The Munich Pact of 1938 has often been credited as the prelude to the Second World War. Endless months of diplomatic and compromising endeavors between the Great Powers of Europe resulted in a treaty that stripped Czechoslovakia of her sovereignty and bowed to Hitler’s demands. Although Britain was only one of four countries involved in the drafting of the Munich agreements, the role she played in cementing the deal was dominant. In order to understand Britain’s motivation behind signing the treaty, many factors need to be addressed. In order to undertake this task, using the Levels of Analysis method seems fit. The following paper will examine why Britain decided to sign the Munich Pact using the Level of Analysis theory.
Before addressing Britain’s incentives behind signing the Munich pact, a brief background to the situation needs to be discussed. The creation of the Munich Pact stemmed from Adolf Hitler’s policy of expanding the German Reich into Eastern Europe. Through this, Germany could derive food supplies, raw materials and man-power, to furnish further military expansion in Europe. This included the expansion into the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia.
1 Otherwise known as the Sudetenland, this region of Czechoslovakia was home to three and a half million people of German descent. Hitler justified Germany’s claims to this area through asserting that these Germans were incorporated into Czechoslovakia against their will. They were living as a minority in a country torn by violence and plagued with fighting. He claimed he had an obligation to these Germans and therefore needed to liberate them from their oppressors. 2 In order for this to occur, the annexation of the Sudetenland to Germany was of utmost importance.
Obviously, to annex part of Czechoslovakia to Germany posed a large problem for the Czech government. Their autonomy was threatened by a much larger and powerful state. In fear of a German invasion, Czechoslovakia called upon the help of the French. In December 1925, Czechoslovakia and France signed a treaty pledging to come to the immediate support of the other in the event of an unprovoked aggression on the part of Germany. Confident in the fact that French forces were not adequate to fend of a German attack, France requested British assistance in the event that France would go to war against Germany.3
A strong ally of France and fearful of the thought of war, Britain was hesitant to deny France’s request. Therefore, she undertook all measures necessary to prevent a German attack and avoid war.4 This marks Britain’s connection to the Sudenten crisis and its consequent tie to the Munich Pact. On September 30th, 1938 Germany, Italy, France and Britain signed the Munich Pact. Under the provisions of the treaty, the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia was ceded to Germany, occupation of by which German troops would begin on October 1st of that year and progressively continue until October 7th5. With this background in mind, it is now possible to examine why Britain decided to sign the Munich agreement.
At the most micro level, the Level of Analysis theory states that the behavior and actions of leading statesmen must be examined in order to understand why specific foreign policy decisions are made. This level of analysis focuses upon the ideologies, motivations, ideals, perceptions and values of those who are empowered to make decisions for the state.6 According to this level analysis, the personalities of leaders have a substantial impact on foreign policy decisions. This claim seems fit when assessing the British Prime Minister’s personality and the role it played in Britain signing the Munich Agreement.
Sir Neville Chamberlain had a strong fear of war; far greater than most political
leaders of his time. On a nation-wide radio broadcast, he once said:
I am myself a man of peace to the depths
of my soul. Armed conflict between nations
is a nightmare to me…As long as war has not
begun, there is always hope that it may be
prevented, and you know that I am going
to work for peace till the last moment.7
With this attitude in mind, Chamberlain was determined to avoid a war with Germany. He was adamant that Britain not be dragged into a conflict if it could be prevented.
