The Abyssinian crisis of 1935 to 1936 shook the belief people had in the League of Nations, shining a spotlight on its weaknesses and proving that it had no genuine power over its members. The crisis also ensured that international tensions were unquestionably moving ever closer to Europe.
As well as proving that the League of Nations had no control over its members, the 1935 to 1936 Abyssinian crisis was also proof that international issues were increasingly impacting Europe.
Along with France and Britain, Italy had also played its part in the Partition of Africa - namely the invasion and annexation of African territory by European strongholds between 1881 and 1914. However, while other European nations took the key areas, Italy had to make do with less important territories including Eritrea and Somaliland. The Italians also suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Abyssinians at the Battle of Adowa in 1896, putting an end to the idea of adding Abyssinia to its ownership and expanding in eastern Africa. This defeat saw the loss of 6,000 Italian troops and the general public were deeply unhappy with what had happened. Indeed, it was this devastating loss that drove Mussolini’s desire to put Italy firmly on the global stage in terms of European powerhouses. As part of this drive, Mussolini signed a treaty of friendship with, the leader of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, in 1928, all the while plotting an invasion of the country.
Mussolini ordered his troops to attack Abyssinia In October 1935, using mustard gas and modern day weapons against the enemy’s aged rifles. The Abyssinian capital, Addis Ababa, was quickly taken by the Italians, with Haile Selassie forcibly removed from his position as leader and replaced by the king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel. The name Italian East Africa was given to unite Abyssinia, Somaliland and Eritrea. Prior to the invasion, Selassie had pleaded with the League of Nations to help protect Abyssinia from a potential Italian invasion. However, the League’s response was not altogether helpful for Abyssinia – while it condemned the invasion and imposed economic sanctions upon Italy, the sanctions took a long time to be organised and left out key items such as oil. Arms sales were banned, which in fact helped Italy more than it helped Abyssinia. Indeed, Britain and France attempted to make a secret pact to hand Abyssinia to Italy, flying in the face of Selassie’s wishes.
Britain and France decided that they were not willing to risk their power over parts of the Mediterranean in order to show support for Abyssinia. Britain in particular felt that it would be wrong to anger Mussolini and create a potential threat to its major naval bases located in the Mediterranean, Malta and Gibraltar. It was because of this unwillingness to anger Mussolini that the Suze Canal remained open, therefore allowing Italian supplies to reach its troops unabated.
In December of 1935, negotiations between the French Prime Minister, Pierre Laval and the British Foreign Secretary, Samuel Hoare, began in bid to bring the war to a close. Their discussions resulted in the Hoare-Laval Plan, which provided Italy with two imposing pieces of Abyssinia, while Abyssinia received a piece of land located in the middle of the country, known as the ‘corridor of camels.’ In return, Italy would have to bring an end to the war, the plan stated. However, while Mussolini was willing to agree, those in Britain would not, as they felt that Hoare had acted poorly in terms of the people of Abyssinia. Such was the level of outcry that Hoare resigned and the Hoare-Laval plan was abandoned, while Mussolini continued with the attack.
What this plan and the fall out following it highlighted was that the League of Nations was a half-hearted organisation whose sanctions may have sounded strong in theory, but in fact meant little in practice.
As a result of all this, Mussolini turned to Hitler and his Nazi Germany.
See also: Italy and Germany 1936 to 1940
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