Analysis 2 Why And With What Success Did Britain And France Adopt Apolicy Of Nonintervention

This question in turn begs others: What is meant by Britain and France? By non-intervention? By success? As will be seen, 'Britain and France' cannot be defined here as one entity pursuing a singular goal. 'Success' can be evaluated with regard to Britain and France themselves; to other powers (persuading them, or not, to keep out); and to Spain itself. As for 'non-intervention', W. Foss and C. Gerahty, writing at the height of the Civil War, described it by defining its opposite: 'Any assistance of any kind given to either side in a war is intervention.' But in the context of the Spanish Civil War non-intervention could, paradoxically, be just as interventionist, and just as decisive.

In its official policy of non-intervention, the British government was intensely pragmatic. Baldwin, Prime Minister 1935-7, was seeking a structured co-existence between the states of Europe: war in Spain was an irritating tangent. Chamberlain, his successor, baulked at a confrontation with interventionist Italy: Mussolini must be prised from his Axis partner Hitler, not welded closer to him by a hostile Britain.

This pragmatism extended to Spain itself, where Britain's economic and strategic concerns should not be undermined by supporting the side that might lose the Civil War. The chiefs of staff stressed the urgent imperial commitments of Britain's armed forces in the Far East and elsewhere, and wondered if it was necessary to intervene against Franco. Drawing on the evidence of contemporary meetings and reports, the Spanish historian Enrique Moradiellos notes how the Caudillo presented to British officials the image of a conservative nationalist posing no threat to British investment, trade or strategic interests.13 Moreover, was it desirable to help the Republic? In these same interviews Franco stressed he had merely done his patriotic duty in rising up against anarchy and social revolution. Indeed, most politicians in Baldwin's National Government thought it best to steer well clear of a 'Scarlet Spain' that was likely to be pro-Russian and potentially infectious. As First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Samuel Hoare put it, if Bolshevism spread to Portugal Britain's imperial lifelines would be in grave danger. Pro-Franco groups in Britain such as the Anglo-German Fellowship reinforced this anti-communist message.

France was a crucial element in these calculations. Blum's Popular Front government must be discouraged from aiding Popular Front Spain: a Paris-Madrid Axis might be even worse than Rome-Berlin. And the scenario of an Anglo-French alliance with Soviet Russia in the Spanish cockpit was contemplated with horror. Such developments could only encourage international revolution and, furthermore, exacerbate German fears of encirclement. The goal remained European appeasement and stability, not confrontation and war.

In fact, France itself was deeply divided over Spain, both within the Popular Front government and among the populace. As distilled by Anthony Adamthwaite, an authority on France's external relations, 'Foreign policy, an integrating force before 1914, became a source of division.'14 Socialist Prime Minister Blum's instincts were to help the Spanish Republic, but not all in his Popular Front coalition shared his sympathies. Blum's second thoughts were confirmed by a ruthless attack on him from the right-wing press in Paris and pressure on him from Britain to be 'prudent'. At a Socialist rally in September 1936 Blum explained the agonizing dilemma he faced, but added that he had a duty to France as a whole. Turning to Spain itself, and to Europe, he declared, 'If we send [arms] other countries will help the rebels . . . Even for Spain it is better to have an international agreement which would benefit the Spanish government . . . Non-intervention has probably already avoided a European war.'15

In any case, France's depression was proving woefully stubborn, with industrial production falling by 24 per cent between 1929 and 1938. Militarily, France was distracted by rebellions in North Africa. Diplomatically, as with Britain, Italian support was being cultivated in order to break the Axis connection. France also sought an economic and colonial agreement with Germany to strengthen moderate opinion there. And if France intervened directly in Spain and confronted Italy and Germany them, she risked not only international war but a civil war in France itself, with the prospect of a reactionary right-wing government rising from the ashes.

Blum had recognized that if France sent arms to the Spanish Republic then other countries would help the (Nationalist) rebels. As Anthony Eden, Chamberlain's foreign secretary, could see only too clearly, other states, specifically Italy and Germany, were indeed aiding the rebels. Britain's faith had been placed in Franco to secure Britain's interests. But Franco had not been blessed with an easy victory and the British government feared that the Axis powers would so entrench themselves on the Nationalist side that they would dictate an anti-British policy. Thus, Eden tried to confront the dictators with a firmer non-intervention policy, for example a blockade of Axis ships bound for Spain. But Chamberlain, pursuing the diametrically opposed policy of conciliation, would not go that far. In disgust, Eden resigned in February 1938 over what he saw as Chamberlain's pusillanimous attitude to Hitler's and Mussolini's Spanish intervention.

So much for the British Foreign Secretary's own 'success' in trying to buttress the non-intervention policy. More broadly, how successful was non-intervention as pursued by Britain and France? In Britain, the policy could claim a wide basis of support. For at least a year, national government and Labour Party leaders maintained a bipartisan policy of non-intervention. In contrasting ways, two prominent Labour figures illustrate this position: Hugh Dalton argued not only that it took two sides to make a war - the Republic itself was not blameless - but that Britain's own rearmament programme would be blown off course by an 'arms to Spain' policy; while Ernest Bevin (later one of the founders of NATO as a deterrent to war) forcefully warned of world war should military non-intervention be thrown overboard.16 Labour pro-interventionists could not undermine this implacably noninterventionist line, which was shared by right-wing leaders of the Trades Union Council.

