Mussolini’s Foreign Policy Goals Bibliography

Mussolini’s Foreign Policy Goals

Because of the atrocities of Hitler’s anti-Semitic reign in Eastern Europe and his stated goal of world domination, many people assume that world domination is a recurrent theme in fascist foreign policy. Certainly fascist or totalitarian governments, with their strict adherence to the ideal that there is only one way to appropriately to do things, do lend themselves to world-domination ideals. However, they are not the only types of governments to do so. After all, Imperial England was not ruled by a fascist government, but managed to achieve a significant amount of world domination. Therefore, it is important to look at Mussolini’s own stated foreign policy goals before determining whether or not he was successful in achieving any of them, and whether any of those successes lasted after his defeat in World War II.

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There is no question that Mussolini advocated a strong foreign policy. In fact, while his early political goals were subject to a significant amount of vacillation, depending on the prevailing political climate, the one thing that remained constant was his belief that Italy should pursue a strong foreign policy. For Mussolini, this meant that Italy should take an expansionist approach to foreign policy. To make that possible, Mussolini increased the size of the Italian army from 175,000 to 275,000 men.

He needed the increased army because he did want to expand into the rest of Europe. It is impossible to surmise why Mussolini wanted to expand Italy, but even a cursory knowledge of Roman history reminds one that the Roman Empire was certainly Italy’s golden age. “Mussolini wanted to establish in the Mediterranean a modern Roman Empire, rivaling that of the ancient Caesars.”

He realized that an expansionist foreign policy was necessary to accomplish that goal, because, even when Italy entered into a war as an ally to the winning side, its weak foreign policy reputation meant that it did not receive its promised spoils of war. In addition, Italy was a poor country, and expansionist policies would permit it to acquire more land and other raw materials to support its people and increase industry. Furthermore, “Fascist doctrines preached national glory. Italians should expand to show their national greatness.”

Of course, cynical observers might suggest that Mussolini’s fascination with an expansionist foreign policy was because it detracted people from a declining domestic situation. However, while foreign wars almost certainly did distract Italians from domestic conditions, the reality is that Mussolini advocated a strong foreign policy position for a significant time before coming into power, when distracting people from miserable domestic conditions would not have been politically beneficial. As a result, it is probably unwise to dismiss Mussolini’s foreign policy interests as distractions or diversions for the Italian people.

In order to understand Mussolini’s foreign policy goals, it is important to understand something about Italian history. Italy, as it is known today, only began to exist in 1870, when Italy was unified. Italy began with a constitutional monarchy that was patterned after Great Britain’s. However:

democratic traditions failed to develop in Italy because the government was controlled by corrupt politicians, called the party bosses. They controlled the elections by bribing the voters. Once they were in power, they were more interested in making personal gains for themselves than in solving the social and economic problems of the people. As a result, by 1914 Italy remained a poor and backward country. The franchise was limited to 2.5 per cent of the population until after the election of 1913. Industrial progress was slow. Moreover, Italy was poor in natural resources and lack of fertile land. Many of the farm labourers were landless and were often unemployed. Thus millions of Italians were forced to emigrate abroad.

Italy also failed in its endeavors to emulate Great Britain as a colonial power. Part of this may have been due to the fact that, by the late 1800s / early 1900s, the days of imperialism were coming to an end, or it may have been due to a failure of leadership in Italy. Regardless of the reason, Italy was unable to colonize Abyssinia. “Because of its lack of success in both domestic and foreign affairs, the parliamentary government became a symbol of decadence and corruption — it was neither trusted nor respected by the people.”

This situation was exacerbated by Italy’s entrance into the First World War. Rather than gaining the large territorial settlement it expected when entering into the war, Italy only received a portion of the territories it was promised when it decided to enter into the war. As a result, many Italians viewed their country as weak in foreign policy.

Because of dissatisfaction with Italy’s foreign and domestic policies, many Italians began to support the Socialist Party and the Catholic Popular Party, which substantially changed the structure of Italian government. Furthermore, labor strikes in the country helped redistribute labor and wealth. Despite those successes, the Socialists were unable to seize power in Italy. As a result, the Socialist Party split into factions, including the Communist Party. The Fascists, led by Mussolini, used the threat of communist revolution to take over Italian politics. Mussolini had socialist political origins, and had a history as a journalist, editor, and socialist agitator. However, Mussolini did not adhere to the structure of socialism. On the contrary, he seemed to advocate the ideas that were the most popular among the Italian workers. “This seemed to indicate that he was an opportunist, very interested in winning followers and power for himself.”

This inconsistency has also made it difficult to determine Mussolini’s foreign policy goals. In fact, when Mussolini founded the Milan facio in March 1919, it had no clear-cut goals except for a belief in action and a stated goal of strong foreign policy.

