More than fifty years after the end of the Second World War, interwar fascism still remains an extremely slippery terrain for research. Notwithstanding the numerous works on, and interpretations of, various aspects of the fascist phenomenon, fascism remains a 'conundrum' for historians and political scientists alike. 1 Lack of conceptual clarity, competing methodological approaches and failure to generate a solid theoretical framework for research have contributed to a conspicuous absence of a lasting consensus about what 'fascism' really represents. Undoubtedly, recent developments in research have produced a more sophisticated methodology and a reasonable distance from the rigidity of many pioneer interpretations. The postwar 'moral' obligation to castigate fascism as an aberration-of national histories, of the whole European civilisation, of capitalism and industrialisation, of modernity, of the human psyche2 -has subsided, thus allowing for an acknowledgement of fascism's complexity, ambiguity and seductiveness. The plurality of approaches, however, neither produced unequivocal answers to the most fundamental questions about the nature of fascism, nor fostered any tendencies for consensus building in key areas of research. We are still left with a plethora of mystifying questions that resist clear-cut responses: about the nature of fascism, about the utility of a generic definition or a comparative approach to it, about its geographical and historical boundaries, about its ideological significance, about its place in national and European history, about its relevance to our past and future.
For a comparative study of the expansionist policies of the Italian and German 'fascist' regimes, the challenge of conceptual and methodological clarity embraces all the above complex issues, but is also magnified by a series of other questions intrinsic to a general theory of foreign relations. It is not coincidental that research on the two regimes' expansionist policies has generated heated controversies and passionate exchanges. Emphasis on the dissimilar characteristics, structures and conditions of the two regimes appears to have rendered comparison and synthesis obsolete, if not methodologically questionable. Even for many of those interpretations that still subscribe to a generic notion of 'fascism', expansionism is often regarded as that vital differentia specifica which draws the final frontier of comparability. 3 The extreme racialist Weltanschauung of