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"In September 1934, Mussolini had decided to take Ethiopia, so the Welwel incident provided an excellent basis for further action, although it remains uncertain whether the Italians then wanted war. Ethiopia immediately called for arbitration according to the Treaty of 1928, which Rome refused, arguing irrationally that Ethiopia's agression rendered Article 4 moot. When Italy insisted on a number of demeaning conditions to resolve the matter, Haile Sellassie looked to the League of Nations, complaining that Italian forces had no right being within Ethiopia's frontiers."
Almost from the crisis's onset, there was little chance of a peaceful settlement because in December Mussolini
decided on war as the best way to destroy Ethiopia's potential threat. In his
opinion, Italy would have to act before mid- 1937, when Germany would have
regained sufficient strength to take the initiative in Europe. First, however,
Italy had to seek France's neutrality in any adventure in the Horn of Africa.
During the past few years, Paris had been signaling its willingness to negotiate about Ethiopia. There had been some preliminary discussions and agreement in principle, which permitted Premier Pierre Laval and Mussolini to conclude a formal pact on 7 January 1935 that conceded France's disinterest in Ethiopia -- the free hand long sought by the Italians -- for abandonment of Rome's rights over its subjects in Tunisia and an ephemeral military alliance in case Hitler moved against Austria. As of January 1935, none of the other powers, whether alone or united, could have stopped Italy from its war in Ethiopia. Most observers, however, did not foresee that eventuality, since they reasoned that Ethiopia would make concessions rather than fight a major European power. They were not only ignorant of Ethiopia's historic refusal to abandon its independence but they also were mostly racists who considered blacks incompetent and irresponsible. They did not reckon on the steel spine of Haile Sellassie and his compatriots' deeply entrenched anti-Italian attitudes.
Rome, meanwhile, was calling up troops and otherwise preparing for war, while simultaneously proclaiming its peaceful intentions. In Addis Abeba, the emperor resisted the mounting evidence: he had neither sufficient money, weapons, nor enough trained troops to contain a modern force. True, he could call up a traditional Ethiopian levy of five hundred thousand men, but such a mobilization was, the emperor knew, an act of defeat. He could no longer rely on France, which in March 1935 had barred transshipment of war materiel from Djibouti, contrary to all relevant treaties. His only option was to continue to trust the league's promise of collective security.
In Geneva, the Ethiopians charged that Italy was using a small incident as a pretext for war. Rome stonewalled all accusations and, as a matter of policy, lied, dissimulated, and repeatedly sought to postpone all debate. Slowly, the Ethiopian government came to realize that the Italians would use the league's time-consuming procedures as a convenient blind to prepare for war. To say that the league was working against Ethiopia's interests would be generous. The council's major powers tried to force humiliating concessions on Ethiopia so that an appeased Italy might then serve the needs of continental politics. Neither France nor Britain understood that to accommodate Mussolini beyond a certain point would destroy the league's credibility, the plausibility of collective security, and the European balance of power.
The ruin became obvious at a meeting in Stresa in April 1935. The conference
had two objectives: to return Germany to legitimacy and to demonstrate the
solidarity of Britain, Italy, and France in European matters. Stresa was
blithely unconcerned with the world's nooks and crannies, or even with the
developing crisis in the Horn of Africa, to Mussolini's considerable surprise.
The Italian twice asked whether the final statement about collective security
and the inviolability of treaties applied solely to Europe. The silence signaled
that Italy could go to war with its European rear covered, permitting Rome to
become more bellicose in May, when the major powers banned arms sales to the
belligerents, a measure that hurt only Ethiopia.
Mussolini Decides To Invade | Sellassie Remains Calm | The Nightmarish Ending
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