Chamberlain believed that diplomacy could solve almost any problem and thus entered into numerous negotiations with Hitler that would eventually spawn the Munich Agreement. He felt that much could be accomplished by personal diplomacy and that discussion could change the course of events in Britain.8
His strong belief in diplomacy and thus the avoidance of war has largely been accredited to his background in the field of commerce. Being brought up as a businessperson led to a parochial view of politics. He simply could not believe that Hitler was fundamentally different from himself, and if he wanted peace, so must the Fuhrer. If there were any difficulties surrounding the terms of the agreement, they could be settled by a personal interview between the heads of the negotiating firms.9
Chamberlain’s fear of war and strong belief in diplomacy led the Prime Minister to undergo a serious of diplomatic meetings with Hitler, to which the end result was Munich. As a result of the Munich Pact, Germany would peacefully annex the Sudetenland and war could be avoided for all parties. No price was too high for Chamberlain when it came to avoiding war. He had said, “War is a fearful thing and we must be very clear, before we embark upon it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake.” 10 Munich, for the time being, had prevented the war Chamberlain so greatly feared. His personal beliefs were so strong that they had ability to influence a momentous foreign policy decision.
As the above evidence indicates, the personal beliefs of a state leader can play a large role in shaping foreign policy decisions. However, in order to better understand the rationale behind these decisions, it is imperative to look beyond the leader’s personality. This in turn leads to the next level of analysis that further explains Britain’s commitment to Munich.
This second level analysis focuses on the role decision makers (excluding the main political leader) play in shaping foreign policy. It stresses the fact that decision makers act in a particular way because of their role in the political system. They are to protect the interests of the institution they represent and their decisions will reflect this goal.11 When analyzing Britain’s involvement in the Munich Pact, it is essential to discuss the role played by an influential decision maker, Lord Viscount Halifax.
Halifax, as Britain’s Foreign Secretary at the time, was of utmost importance to the British Government in their negotiations with Germany. He was at the forefront of diplomatic talks between the two nations and would often travel in person to meet with the Fuhrer and other top ranking Nazis officials.12 Halifax acted as one of the main voices that spoke on behalf of the British Government. Many of the demands imparted to and from Halifax would re-surface in the Munich Pact. He was also important for he made it painfully clear to the Germans what the British were willing to accept and reject in terms of the future of the Sudetenland.
For example, during one of his visits to Germany in November 1937, he made explicit to Hitler Britain’s willingness to accept to German expansion to absorb ethnic German territories in Central as part of a settlement for permanent peace. He added that this was only acceptable so long as this was all Germany wanted territorially in Europe.13 On a subsequent visit, he once again stated, that any changes to be made were to be achieved by peaceful means and in a manner that would not upset the peace in Europe.14
Halifax’s actions can be explained by the political role he occupied. As the Foreign Secretary of State, Halifax had a responsibility to represent the foreign policy of his country. The British adopted an ‘appeasement policy’ in response to the Sudetenland problem. Through this policy, the British would attempt to satisfy the demands made by Germany in an effort to avoid war.15 As the top representative of Britain’s Foreign Office, Halifax would need to convey and support this policy. As the aforementioned evidence has indicated, Lord Halifax played a large part when it came to Britain’s commitment of the Munich Pact.
Britain’s adherence to the Munich Pact can be explained not just by examining the personality of Chamberlain and the role played by Halifax, but also by assessing Britain’s domestic situation at the time. This leads to a third level of analysis that examines the countries internal characteristics. It attempts to explain foreign policy decisions by referencing domestic conditions.16 When using this level analysis to determine why Britain signed the Munich Agreement, one notable societal characteristic stands out, the opinion of the British public.