However, when Italy was driven from Fiume at the end of 1920, many Italians began to believe that Italy would have to develop strong foreign policy. In 1921, Mussolini formed the National Fascist Party, and began to quickly amass power in the Italian government. One of the ways he did so was to tout his ideas about a strong foreign policy, which “could bring national glory to Italy.”

Soon, the Fascists, the Socialists, and the Communists were literally at war, with laborers in different groups declaring strikes and generally plunging the country into domestic chaos. Mussolini seized that opportunity to march upon Rome and virtually forced the Italian king to name him the Prime Minister.

To understand Mussolini’s foreign policy, it is also important to understand his domestic policy. Fascists believed that constitutional monarchies or other forms of democracy were bound to fail, and, therefore, parliamentary democracy had to be discarded:

In the words of Mussolini, national strength was conceived qualitatively and not quantitatively. For the strength of the nation, it should be ruled by a well-disciplined party elite, which, under the guidance of an inspired and unquestioned leader, would restore order and stability for the nation and lead it forward to greatness.

Mussolini advocated state control of economics, and also state control of both assembly and thought. Mussolini stressed the over-arching important of the state, and advocated the ideal that each individual place the state above themselves. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Mussolini’s ultimate foreign policy goal was to “revive the glories of the old Roman Empire.”

While that goal may not have been literal world-domination, the breadth and span of the Roman Empire, given the technology of its day, has rarely been accomplished by other societies. It would not be erroneous, then, to assume that Mussolini wanted to dominate as much of the globe as he possibly could, and he adopted an “expansionist foreign policy from the beginning of his rule.”

Mussolini was a failure in his domestic policy. His programs aimed at improving financial conditions for the average Italian actually resulted in a decrease in the Italian standard-of-living. However, by the time his programs were revealed as failures, Mussolini had already accomplished a totalitarian takeover of the government. Dissent was not permitted. The secret police and other governmental organizations suppressed dissent in the adults, and a government-controlled media strictly monitored what news Italians received. Furthermore:

Through education, school children were indoctrinated with Fascist ideas. They were told that “Mussolini is always right. Millions of them were recruited into the youth organizations of the party. In 1931, university professors were forced to swear an oath of loyalty to fascism and to teach according to its principles.

However, by the late 1920s, Mussolini began to see the need for Catholics to support his regime, because the vast majority of Catholics were Italian. Moreover, Catholics had banded together in religious political groups prior to Mussolini’s takeover of the Italian government, which had to make him aware of the possibility that they would do so again. As a result, Mussolini engaged in his first successful foray into foreign policy. When Mussolini entered into the government, there was a long-standing rift between the Papacy and the Kingdom of Italy:

The dispute between the Papacy and the Italian Kingdom began in 1870. In that year, when the unification of Italy was achieved, the Papal Kingdom was confiscated by the Italian Kingdom, so the Pope refused to recognize the Italian Kingdom, or to step outside the Vatican City.

Mussolini entered into negotiations with the Pope, aimed at healing that rift. In 1929, the Pope and Mussolini entered into the Lateran Agreements, which consisted of a Treaty, a Concordat, and a Financial Convention. At first blush, the treaty seems to be a retreat from Mussolini’s stated goal of expansionism, because the Treaty recognized papal sovereignty over Vatican City and gave Vatican City full diplomatic rights. However, Mussolini was also able to get the Papacy to officially recognize the Kingdom of Italy, and, more significantly, surrender its claim to the greater part of Rome.

What this meant was that, in exchange for the relatively small area of Vatican City, Mussolini received an undisputed claim to Rome, gained a political ally, and did not have to worry about the predominantly Catholic Italians finding fault with his foreign policy in regards to the Papacy. For Mussolini, the Lateran agreements were:

a great personal triumph. By healing the wounds between the Italian Kingdom and the Papacy, Mussolini could get support from the Catholics — they gave support to Mussolini’s regime until his fall from power. As the Pope regarded Mussolini as “a man of Providence,” this also helped to raise Mussolini’s prestige in the eyes of the world.

In short, Mussolini, by the Lateran Agreements, had obtained the much-needed support from a broad section of the Italian people for his dictatorial regime.

In fact, the Lateran Agreements was among Mussolini’s first successes in foreign policy. His first success came in the early 1920s, when he provoked the Corfu incident. Greece and Albania were involved in a boundary dispute, and took their dispute to the Conference of Ambassadors, which the League of Nations had authorized to settle disputes such as boundary disputes. Italy, along with several other countries, provided soldiers to assist the commission in carrying out its survey. Greece alleged that the Italian Chairman, Enrico Tellini, was biased towards the Albanians, and, on August 27, 1923, Tellini and three of his assistants were murdered by unknown assassins. Italy demanded reparations and that Tellini’s murders be executed, and, when Greece was unable to identify the killers, Italy attacked and occupied the Greek island of Corfu. Greece appealed to the League of Nations, which capitulated to Italy’s demands, and failed to punish Italy for its aggression against Greece.

