Although the Spanish Civil War was clearly internal in its origin, the international situation played a decisive role in the duration, progress and final result of the conflict. The rearmament policies followed by the principal countries of Europe since the beginning of that decade created a climate of uncertainty and crisis that undermined international security. The Soviet Union began a large-scale programme of military and industrial modernisation that was to position it as the leading military power over the next few decades. At the same time, the Nazis, under Hitler, committed themselves to overturning the Versailles agreements and restoring Germany's dominance. Mussolini's Italy followed the same path, and its economy was increasingly devoted to preparing for war. France and the United Kingdom began rearming in 1934, and this process escalated after 1936. The world arms trade doubled between 1932 and 1937. According to Richard Overy, 'the popular antiwar sentiment of the 1920s gradually gave way to the reluctant recognition that major war was once again a serious possibility'.1
Under these circumstances, none of these countries showed any interest in stopping the Spanish Civil War. International support for both sides was vital for fighting and continuing the war during the early months. Italian and German aid enabled the military rebels to move the Africa army to the peninsula at the end of July 1936, and Soviet aid made a decisive contribution to the republican defence of Madrid in November 1936. The USSR's military support for the Republic served as a pretext for the Axis powers to increase their military and financial support to Franco's side. These manifestations of support were maintained almost unchanged until the end of the
1 Richard Overy, 'Warfare in Europe since 1918', in T. C. W. Blanning (ed.), The Oxford History of Modern Europe, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 220.
war, while the rest of Europe, with the United Kingdom at the head, appeared to observe the Non-intervention Agreement.
The basic ingredients of this international dimension are well known, from the pioneering works of Ángel Viñas in the 1970s, to the most recent studies by Enrique Moradiellos. Ever since Hitler's rise to power at the beginning of 1933, the British and French governments had embarked on an 'appeasement policy', which consisted of avoiding a new war in exchange for accepting the revisionist demands of the Fascist dictatorships, as long as they posed no risk for French or British interests. According to Moradiellos, the response of these two countries 'to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and its international implications was at all times subject to the basic objectives of this general appeasement policy'. On the other hand, said Viñas, 'the Third Reich's support was a key element in transforming the 1936 military coup into a civil war, and its development as such'.2
The Spanish conflict became one more link in a chain of crises, spreading from Manchuria to Abyssinia via Czechoslovakia, which led to the outbreak of the Second World War. The Spanish Civil War was, in origin, a domestic conflict between Spaniards, but in its progress it evolved into an episode of a European civil war that ended in 1945. In such a heated atmosphere, the civil war could never be a struggle between Spaniards or between revolution and counter-revolution. For many Europeans and North Americans, Spain became the battlefield of an inevitable conflict in which at least three contenders were involved: Fascism, Communism - or revolution - and democracy.
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