As the time leading up to the Munich meeting passed, it became increasingly aware to Britain that Hitler was determined to use force if the Sudetenland was not annexed to Germany through peaceful means. This would consequently drag Britain into a war that had the potential to be avoided. World War One was still fresh in the minds of many and the British Public retained a deep-seated horror of war.17 Due to this, the British Government’s policy of appeasement that eventually manifested itself in the Munich Pact was widely accepted. The only alternative to appeasement was war, and no one wanted that.18
The support the British public held for their governments handling of the
Sudetenland crisis is largely evident in the media reports from the time. Three popular English newspapers, The Time, the Daily Express and the Observer firmly backed the Government’s appeasement policy. Godfrey Winn, a popular journalist for the time, wrote before Chamberlain’s departure for Munich ‘Praise be to God and to Mr. Chamberlain. I find no sacrilege, no bathos, in coupling those to names.19 On August 27th, 1938, an editorial appeared in the New Statesman stating to the effect that ‘the strategical value of the Bohemian frontier should not be made the occasion of a world war.’20
The public’s support for the Munich Pact is also evident when examining the situation that arose upon Chamberlain’s return from Germany. When Chamberlain arrived back to his 10 Downing Street residence, the surrounding area was crowded with joyous supporters. The street was packed with crowds cheering, ‘Good old Neville!’ When Chamberlain stepped upon his balcony over looking the streets, the cheering re-doubled and broke into the song, ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow…”21
The public’s approval of the government’s appeasement policy was largely unanimous. It supplied the Government with further support and reinforcement when deciding to sign the agreement. The British public cannot escape their share of responsibility in Britain’s involvement with the Munich Pact, for they provided the government with a large stamp of approval.22
At its most macro level, the level of analysis theory focuses on the international system of states. It claims that the foreign policy of states is formulated as a reaction to its external environment and the state of balance or imbalance among the units in the system. This type of analysis does not refer to personalities, individuals or ideologies within states.23 When using this level analysis to explain why Britain signed the Munich Pact, the relationship between itself and Germany needs to be addressed.
The balance of power between Britain and Germany served as a determining factor in Britain’s decision to sign Munich. As stated earlier, if a peaceful solution to the Sudetenland crisis could not be found, Britain would be dragged into war. This brought about a cause for concern, not only because war was undesirable, but also because Britain was not adequately prepared to face the Germans in a military battle.24 The balance of power lay in the German’s hands, and Britain could not run the risk of defeat, and consequently cede more power to Germany.
The inadequacy of Britain’s military stemmed from an international obligation to the League of Nations (since 1920) to reduce the countries armaments. In an honest endeavor to achieve universal disarmament, successive British Governments had reduced the country’s armaments to the point at which many believed jeopardized the countries national defense.25 Although Germany had also signed this agreement, they withdrew from the League of Nations and consequently were free of this constraint. Hitler also ignored many clauses of the Versailles treaty limiting German rearmament, and began to re-build the German army.26 Due to Britain’s inadequate army, and the re-emergence of a strong German Army, Britain was eager to sign an agreement that would free her from fighting a war in which the sides would be evenly unmatched.
The superiority of the German military over the British is evident in the conclusions reached by military experts at the time. On March 28, 1938, the British Army’s Chief of Staff reported that Britain was not ready for war at the time, and would not be until 1940. No general in the British army believed that Britain could, or should fight a major continental war. One of the largest discrepancies between the two militaries was the air force. At the time of Munich, it was not clear when the Royal Air Force would be ready to fight, while the Germans had developed an ‘illegal’ air force.27 Another discrepancy lay in the funding given to both militaries.
The British government had only given meager sums to the military up until Chamberlain’s time. However, even though Chamberlain increased funding upon taking office, production of military equipment was slow.28 Conversely, nearly ninety percent of investment into the German economy went into rearmament.29 Obviously, Britain was in no position at the time to challenge German might. In order to keep the balance of power in the system from eroding further, Britain would have to seek means to avoid a war in which they could not easily win. As a result of this, Britain signed the Munich Pact and escaped a war with Germany time being.
As this essay have proven, in order to effectively determine why foreign policy decisions are made, various elements need to be examined. For this reason, the levels of analysis theory proves useful for it does not choose between factors, but rather it look at numerous ones. This is useful for it provides a more detailed and accurate account of the situation.
Because Britain signing the Munich Pact was such a significant decision, the level of analysis theory was used to determine the reasons why. These reasons stemmed, from the strong beliefs of a political leader, the role occupied by a lead decision maker and the national and international situations of the time. Overall, there were many motives behind Britain’s involvement with the Munich Pact, and they all need to be addressed to gain the full picture.