Hitler began his foreign policy with an almost unbroken series of brilliant successes, which was one of the main reasons for his popularity in Germany. By the end of 1938 almost every one of the first set of aims had been achieved, without war and with the approval of Britain. Only the Germans in Poland remained to be brought within the Reich. Unfortunately it was when he failed to achieve this by peaceful means that Hitler took the fateful decision to invade Poland.
- Given that Germany was still militarily weak in 1933, Hitler had to move cautiously at first. He withdrew Germany from the World Disarmament Conference and from the League of Nations, on the grounds that France would not agree to Germany having equality of armaments. At the same time he insisted that Germany was will¬ ing to disarm if other states would do the same, and that he wanted only peace. This was one of his favourite techniques: to act boldly while at the same time soothing his opponents with the sort of conciliatory speeches he knew they wanted to hear.
- Next Hitler signed a ten-year non-aggression pact with the Poles (January 1934), who were showing alarm in case the Germans tried to take back the Polish Corridor. This was something of a triumph for Hitler: Britain took it as further evidence of his peaceful intentions; it ruined France’s Little Entente, which depended very much on Poland; and it guaranteed Polish neutrality whenever Germany decided to move against Austria and Czechoslovakia. On the other hand, it improved relations between France and Russia, who were both worried by the apparent threat from Nazi Germany.
- In July 1934 Hitler suffered a setback to his ambitions of an Anschluss (union) between Germany and Austria. The Austrian Nazis, encouraged by Hitler, staged a revolt and murdered the Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, who had been supported by Mussolini. However, when Mussolini moved Italian troops to the Austrian frontier and warned the Germans off, the revolt collapsed. Hitler, taken aback, had to accept that Germany was not yet strong enough to force the issue, and he denied responsibility for the actions of the Austrian Nazis.
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