Assess the reasons why there were no major international conflicts in the 1920s.
Published: March 19, 2017
The 1920’s was not without conflict but there were no major international conflicts that erupted into war. The reason for this was overwhelmingly the of legacy of the war and the desire of most of the victorious nations never to repeat the horrors of the Great War coupled with a genuine conviction that there was a better way to resolve international conflict rather than resorting to war. The defeated nations, however, had additional reasons for why they were not engaged in international conflict with the most significant being the economic impact of the war and the military consequences of the peace settlements.
The legacy of the Great War
Undoubtedly the psychological and emotional impact of the war on all countries, not to mention the physical and economic consequences, meant that the prospect of another war was wholly unacceptable and political leaders on all sides would have found very little support for another conflict.
The victorious allies had also ensured that the defeated powers, notably Germany, was so weakened by the terms of the treaties signed that they simply were unable to resist by force any conflict with another nation or nations e.g. as seen in the Ruhr in 1923 after the French and Belgian invasion. The Disarmament of Germany, including the military restrictions on the size of the armed forces, meant it was impossible to wage war even if Germany wanted to. This and the economic circumstances coupled with the social and political internal problems Germany’s fledgling democracy was facing, meant they had far more pressing priorities than avenging defeat in the Great war. However it is also worth pointing out that it was not just the lack of resources to wage war that prevented conflict but much more importantly the lack of conviction on all sides ever to wage war again. There was too much to lose and little to gain from fighting another war and therefore international conflicts needed peaceful resolutions.
The objectives and policies of the major powers.
Britain and France were keen to build on the advantages they had secured after winning the war. Another major conflict would set back and jeopardise their economic and imperial ambitions. They no longer had the guaranteed support of the USA who had withdrawn into an isolationist position on foreign matters once again i.e. not joining the League of Nations, which in turn meant GB and France did not have the resources to wage war. Germany also, under Stresemann and the ‘fulfilment policy’, sort diplomatic solutions. Coupled with this, was the hopes and expectations for the role of the new League of Nations.
The ‘Locarno honeymoon’ and Kellogg-Briand Pact. The overwhelming desire for the Great War to be the ‘war to end all wars’ is most amply demonstrated by the Locarno treaty 1925 and Kellogg Briand Pact 1928 because they illustrate the ambition to resolve conflict by diplomatic means. Before October 1929, it was patently clear that the vast majority of countries and governments in Europe were committed to peace.
A note of caution must, however, be made at this point. The 1920’s was, comparatively, a much more stable decade to the ones immediately before and after. This does not mean there was not the potential for major conflict. The League of Nations had not had to deal with a major conflict between two major powers but it did arbitrate between a major and a minor power on occasions, notably Italy with Greece and France with Germany. Both these incidents exposed how vulnerable the League of Nations was. Should a country or countries, particularly major powers not cooperate with the league then the prospect of a major conflict is inevitable. This became clear in the 1930’s during the Manchuria and Abyssinia crises.
The 1920’s lacked major international conflicts because there simply was no desire to resolve disputes in the pre 1914 way. Few countries had the resources to wage war but fewer still had the desire to wage war. The legacy of the Great War was so deeply rooted that it was incomprehensible to most, that the pursuit of war was an appropriate vehicle to resolve international conflict especially as so much hope and expectation had been placed on the shoulders of the League of Nations.
Model Questions Month: unclassified