Which had a greater effect on international relations, the Anschluss or the Spanish Civil War?

The events of the turbulent 1930s caused huge upheaval to relations between states.  Both the Anschluss and the Spanish Civil War were hugely significant events which brought Europe closer to the calamity of the Second World War.  Undoubtedly, the Spanish Civil War was far more important than the Anschluss. 

The Anschluss affected international relations as it was a direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles and heralded the beginning of increasingly aggressive German expansion.  In March 1938, Hitler imposed a humiliating diplomatic settlement on Schuschnigg, the Austrian chancellor, which effectively subordinated Austrian foreign policy to Berlin.  However, he decided to maintain some freedom for manoeuvre and held a referendum on the changes proposed by Hitler.  Rather than risk the Austrian public renouncing the agreement, Hitler ordered the German army to occupy Austria.  He then set about incorporating Austria into the Reich.  The Austro-German union was explicitly forbidden by the Versailles and St Germain Treaties, and Hitler had invaded an independent state for the first time.  Despite the clear implications of this action, it encountered little resistance from the Western Allies, there was no repeat of the Stresa Front and Britain and France merely protested to Berlin with no intention of waging war.  Even Italy, the country most affected by the territorial change had long resigned Austria as a German sphere of influence, and Mussolini had even endorsed Hitler’s invasion.  There was also little reason for international tension as the German invasion met no resistance and the move appeared with the publics of both nations, therefore there was little cause to threaten war over a consensual union.  Despite the almost complete lack of immediate tension, the very ease of the Anschluss paved the way for further German expansion as Hitler was encouraged to continually push the limits of international tolerance by the lack of retribution.  Therefore, the Anschluss caused few tensions to international relations in its vicinity, but it led to events of far greater significance such as the Munich Agreement.

German soldiers welcomed into Austria

The Spanish Civil War affected international relations as it threatened to trigger a general European war and it paved the way for the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, a major European diplomatic shift.  In 1935, Franco led a nationalist revolt against the Madrid government.  A Republican coalition of democratic and Communist elements fought Franco’s far-right nationalist forces.  The Fascist powers quickly lent support to Franco, offering air transports to move Franco’s men from Morocco to Spain.  Hitler also committed 6,000 troops and the Luftwaffe to Franco’ cause.  Mussolini also sent Italian divisions and naval forces to aid Franco.  The possibility of a third Fascist power in Europe threatened the Western democracies, especially France who appeared to be encircled.  The Western powers refrained from intervention on their side of the Republicans, their natural ideological ally as it threatened to polarise French society and lead to a civil war, escalate the war to encompass all of Europe and there were active supporters of Franco in the Tory Party.  Instead, the Soviet Union intervened by supplying military advisors and equipment.  However, the aggression of the Fascist powers swayed the advantage in favour of the Nationalists.  The determination of Germany and Italy to intervene for a foreign cause they had no obligation to foreshadowed the later German expansion, this threatened many statesmen and led to heightened tensions between the two.  This did not occur in the wake of the Anschluss, as the annexation appeared popular on both sides, there was no resistance and the people were ethnically homogenous.  Most significantly, it convinced the Soviet Union of the weakness of the Western Democracies and the strength of the fascists.  This encouraged Stalin to seek security by siding with the autocrats rather than the feeble democracies.  This shift in international relations created the conditions for the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which enabled Hitler to invade Poland without fighting the USSR, subsequently triggering the greatest conflict in human history.  In comparison, the Anschluss merely heightened the impression that Hitler could push the limits of international tolerance.

Wehrmacht parading in Spain

To conclude, the Spanish Civil War was undoubtedly more significant to relations between countries than the Anschluss.  The Spanish Civil War led to a diplomatic shift between the great powers, with the Soviet Union decisively siding with the fascists rather than the apparently weak Western democracies.  A shift that led directly to the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the outbreak of WWII. By comparison, the Anschluss barely affected the international climate; the consensual invasion did not deter Britain from negotiating with Hitler, nor Mussolini drawing ever closer to the Reich, nor did it seriously prompt any of the victors of the Great War to enforce the peace won by their sacrifice. 


Popular Posts