Hitler’s foreign policy successes between 1936 and 1939 rested on his remarkable tactical skills and ability to exploit his opponents weaknesses.
It is certain that Hitler’s tactical skills and ability to exploit weaknesses shown by opponents was a key part of his successes from 1936 to 1939.
But I don’t agree that they are solely the cause for his successes, more just a part of the overall cause of success.Some of the actions undertaken by Hitler would surely have been attempted by any authoritarian government that came to power. Such as the 1933 withdrawal of Germany from the League of Nations and Disarmament Conference. Whether or not they would have successfully achieved these ambitions or not is another matter, but they would have at least been attempted.Hitler’s foreign policy was mainly concerned with revision and expansion.
Revision of the Treaty of Versailles which Hitler hated immensely, and expansion of Germany to include all German people; also for Lebensraum.His 1936 to 1939 successes were mainly concerned with revisionism, whilst silently building the foundations for expansionism.The 1936 success revolved around the Rhineland. The Treaty of Versailles required the Rhineland to be a de-militarised zone. So in order for Hitler to revise Versailles he would have to have his army re-occupy the Rhineland.
When he ordered this he was nervous and instructed the army to retreat at the first sign of resistance. No resistance came, so Hitler won. His timing could not have been better. He had recently signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement with Britain, whose policy of appeasement saw Hitler “stepping into his own backgarden” and so said the whole affair was fine with them.
Italy was not going to object because they had just invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and so took Britain’s and France’s attention with them. Hitler had promised Mussolini he wouldn’t react to the invasion of Abyssinia as long as Mussolini didn’t oppose his attempt at re-militarisation of the Rhineland. The leaders agreed and so Hitler’s ability to exploit Mussolini’s weakness in this circumstance definitely played a part in the successful outcome of the event. France also sent no resistance because it was with Britain in agreeing that Germany was only taking back what was rightfully its own. The three countries didn’t necessarily regard the re-occupation as aggressive because at this time Germany was still militarily weak.
Plus a year earlier Germany had peacefully negotiated the return of the Saar land. So Britain, France and Italy let this go Hitler’s way.This episode in Hitler’s plans was, as we can see, successful. The reasons for his success here though are not entirely down to his own tactical skills and his ability to exploit events to his advantage but also the policies of foreign countries, which Hitler couldn’t choose.
Events that were taking place (Italies invasion of Abyssinia) and the policies of the main foreign countries (Britain and France’s policy of appeasement) played right into his hands. The fact that Hitler could then use these events to produce the outcome he most desired is what made him successful between 1936 and 1939.Another example of Hitler successfully carrying out his foreign policy is of course the 1939 ‘Anchluss’ of Germany with Austria. Which bridged the gap between revisionism and expansionism. He had now almost completed the revision of Versailles but for the destruction of the Polish Corridor, and he had taken his first step towards expansion.Union of Germany with Austria was forbidden by Versailles.
That made the Anchluss even more desirable to Hitler. Austria was also Hitler’s homeland and many German’s had come to believe that Austria should be included in the Great German State, after all Austrians were practically German’s weren’t they? That’s the argument Hitler used as well saying that the Austrians themselves wanted to join with Germany. So Hitler gave the Austrian government an ultimatum, get the people to vote on the idea of Austria being incorporated into a greater Germany, or face invasion. Austria the joined Germany. Back in 1934 when Hitler failed at attempting the Anchluss, Italy had come to Austria’s side and asked Germany to back down, which it did.
But, since the signing of the Rome-Berlin axis by Hitler and Mussolini, Austria had no one to look to for help and so had to go with the vote.Hitler’s success here resulted from his opportunism and the state of the other countries. Italy was clearly onside, Britain was appeasing Germany and France had political problems of its own to worry about. Therefore there were no objections thrown to Hitler.
His timing had once again been spot on.With these two examples of Hitler being successful in his foreign policy aims. I can now look and see whether or not the successes were totally because of his tactical and exploitational skills or not.The Rhineland and Austria scenarios show Hitler as very tactically aware. He has a plan that he carries out in full but only when the time was right. He made the right time by doing deals with Britain and Italy peacefully.
So that the other countries got into a frame of mind that Germany was doing everything by the book and peacefully. Hitler then exploited his opponents’ mindset by taking what he wanted and making it look like it was the right thing to be doing and would be better for everybody. But at times he was also helped by events taking place that were out of his hands, such as France’s political problems. However, he incorporated this into his plan to make the whole situation easier for himself and so exploited it.Therefore I think that Hitler’s successes in the 1936/9 period were about 90% down to his tactical and exploitational skills.