Whether or not the Corfu incident can be deemed a successful entry into foreign policy is debatable. Italy did not retain control over Corfu, which is presumed to be the real reason for the invasion, with Tellini’s death serving as a pretext. In that respect, the Corfu incident was a failure. However, in another respect, the Corfu incident was extremely successful, because Mussolini learned that he could make demands of a country’s government that were impossible for it to meet, and, when it failed to meet them, invade without facing any real sanctions from the League of Nations. This was a powerful lesson for a dictator who wanted to expand his power into the world.

Not all of Mussolini’s foreign policy successes were the result of violence. On the contrary, he managed some very successful negotiations. Italians were very upset about Italy’s failure to obtain Fiume at the end of World War I. However, Mussolini was able to successfully negotiate with Yugoslavia and obtained Fiume in 1924. Not all of his attempts at foreign policy negotiations were successful. “Throughout the 1920’s, Mussolini also tried to repulse any French attempts to make alliances with Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia but he was unsuccessful.”

In the early 1930s, Mussolini began to realize the power of political alliances, and he also seemed to understand the importance of biding his time. When Mussolini first came to power, Italy was recovering from World War I, and was in no position to demand more from either Britain or France, the countries dominating Europe at that time period. Germany had yet to become a major European power because it was also still recovering from World War I and dealing with the incredible economic hardships that it would encounter in the years following World War I. As a result, Mussolini did not attempt to push expansion into Europe. Most of Europe was focused on the threat posed by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and dismissed Italy and Germany as threats. Even when Hitler came to power in Germany, Europe did not immediately recognize the threat that he would pose to the continent. Mussolini seemed to recognize some of Hitler’s potential, and struck an early partnership with him. In the beginning of the partnership, Mussolini definitely seemed to believe that he was the more powerful of the two dictators:

In 1933, Mussolini saw Hitler as a junior partner in the relationship between the two dictators. He also saw Hitler as a potential rival especially as Hitler had made it clear that he wanted a union with Austria — forbidden by Versailles. Austria had a common border with Italy and such a move by Germany would have alarmed Mussolini — if Hitler was a rival.

As a result, it is impossible to view Mussolini’s partnership with Hitler as anything other than a strategic way of protecting Italy’s border. By 1934, the relationship between the two men began to show some strain. At a meeting in Venice, Mussolini refused to use his translator, despite not being fluent in German, and was bored by Hitler’s continuous quoting of Mein Kampf.

It was at this point that Mussolini began to denigrate Hitler as “a silly little monkey.”

It was also at this time that Mussolini began to exploit the power of symbolism in the international arena, because Mussolini wore his military uniform when he met with Hitler.

It is important to keep in mind that in the early 1930s, Germany had not yet aggressed against Western Europe. Therefore, the fact that Mussolini was allied with Germany did not prevent him from forming strategic relationships with other European countries. In fact:

in June 1933, he invited representatives from France, Germany and Britain to a meeting in Rome. They signed the Four Power Pact. This, according to Mussolini, was a sign of the growing power Italy had: these countries came to Rome; Italians did not have to go to a venue out of Europe. Mussolini, so he claimed, was providing Europe with leadership.

In reality, the Four Power Pact had little impact on the world political scene. What Mussolini had wanted to do was reduce the power that smaller European nations had in the League of Nations. However, instead, the Four Power Pact increased France’s concerns about Germany. Furthermore, by creating a working unit composed of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, the Four Powers Pact contributed to the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact of 1934.

In turn, that pact allowed Germany to turn its attention away from border skirmishes in the east, so that it could concentrate on attacking other nations. Poland may have felt unable to enter into a non-aggression pact with Germany if Germany was still being punished by France and Great Britain. Furthermore, Great Britain repeatedly attempted to use the Four Power Pact as a means of negotiating with Germany in the build up to World War II. Looking at those two results of the Four Power Pact, it is possible that the Four Power Pact contributed significantly to the ability of the Axis powers to dominate much of Europe during World War II, but the extent of that contribution is, necessarily, speculative. Furthermore, the Four Power Pact was virtually worthless from its inception. In 1936, Mussolini and Hitler created the Rome-Berlin access, which aligned them as allies and seemed to defeat the purpose of the Four Powers Pact. Regardless of its impact on World War II, the reality is that the Four Power Pact was a significant symbolic victory for Mussolini, because it signaled that Great Britain and France were both willing to recognize Italy as a major European power, and were not willing to override Italy’s attempts to consign the smaller European countries to a less important status.

