In one of the concluding remarks of his study on Nazi foreign policy, Klaus Hildebrand emphasises the need to set the evolution of Hitler's foreign policy 'in the historical context of international politics in the 1930s and 1940s'. In this way, he continues, it will become easier 'to establish how far Hitler was able to influence the course of world affairs during the twelve years of his rule, and how far international circumstances enabled him to carry out his plans or forced him to limit or modify them'. 1 This raises the question of the relation between ideological goals and political actions in the realm of fascist foreign policy. The questions he asks about Nazi Germany are relevant to the nature of foreign policy under fascism in both Germany and Italy. If there is a consensus among researchers about the traditional 'revisionism' of fascist foreign policies in the first stages of the two regimes' domestic consolidation, the radicalisation of fascist expansionism in the second half of the 1930s remains an issue of heated historical debate. Hildebrand's conclusion seems to suggest that, notwithstanding the validity of the primacy of domestic politics thesis, the analysis of the Italian and German fascist foreign policies in the 1930s requires a wider European or even international perspective. This would enable us to extend beyond the domestic origins and functions of foreign policy decisions, and beyond the debate about their ideological consistency, in order to relate foreign policy ambitions with the opportunities and limitations arising from the international situation.
The first systematic attempt was made in the 1960s by A.J.P. Taylor, who produced a study of international relations in the 1930s and located the main causes of the Second World War in the escalating tension between the main European powers. Although Taylor's work was supposed to be a general account of the origins of the war from an international perspective, it focused heavily on Nazi Germany and Hitler, making only limited-and often dismissive-references to the responsibility of Italian Fascism. 2 In a similar vein, G. Salvemini played down the responsibility of the Italian Fascist regime for the outbreak and escalation of the war. In his famous arithmetic of blame, he attributed five-tenths of the guilt to Hitler, three-tenths to Stalin and only one-tenth to Mussolini's alleged reckless and irresponsible opportunism. 3 In 1980,