More than half a century after its conclusion, the Second World War continues to attract considerable attention from historians and the wider public alike. Politicians and journalists worldwide are prone to make references to aspects of this vast topic—seemingly more than ever. Some of these references—for instance those related to Appeasement—are concerned not so much with the war itself but with integral elements of the subject of this book, Nazi foreign policy and the road to European and global war.
In terms of research and publication output, however, Nazi foreign policy has become a relatively marginalised topic. Although publications on aspects of the topic still appear, 1 it rarely preoccupies the ‘pacemakers’ of debates on the period. To give but one example, though it is a significant one, Michael Burleigh’s much-lauded, massive history of the Third Reich 2 provides relatively little information on the international history of Nazi Germany. That said, Ian Kershaw, in his even more substantial and masterly (two-volume) biography of Hitler, 3 devotes a surprisingly large proportion of space to the foreign policy and international relations of the Nazi regime. Surprising because Kershaw’s background as a scholar is clearly not in the field of international history; he is instead one of the foremost social historians of the Third Reich. Yet, to write a biography of Hitler without discussing at length ‘the greatest gamble in the nation’s [Germany’s] history—to acquire complete dominance of the European continent’ 4 is an Unding, an absurdity, a fact readily acknowledged in Kershaw’s biography.
As I have shown in this book, during most of the Third Reich Hitler was primarily preoccupied with matters of a foreign political and military nature—with terrible consequences. A biographer of the Nazi dictator must therefore preoccupy himself with these preoccupations. In addition, as Kershaw has shown in an excellent historiographical essay on the topic, 5 neglecting Nazi foreign policy also entails neglecting both the