Mussolini also used some political maneuvering to position Italy to take over vulnerable countries. For example, Mussolini wanted to annex Albania into Italy. Instead of simply invading Italy in the early 1920s, Mussolini began to increase Albanian dependence on Italy. He granted Albania loans in exchange for oil concessions, which not only gave Mussolini access to much-needed natural resources, but also gave him leverage against the Albanian government. Furthermore, Mussolini became intimately involved with Albania’s military; he “sent military advisers to organize the Albanian army.”

This gave Mussolini the information that he needed to assess the size of the Albanian army and its ability to withstand or repel Italian forces, if he were to attack. In fact, he did attack Albania, but it was not until 1939 that he did so, and that attack was successful.

In 1934, Mussolini began more direct attempts at expansionism. Abyssinia was next to the Italian colony Somalia, in the African desert. In 1934, Italian soldiers attacked British and Abyssinian troops at Wal-Wal, in preparation of an Italian invasion of Abyssinia. The Abyssinian emperor appealed to the League of Nations for assistance. In July of 1935, the League of Nations banned arms sales to both Abyssinia and Italy, which harmed Abyssinia, but not Italy, because Mussolini had supplied his army prior to beginning his attack on Abyssinia. In September of 1935, the League attempted to arbitrate the dispute between the countries; the arbitration would have awarded Italy some territory in Abyssinia, once again capitulating to unprovoked aggression by Mussolini. However, Mussolini refused the League’s suggestions, and, in October 1935, Italy attacked Abyssinia. 100,000 Italian troops invaded the poor desert country with tanks, flame-throwers, poison gas, and attacks on civilians; the outmatched Abyssinians attempted to repel them with camels, war drums, and a total of 12 planes.

The League of Nations imposed nominal sanctions on Italy, but Britain and France entered into a secret pact, the Hoare Laval Pact, which would have given two-thirds of Abyssinia to Italy. By May of 1936, Mussolini had achieved his first real expansion of Italy; he had conquered Abyssinia.

Mussolini continued his foreign policy success by supporting Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939. The Spanish Civil War began with a coup d’etat attempt, which was supported by several far-right factions, including a fascist group. The rebel groups won, and managed to overthrow Spain’s previous government. Most significantly, Franco became the dictator of Spain at the conclusion of the war. This meant that Spain was controlled by one of Mussolini’s allies during World War II. This alliance was something that Spain respected for much of World War II. Spain was officially non-belligerent during World War II, which meant that it did not take an active role in the war. However, Spain provided significant material support, including military assistance, to the Axis powers. This alliance seems to have been strongly dependent upon the relationship between Franco and Mussolini, because Germany attempted to occupy the Iberian Peninsula, and Spain used its troops to prevent that occupation. Furthermore, Franco was one of the only European leaders to actively try to save Jewish lives once he became aware of the Holocaust, offering asylum for many Jews who fled from Germany and German-controlled countries.

Obviously, Franco had significant ideological differences, which kept him from allying himself with Hitler, yet he did not join the Allies in World War II. This can almost certainly be attributed to Mussolini’s support of Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

Of course, Mussolini’s attempts at expansionist foreign policy were relatively short-lived. In 1940, Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. Working with the other Axis powers, Italy met a series of significant defeats in both Libya and East Africa. Once the Allies had achieved victory in North Africa, they used it as a staging point to attack Sicily. By August 11, 1943, the Axis forces began to evacuate Sicily, withdrawing 117,000 troops to the Italian mainland.

Mussolini was actually deposed from power shortly before Italy’s surrender. Hitler later placed Mussolini as a puppet dictator in northern Italy. Mussolini attempted to escape Italy for Spain, but he was caught and executed.

Mussolini’s defeat in World War II and his subsequent death at the hands of an Italian executioner seem to suggest that his foreign policy goals were unsuccessful. However, it is important to look at his entire political career to judge the success or failure of his foreign policy. Mussolini did manage to expand Italy beyond the territorial limits that it had when he took office. Furthermore, he managed to negotiate several key alliances, which protected him from German aggression during World War II, enabled Germany to gear up for a war in Western Europe, and probably kept Spain from joining the Allies in World War II. These were not insignificant accomplishments, and, as a result, one must conclude that Mussolini was successful in accomplishing some of his foreign policy goals, even if those successes were short-lived.

Works Cited

Boyer, Burt. “Franco & the Jews.” Hitler: Stopped by Franco. 2001. Hitler: Stopped by Franco. 9 Nov. 2009 .

Breacher, Michael and Jonathan Wilkenfeld. A Study of Crisis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.

Chen. C. Peter. “Invasion of Sicily and Italy’s Surrender.” World War II Database. 2009.

WW2DB. 9 Nov. 2009 .

Chung, TK. “Fascist Italy.” Totalitarianism. 2009. 9 Nov. 2009

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