The appeasement policy is a foreign policy that accepts concessions to the bellicose aggressor state to avoid war or a greater war.
After World War II ended, the slogan ‘Never again’ claimed a big war must not occur again in Europe. But it’s happening again.
The British and French governments’ appeasement policy against an aggressive Nazi Germany in the 1930s failed. In the same way, nowadays, efforts to appease the Putin regime in Russia have failed.
In the latter half of the 1930s, maintaining the Versailles-Washington system—which, despite its flaws, offered a degree of stability and upheld the rule of law—constituted peace. The League of Nations would serve as an instrument for collective action against the aggressor state under this system’s principle of preventing global crises.
Due to the rivalry among member states in the effort to find solutions to the economic crisis, the collective response ultimately fell short. It was necessary to adopt various tactics, including force, to repel the aggressor collectively. People, though, were terrified just thinking of war. The general consciousness of the time did not come naturally with a concept of the integrity and indivisibility of the world. Such beliefs were mirrored in the “appeasement” strategy, which made nations passive and overly cautious.
In this situation, Adolf Hitler boldly demanded that the boundaries of Europe be redrawn. At the time, the British and the French opposed using force, reflected in their government’s appeasement policy.
Nazi Germany annexed Austria without a reaction from the great powers. In February 1938, Austrian Chancellor K. Schuschnigg signed an agreement with Germany that placed Austria under German control. On March 12, 1938, German Nazi troops, with the support of the Austrian Nazis, occupied Austria. The next day, the Austrian Nazi A. Seyss-Inquart proclaimed the reunification of Austria with the German Empire (the Anschluss of Austria). Neither the great Western powers nor the League of Nations reacted in any way.
In March 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea without receiving sufficiently harsh sanctions. Moscow successfully dodged the mild Western sanctions that were neither harsh enough nor difficult to evade.
The Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014 was not just a tragedy for Ukraine; it was a watershed moment for the entire post-WWII world order. Since capturing Crimea, Putin’s regime has launched an invasion of eastern Ukraine that has cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions. Russia has escalated the war in Syria and deployed private military forces (Wagner) in various countries, including Venezuela, Libya, Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic. The Russian regime was also accused of sanctioning a wave of political assassinations across Europe. The Kremlin disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, and election meddling have made world news headlines.
Despite the evident and mounting costs of failing to confront Putin in Crimea, some political leaders still deny it. They asserted the need to improve relations with Russia and advocated compromise over confrontation, all appeasement policy’s thesis.
In 1938, Hitler occupied the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia under the guise of defending German speakers. Under the pretext of protecting Russian speakers, Russia seized parts of the Donbas.
Czechoslovakia became the next target of aggression. Germany demanded to take away the Sudetenland region, home to 3 million Germans. On September 13, 1938, the Nazis in Sudetenland staged a mutiny. Having suppressed it, Germany began to threaten Czechoslovakia with reprisals. An international crisis arose. To resolve it, the British Prime Minister Chamberlain met twice with Hitler. They agreed that the conflict would be resolved in Munich. During the meeting, Hitler stated that the Sudetenland was Germany’s last territorial claim in Europe.
Britain and France, in turn, issued an ultimatum to the Czechoslovak government to immediately hand over to Germany the Czech territories inhabited by Germans. Behind Czechoslovakia’s back, the heads of government of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy signed the Munich Agreement on September 29-30, 1938. All the western and northwestern border areas of Czechoslovakia were ceded to Germany. The Munich Agreement obliged Czechoslovakia to satisfy the claims of Poland and Hungary.
History repeated itself. After the Crimea annexation, Russia started a proxy war against Ukraine in Donbas, denying its military presence in the region, which was documented with much evidence. Moscow supported the so-called self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. The Putin regime acted under the guise of support of Russian speakers.
In 2015, Minsk agreements were signed, mediated by France and German leaders. They helped to stop the war from a short-term perspective, but they did not contain a greater war in a medium-term outlook.
In the 1930s, Czechoslovakia was far from being Hitler’s last territorial claim. The Nazi regime waged war on Poland. The Putin regime launched a full-scale war on Ukraine.
Germany then demanded that Poland agree to the transfer of Danzig to it and the construction of a highway through the Polish corridor that would link Germany to Prussia. German troops entered the Memel region.
The signing of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact paved the way for Nazi Germany’s war against Poland. On August 23, 1939, after negotiations between German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop and Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov in Moscow, the two countries signed the Non-Aggression Pact. A separate part of the agreement was a secret protocol that went down in history as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It provided for delimiting the spheres of influence of both European countries. Germany recognized Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Bessarabia as the sphere of interest of the USSR. At the same time, Lithuania was included in its sphere of interest. It also provided for the division of Poland. Thus, the secret protocol concerned Ukrainian lands that were part of Poland and Romania.
The collapse of the policy of “appeasement” became evident.
Fears of an approaching war already consumed Europe. Even earlier, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain noted: “It is perfectly evident now that force is the only argument Germany understands.”
The appeasers were later accused of having lost their moral compass. Critics are quick to point to the servility of British diplomats, which Hitler secretly derided, and the contempt with which many appeasers spoke of Eastern Europe. The appeasers were influenced by experts who presented worst-case scenarios.
The agreements between the USSR and Germany freed the latter’s hands for aggression against Poland. On September 1, 1939, World War II began. German troops simultaneously attacked Polish territory from the north, west, and south (from the territory of Germany’s allied Slovakia).
Similarly, in Ukraine, the appeasement of the aggressor did not prevent a greater war. And in February 2022, Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine and a full-scale war.
Will it stop there? Could a greater war in all of Europe be prevented? For the moment, Yes, as Ukraine’s armed forces repel the Russian invaders thanks to the West’s support in weapons.
As history shows, an imperialistic regime’s thirst for new territories and war cannot be satisfied. The aggressor can only be defeated on the battlefield.