Mussolini's Foreign Policy, 1922 - 1939

Note: this is also useful for both Causes of WW2 (Paper 2 and 3) and the failures of the League of Nation (Paper 2 and 3).

Past Questions:

Paper 3
  • Compare and contrast the foreign policies of Hitler and Mussolini between 1933 and 1943. (Nov 2009)

  • Evaluate the impact on Italy of Mussolini's domestic and foreign policies between 1922 and 1939. (May 2009)

  • Mussolini wrote "war alone drives men to make their greatest efforts". In what ways, and with what success, did Mussolini seek to put this belief into practice? (May 2008)

  • "Foreign policy is the area which especially preoccupies is." To what extent do Mussolini's actions and policies between 1922 and 1939 reflect this statement? (Nov 2007)

  • Compare and contrast the foreign policies of Hitler and Mussolini up to the outbreak of the Second World War. (May 2006)


Mussolini's main foreign policy aims: were these consistent or did they develop and change over time?

1) Mussolini wanted to establish a modern Roman empire in the Mediterranean.
2) A successful foreign policy might distract Italians domestic problems
3) Mussolini was disappointed with the small territorial gains from WW1, and the humiliating Treaty of Versailles.
4) Fascist ideology preached national glory.

Methods and strategies

1920s=Tries to achieve foreign policy aims by diplomacy, more cautious compared to foreign policy

1923-Corfu incident
A number of Italian officials who were situated in Corfu were assassinated. As a result, Mussolini demands the Greek government to pay compensation and give an apology. Greece refuses and appeals to L of N. In the meantime, Mussolini invades the island. Under pressure from Britain and France, he withdraws but gets the compensation and the apology.

1924-The pact of Rome was signed between Italy and Yugoslavia, and Italy got the long-disputed town Fiume.

1925-Locarno treaty signed + 1928 Kellog-Briand pact signed. Mussolini signed these peace promoting treaties as he thought that in order to reverse treaty of Versailles, he had to improve his relations with Britain and France.

1930s=more aggressive foreign policy as Mussolini moves closer to Hitler:

1935-Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia)
Mussolini invaded the Abyssinia in 1935 as he used border conflicts in 1934 to provoke the war and used the previous year to build up his army. Then he invaded the next year.

1936-Rome-Berlin axis (Pact with Hitler)
1936-Involvement in Spanish civil war

1938-Munich conference

1939-Pact of steel (alliance between Germany and Italy) Italy and Germany had to support each other militarily in the event of a war.

1940 WW2- Heavy defeats in Africa

1943- Mussolini forced to resign

1945 Mussolini assassinated by freedom fighters

Key successes

1923-Corfu (Greece), boosted Mussolini’s image.

1924-Pact of Rome Town of Fiume
Albania 1926-27
1934-Succeeded in preventing Hitler from taking Austria

1936- Spanish civil war must be considered as a success even though the Italian military suffered big losses. SCV boosted Mussolini’s prestige, further fascism in Europe (rise of Franco) and contributed to the creation of the Rome-Berlin axis, which was an alliance between Germany and Italy.

Key failures

-Mussolini fails to reverse humiliation in WW1 and TOV

Even though Mussolini acquired more territory and achieve some of his foreign policy aims (establish Italy as dominant power in Mediterranean), the invasion of Abyssinia was a failure. It was a huge cost for Italy to invade the country, and Italy did not get any economic gains from the invasion. Only 2 percent of trade with through Abyssinia in 1939.

1938-Munich conference, Mussolini was largely ignored, and this highlighted how he was Hitler’s sidekick.

Overall judgement and effects of Mussolin's policies on Italy

Since Mussolini’s ultimate foreign policy aim was to increase his power, he was in the end a complete failure. WW2 brought fascism to an end, and even before 1939, Mussolini had only succeeded to increase his power superficially. He had expanded his empire in Africa by taking Abyssinia, which was a huge cost for the country, and made some other minor territorial gains in Europe. He had not been successful in overturning TOV, and he was constantly overshadowed by Hitler. Italy did not have the economic or military strength to compete with the great powers such as France, Germany and Britain. Therefore, Mussolini failed his foreign policy aims.