stalin with invasion of Poland (1939). Axis partnets Italy and Japan had a desore for military expanion, but never would have launched a war outside of China, had Germany not achieved such enormous suceesess in the first 2 years of the War. It is German Führer Adolf Hitler who is usually blamed for strarting the War. This was the case for journalists at the time as well as most historians. The reason for this is that it is Hitker who rearmed and took a series of diolomatic and commercial steps lculminating in the invasion of Poland (September 1939). After that NAZI diplomacy became much more limited as it was the the German military that determined the course of events. A rare diolmatic exception was getting occupied and adjacent states to give up their Jews so that they could be slaugtered in puropose-designed death camps. Stalin is genrrally seen as a bit player and duped by Hitler n the first 2 years of the War. Yet in fact he was far more involved than most historians give him credit. He not only reaquired Tsarist territory (especially much of Poland) lost after World War I, but helped direct German energies into a war in the West, something that Hitler really did not intend, espcially war with Britain and Ameerica. The War in the West would attract most of Germany's indutrial power while the decisive campaign of the War was being fought in the East. The Briutish diplmtic effor was largely to avoild nother War. The French without the ability to fight the Germans on their own had to acceed to Btitish policy. After the fall of France (June 1940), Britain's only hope was to bring America into the War, although they hpped that eventually the Soviet Union wold fall out with the Germans. This occurred whan the Germnans invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941). Anerucan policy sas largely focused on Europe. The fall of France resulted in major changes in Ameuican policy. Francehad been the bulwarkin Workd War I. With France gone it wa obvious Amruca would have ti start preoaring forvWar. Americans despite the Isdolationmidts acceopted this, but steadfastly continue to opppse entering the War. Despite a desire to focus on Europe, the United States pressed Japan to end its war in China. America escalted non-military actions, but the oil ebargo virtuasll guarnteed war (July 1941). Japan launched its Pearl Harbor attack bringing America into the War (Decmber 1941). This ended dioplomcy with the Axis, but led to extensive diolmacy with Britin, the Sovuet Union, and other countries.


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: 2:39 AM 1/21/2020