The Italo-Ethiopian Dispute and Italian Foreign Policy
By Benito Mussolini
The moment has not yet come to trace the general outline of the Fascist Government's activities in the field of foreign policy, as I did in the Senate in June 1928.
Numerous problems are still in suspense; certain important diplomatic conversations are still under way; the positions of the various Powers are being adapted or changed according to whether their interests coincide more or less, or not at all, with certain definite questions which come up for discussion.
Political realism — that is to say, the careful consideration of international forces, their relations, and their inevitable changes — must be the foundation of our action, just as in all the other States worthy of the name.
Having said this, I will merely speak of the events nearest to us in point of time.
Together with the foreign affairs budget, the Franco-Italian agreements of last January are submitted for your approval.
These agreements represent a compromise solution of certain questions connected with Article 13 of the London Agreement, an article drafted in an excessively conditional form as everyone can see when re-reading it.
With these agreements, which can as a whole be considered satisfactory, a page of the post-war relations between Italy and France has been closed, and the premises of an effective collaboration between the two countries have been created, as expressly indicated in the general declaration.
It has been asked why these agreements were concluded only seventeen years after the end of the war.
The answer is that this is due to the complexity of the interests at stake, to the new situations which had arisen in Europe, and also to the pitiful illusions, no less pitifully entertained by some French circles, in regard to the stability of the Fascist Regime.
The duty of objectivity compels me to add that such illusions seem definitely to have disappeared. I therefore wish to point out that the atmosphere between the two peoples has been greatly improving for some time, and we hope that no new event will once more disturb it. Following the Franco-Italian agreement in January, the Governments of France and England met in London in February and fixed certain fundamental points with a view to redressing the political balance of Europe.
The Franco-British conference in London must be considered as a projection of the Franco-Italian conference at Rome. Optimists were inclined to envision a normal development of the European situation, when on March 16th this normal development was suddenly interrupted by the unilateral denunciation by Germany of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles concerning disarmament.
The world was presented with an accomplished fact, which was postulated by three diplomatic protests. This happened while exploratory work was being carried on. Everyone was immediately convinced that this accomplished fact was irrevocable.
It is of some interest, at any rate retrospectively, to make known that in January 1934, Germany was ready to accept an infinitely more limited realization of her right to parity, consisting of an army of 300,000 men armed, at least for a certain number of years, with defensive and controlled armaments along the lines of the Italian Memorandum.
But that which has not happened is not material for history, and It is useless to recriminate and equally useless to still speak of disarmament. It is very difficult for us to believe in the possibility of a limitation of armaments or in the prohibition of certain methods of warfare. However, should anything concrete be accomplished, it is not from our side that difficulties will be raised.
The waters were still very agitated, even as were the minds of the peoples, when the Stresa conference was convoked in April.
Without exaggerating its importance, this conference was fairly conclusive, inasmuch as it determined, in the face of certain urgent problems, the solidarity of the three Western Powers.
It is a positive fact that with such effective, constant, and omnipresent solidarity, far-reaching political action is possible tending to eliminate the principal obstacles to the peaceful life of the European peoples, which in turn, is becoming ever more necessary for the existence and future of our continent. At Stresa it was decided to convoke another conference to face the problems of the Danubian basin. This conference cannot be held at the beginning of June as announced. I add that it will not be convened until everything has been carefully prepared.
The Italo-Austro-Hungarian meeting in Venice was to serve, and did serve, that end. I also wish to say that the Austro-Hungarian requests are not such as to place an obstacle in the way of realizing the aims which the Danubian Conference proposes to attain.
As for Germany, it is our intention, as we have already informed Berlin, to invite her and to keep her informed of the successive phases of preparation.
Following the Franco-Russian and the Russo-Czechoslovak conventions, conventions which have shifted the equilibrium of forces, the speech of the German Chancellor was awaited with lively interest.
His thirteen points can neither be accepted nor rejected as a whole. The preferable method is to clarify them and to probe into them more deeply. We must keep the way open for diplomacy to tackle this task in the next few weeks. In regard to Italo-German relations, it is true that a single problem compromises them: that of Austria; but is it of fundamental importance.
It will not be inopportune to devote here some words to those who would like to see us immobilized at the Brenner in order to prevent us from moving in another direction.
In this regard, too, it is necessary to say, once and for all, in the most explicit manner, that the problem of Austrian independence is both an Austrian and European problem, and inasmuch as it is European, it is particularly Italian, but not exclusively Italian.
In other words, Fascist Italy does not intend to circumscribe her historic mission to one single political problem (approvals), to one single military sector, such as that of the defense of one frontier, even such an important one as that of the Brenner; because all our frontiers, European as well as colonial, are equally sacred, and must be guarded and defended against any threat, even if that threat is only potential.
I have reached the point, comrades, which I am sure you are awaiting. You must consider all the problems which I have put before you in relation to what may happen in East Africa, in relation to the attitudes which the various European States will assume, thereby offering us the opportunity of demonstrating to us their concrete and not merely superficial or verbal friendship. But, in the first place, we must rely only on ourselves.
Today the threat to our East African frontiers is not potential but effective, a threat in actual fact, growing in proportion every day so as to give expression to the Italo-Ethiopian problem in its crudest and most radical terms. (Applause).
This problem is not of today; it is not of January 1935, but it goes back to 1925, as will be seen from the documents published at the time. It was in that year that I began to examine the problem.
Three years later it seemed that a political treaty might be a suitable means of promoting our peaceful expansion in that vast world still enclosed in its primordial shell, but still capable of great progress.
The treaty has remained a completely dead letter, except for Article 5, to which Ethiopia has clung after her aggressions in December 1934.
It was in 1929 — I repeat 1929 — that Ethiopia began to reorganize her army, taking advantage of European military instructors. And it was in 1930 that certain European factories began to furnish Ethiopia with modern war material on a vast scale.
The clash at Wal-Wal was the alarm bell of a situation that had been maturing for some time, a situation that obliges Fascist Italy to fulfill her inevitable duties.
Now, for the mere defense of two modest strips of territory called Eritrea and Somalia, we must face logistical and strategic difficulties of a huge complexity.
It is with pride but not without emotion that I think of the infantrymen of the Peloritana, strung out by the Indian Ocean (the Assembly jumps to its feet, enthusiastically applauding the Army and the Duce), along the line of the Equator, 8,000 kilometers away from the Motherland!
This pride and this emotion is shared by the whole Italian people, which follows with perfect discipline and with absolute calm the predictable development of events!
Only men of bad faith, only overt or hidden enemies of Fascist Italy can pretend stupefaction or simulate protests against the military measures which we have taken, and for those which we shall take. (Very lively applause and repeated shouts of: "Duce! Duce!").
Nevertheless we have adhered to the procedure of conciliation and arbitration — limited, be it well understood, to the Wal-Wal incident; we have done so despite certain anomalies in the Commission, such as for example, the representation of the other party which is not Ethiopian; yet no one, especially in Italy, should cherish too many illusions on this subject.
Likewise, let no one hope to turn Ethiopia into a new weapon that would be eternally pointed against us, and which in the case of European trouble would render our position in East Africa unsustainable. (Approvals). Everyone should well bear in mind that when it is question of the security of our territories, and of the lives of our soldiers, we are ready to assume all responsibilities, even supreme responsibilities.