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How did the Abyssinian Crisis in

1935-1936 affect the League of


Nations?
The Abyssinian crisis occurred during the Interwar period originating from the
Wal-Wal Incident in 1934 and going up to the annexation of Abyssinia in 1936.
The crisis brought about the end of peace in Europe and defined the two sides in
the beginning of the Second World War. Italy and Ethiopia which was commonly
known as Abyssinia then were both members of the League of Nations. Italy was
even a founding member of the League. Ethiopia joined in September 28, 1923.
The motives of Mussolini, the Italian Dictator rose from the events of The
Scramble for Africa in the previous century before the First World War. Mussolini
regarded himself as a modern day Julius Caesar who would restore the power
and the prestige of the Roman Empire to Italy. In 1896, the Italian troops had
attempted to take over Abyssinia but had been defeated and humiliated by
poorly equipped tribesmen. This was a massive blow to Italys pride. Mussolini
not only wanted revenge for this defeat but also wanted the riches that Abyssinia
had to offer such as the fertile lands and mineral wealth. (historylearningsite)
According to the Covenant of the League, aggression was forbidden among the
member nations. On August 6, 1928, Italy and Haile Selassie, leader of Abyssinia
signed the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of Friendship, while an invasion was already
being planned.
In December, 1934, there was a dispute between Italian and Ethiopian soldiers at
the Wal-Wal oasis- 80km inside Abyssinia. According to the Italians, the
Ethiopians attacked the Somalis with rifle and machine gun fire. Similarly,
according to the Ethiopians, the Italians attacked them with the support of two
tanks and 3 aircrafts. Eventually, approximately, 107 Ethiopians and 50 Italians
and Somalis were killed. Mussolini took advantage and claimed that the land in
dispute belonged to Italy. He wanted an apology and started to prepare the
Italian army for an invasion of Abyssinia. The emperor of the Abyssinia, Haile
Selassie had to no option but to appeal to the League for aid. (Wikipedia)
While Mussolini was supposedly negotiating the matter with the League, he was
sending his vast army to Africa and preparing the Italian people for war. He was
planning a full scale invasion of Abyssinia. Britain and France failed to take the
matter seriously and played for time. They needed to keep good relations with
Mussolini who seemed to be their strongest ally against Hitler. The Stresa Pact
was signed in early 1935 by Britain, France and Mussolini which made a protest
against German rearmament formal and proved their commitment to stand
united against Germany. At the meeting to discuss this pact, Abyssinia was not
even mentioned. Some historians believe that Mussolini believed that Britain and
France would ignore his doings in Abyssinia in return for agreeing to the pact. As

time passed, the public started to react to Italys behavior. A ballot was taken by
the League of Nations Union in Britain in 1934-1935. Most of the British people
supported the use of military force to defend Abyssinia if required. With the
autumn election coming soon, the politicians began to toughen up. The British
Home Minister, Hoare, made a speech about the importance of collective
security, encouraging the Leagues members and all the smaller nations.
Although there was talking and negotiating, there was no actual action against
Mussolini. After eight months, on 4th September, a committee reported to the
League that neither country could be held responsible for the Walwal Incident.
Moreover, the League put forth a plan that would give Mussolini part of
Abyssinia. However, he rejected it. (modernworldhistory, page 251)
In October 1935, the Italians invaded Abyssinia. The Abyssinians put up a brave
resistance, but they could do little with their pre-World War One equipment. The
Italians were armed with tanks, airplanes, armoured vehicles and mustard gas.
This was a straightforward situation of a larger nation attacking a smaller one.
The situation was similar to the Manchurian crisis. Both Italy and Japan were
leading members of the League. Both wanted to expand their territories by
annexation. However, the Leagues accessibility to Abyssinia was the difference
in these crises. Abyssinia was on the Leagues doorstep. Italy was a European
power. Unlike the events in Manchuria, the League could not claim that this
problem was too far away to handle. According to the Covenant, the League
could impose economic sanctions on the attacking country in such situations.
However, they could work only if they were imposed quickly and efficiently. The
League took six weeks to impose sanctions and they did not even include vital
materials such as oil. Three League members did not comply with the sanctions.
Italy could easily cover the sanctions on textiles and gold but a sanction for oil
would have actually affected Italys war machine. The argument for delaying the
sanctions on oil was that Italy would simply get its oil from a non-League nation:
USA. Britain and France has overestimated the size of the Italian navy and didnt
want to provoke Mussolini into attacking the Mediterranean where the British has
two large naval bases: Gibraltar and Malta. Italy used the Suez Canal to supply
her armies. Closing the Canal would have been effective in controlling the
situation but Britain did not want to risk war with Italy. Equally dangerous was
the behind-the-scenes dealing that was going on between the French and British
Foreign Ministers. (historylearningsite)
In December 1935, the British Foreign Secretary, Samuel Hoare and the French
Prime Minister, Pierre Laval made the Hoare-Laval plan. This handed two large
portions of Abyssinia to Italy while allowing the Abyssinians to keep a gap in the
middle of the country. The south of the country was reserved for Italian business.
In return, the Italians would have to call off the war. Mussolini accepted the plan,
but there was a huge outcry in Britain. The people believed that the League had
been betrayed by a member of their own government. Laval was also in a
treacherous position with the plan being seen as an act of treason to the League.
Hoare was forced to resign and the plan was abandoned. Laval was sacked. But
the momentum of the economic sanctions was lost and the ban on oil sales was
further delayed. The committee finally concluded in February 1936 that the

italians oil supply would be exhausted in two months if the oil sanctions came
into effect even with the US providing them with oil. But it was too late. Mussolini
had taken over large parts of Abyssinia. The americans were disgusted by the
actions of Britain and France and opposed the League by increasing the oil
supply to Italy. (historylearningsite)
The capital, Addis Ababa was taken in May 1936 and Haile Selassie was replaced
by the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel on the throne. Somaliland, Eritrea, and
Abyssinia were united under the name Italian East Africa. The League had failed
yet again and could only watch helplessly. This crisis showed the world that the
Leagues sanctions were half-hearted even when enforced and that it was willing
to negotiate with aggressor nations to the extent of buckling down to them. The
biggest threat that emerged from the crisis is that of Italian support of Hitler.
Italy was grateful for the benevolent neutrality towards its actions. In return,
Mussolini told the Germans that he would not side with Britain if Germany chose
to violate the Locarno Treaty by entering the Rhineland. Britain and Frances
hopes of getting help from Mussolini against Hitler were dashed when Mussolini
and Hitler signed an agreement of their own called the Rome- Berlin Axis. World
Peace was close to being tossed in the garbage. With war approaching again,
Russia joined Germany and Italy while France and Great Britain were allies once
more. (Martin Kitchen, Page 395, 396)

Works Cited
"Abyssinia." Abyssinia. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
<http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/aby1.htm>.
"Abyssinia Crisis." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abyssinia_Crisis>.
Kitchen, Martin. "Origins of World War 2." Europe between the Wars. Second ed. Harlow, England:
Pearson Longman, 2006. 395-96. Print.
Walsh, Ben. "The League of Nations." GCSE Modern World History. Second ed. London: John
Murray, 2002. 250-53. Print.