"A Completely Immoral and Cowardly Attitude": The British Foreign Office, American Neutrality and the Hoare-Laval Plan

By Roi, Michael L. | Canadian Journal of History, August 1994 | Go to article overview

"A Completely Immoral and Cowardly Attitude": The British Foreign Office, American Neutrality and the Hoare-Laval Plan


Roi, Michael L., Canadian Journal of History


L'imbroglio abyssinien des annees 1935-1936 genera une crise majeure parmi les decideurs anglais de la Defense et des Affaires Etrangeres. Avant qu'elle n'envahisse l'Abyssinie, l'Italie n'etait pa consideree comme un ennemi de L'Angleterre. Cepandant, des octobre 1935, et surtout apres l'invasion du 3 octobre, cette situation evolua de facon dramatique et I'hostilite italienne devait desormais etre prise en ligne de compte lors des divers calculs strategiques. Les relations entre l'Angleterre et l'Italie se deterioraient a cause des desseins de Mussolini: l'invasion de l'Est de l'Afrique. Ceci obligea k gouvernement anglais, et plus specifiquement, le Bureau des Affaires Etrangeres a revoir la position strategique du pays.

Parallelement a cette re-estimation, ils se virent obliger de reconsider les effets de la politiqu americaine sur leur strategie mondiale et plus particulierement sur le difficile probleme de la sicu et de la paix europeennes. L'attitude et les actes du gouvernement de Washington eurent une influence profonde sur le cours de la politique etrangere anglaise pendant la crise d'Abyssinie. Les Britanniques etaient plus que concernes par le comportement americain: les Etals-Unis allaient-ils appliquer les sanctions sur k pitrole pr6ndes par la Sociiti des Alations a 1encontre de l'italie? Apres l'introduction, en 1935, par les Etals-Unis, d'une politique de neutralite, le Bureau des Affa Etrangees commenca a avoir de serieux doutes quant a l'acces possible de l'Angleterre aux ressources economiques de ce pays en cas de conflit. Cette consideration prit plus d'importance encore a l'automne 1935, lorsque la crise dans les relations anglo-italiennes atteint son paroxysme pour la periode de l'entre-deux guerres. L'incertitude de l'appui materiel et financier ambricain incita les Anglais a trouver une solution diplomatique a la crise d'Abyssinie; ceci joua un role significatif d les evenements qui menerent a l'Accord Hoare-Laval en decembre 1935.

A fundamental problem plagues studies of British foreign policy during the Abyssinian crisis of 1935-36, especially treatments of the Hoare-Laval plan.

While the European dimensions of the crisis receive much attention, few historians consider the impact of American policy on British diplomatic initiatives.(1) Most historians acknowledge that the British were concerned that increased American oil shipments to Italy would prevent the effective operation of an embargo against the Italians and this, in turn, encouraged British statesmen to avoid enacting this sanction.(2) But most scholars fail to understand the deeper implications of the Abyssinian crisis on Anglo-American relations. Indeed, an illumination of British perceptions of the attitudes and actions of the United States in autumn 1935 provides a better appreciation of the dilemmas and the restraints that the British government faced. The crisis inaugurated a major reassessment of the effects of American policy on Britain's global strategy, particularly on the difficult issue of European peace and security. As relations between Italy and Abyssinia headed towards a rupture, the foreign office became increasingly concerned about the attitudes of the government in Washington. American isolationism and the introduction of neutrality legislation in 1935 created the perception among influential members of the diplomatic service and foreign office that the economic resources of the United States might not be available to Britain in the event of a future crisis, as they had been during the Great War. The attitude of British advisers within the foreign office towards the United States fluctuated between two disparate poles. On the one hand, there was a "deep cynicism" about the likelihood of American co-operation with British diplomacy. Conversely, however, many diplomatists took as a sine qua non the accessibility of American markets, the vital source for Britain and the Empire in any future hostilities. …

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