Even when the Labour Party and TUC officially abandoned nonintervention at their 1937 conferences in the face of the horrific evidence emerging from Spain, the government's non-interventionist policy, supported by The Times and other influential broadsheets, held fast. In Chamberlain's eyes, Franco commanded a cohesive, conservative movement. Surely he would seek British economic help and respect Britain's interests. Similarly in France, despite some goodwill to the Spanish Republic in the form of 'relaxed' non-intervention, undiluted non-intervention remained the French government's public stance. French Communist Party attempts to force it through strike action to embrace a 'guns and planes for Spain' policy failed. This does not mean that the Popular Front did nothing. But, as Michael Alpert has observed, to avoid provoking the French into all-out support for the Spanish Republic, both Germany and Italy joined the Non-Intervention Committee.17 Once they, barely concealing their cynicism, had taken their stance, so also did Soviet Russia 'adhere'; in formal terms at least, this was another criterion for non-intervention's 'success'.

With respect to more tangible policy achievements, attempts were made to strengthen non-intervention. A Non-Intervention Naval Patrol came into effect in April 1937. Following an international agreement, signed at Nyon in Switzerland, to act against 'unidentified pirate' (code for 'Italian') submarines, further patrols began in September of that year. These continued until August 1938, at which point they were declared 'successful'. At last the Non-Intervention Committee had been seen to take a stand. However, evasion of both these initiatives proved even more skilful. Despite the Naval Patrol, smuggling was rife: vessels flew Panamanian or other non-agreement flags, or they had warship 'minders'. Spanish ships were exempt anyway, even if delivering arms from Soviet Russia. And Mussolini outflanked the Nyon Agreement by transferring his submarines directly to Franco and his offensive against pro-Republic shipping to the air.

The Non-Intervention Agreement, and the committee designed to uphold it, lacked muscle. The agreement was not binding in international law; accusations of contravention were hermetically sealed inside the committee, which conveniently excluded Spain. But if Italy and Germany could continue to provision the Nationalist war effort, it is also evident that supplies for the Republic reached their destination. The International Brigades (examined in the next chapter) were organized from Paris and France further compromised its own non-intervention policy. It allowed private arms sales and permitted Republican planes to use French airspace. In addition, specially selected customs officials organized the smuggling of matériel into the Republican zone; the customs apparatus was short-circuited by false documents, disguised shipments, and 'third party' devices - for example, Romania sending wheat to Spain via France in return for French goods.18 Writing in 1938, the right-wing journalists W. Foss and C. Gerahty 'explained' French intervention as part of an international plot by Freemasons. Quoting from such ultra-nationalist French newspapers as L'Action Française, they sought to quantify war matériel sent to the Spanish Republic long after the signing of the NonIntervention Agreement in August 1936. Foss and Gerahty had an axe to grind and their sources were dubious, but the evidence for French involvement nevertheless stands up.

France's de facto involvement added pressure on Nazi Germany to aid Franco, so that the success of non-intervention was further undermined. How did non-government organizations in Britain take the initiative in helping the Republic and, to a lesser extent, the Nationalists? Tom Buchanan's extensive archival research has detailed the work of the many British aid programmes active during the Spanish Civil War.19 There were also notable aid initiatives in other countries, for example, the United States, as Esenwein and Shubert have described in Spain at War (1995). In Britain the Spanish Workers' Fund gave generously to the Republican cause. The National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, in which the dissident Tory 'Red Kitty' (Duchess of) Atholl played a prominent part, spent most of its funds caring for Spanish children in the Republican zone. The Spanish Medical Aid Committee worked in Republican hospitals; the Quakers' Friends Service Council provided ambulance units. The moral case for intervention over the Nationalists' siege of Bilbao seemed watertight. Here, state and independent initiatives collaborated together: with private vessels protected by Royal Navy destroyers such as Havoc and the battlecruiser Hood, attempts were made to break Franco's blockade of the northern coast. Meanwhile, the pro-Franco Bishops' Committee for the Relief of Spanish Distress was launched by leading Roman Catholics to help the Nationalist side, and fund-raising campaigns were begun by Catholic newspapers such as The Tablet. However, 'The image of Nationalist Spain was not one which combined easily with humanitarian aid . . . the Nationalists were [seen as] martial and aggressively self-reliant.'20

In conclusion, such initiatives might not have turned the tide of the Spanish Civil War in either direction, but were, it might be claimed, more impressive than the work of the Non-Intervention Committee. It is true that there was no civil war in France and that the war in Spain did not produce the feared immediate 'domino effect' in the rest of Europe. But if, for the British government at least, 'non-intervention' was a covert way first of helping Franco to win in the expectation that he would lead an enlightened dictatorship and be pro-British and second of maintaining a line to Italy in order to detach the Duce from the Axis, it failed on both counts. And, despite the hope that non-intervention would contain the conflict, in some senses the Spanish Civil War did indeed lead in the longer term to a European war. The Axis was born and grew strong, while perceptions of the war that was raging in Spain reinforced British Conservative hostility to Soviet Russia and precluded rapprochement with it. Into this vacuum stepped Hitler. The ensuing Nazi-Soviet Pact sealed Poland's fate, and British and French intervention against the Third Reich on 3 September 1939.

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