Axis, Rome-Berlin

   The Axis was a pact signed in Berlin on 24 October 1936 between the Italian foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano, and his German counterpart, Konstantin von Neurath. The Axis was a symbolic break by the Fascist regime, after its successful war against Ethiopia, from its position of equidistance between Nazi Germany and the imperialist powers (Great Britain and France). The pact was not just symbolic, however. The two countries pledged to collaborate in the struggle against communism, to back Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and to resolve tensions between them over Austria. Benito Mussolinidid not, in fact, oppose the unification of Austria with Germany in March 1938, reversing his previous policy. Despite signing the pact with Germany, Italy continued to play a double game. On 2 January 1937, Italy signed a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Britain guaranteeing the status quo in the Mediterranean, and as late as April 1938, in the so-called Easter accords, held discussions with Britain and subsequently with France. The overall trend in Italian policy was marked, however. In November 1937, Italy joined Germany and Japan in the anticommunist pact that the other two nations had established in November 1936 and on 11 November 1937 abandoned the League of Nations. Adolf Hitler visited Rome, amid scenes of great pomp and ceremony, in May 1938. Mussolini backed Germany during the crisis over the German-speaking territories of Czechoslovakia in September 1938 and acted as an honest broker between Germany and Britain and France at Munich on 30 September 1938. Mussolini’s return to Italy from Munich was greeted by cheering crowds, who proclaimed him the “defender of peace.”
   During the winter of 1938–1939, Mussolini decided that the future definitely lay with Germany. Following Nazi Germany’s absorption of the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and Italy’s own invasion of Albania in April 1939, the regime took the decisive step of signing the “Pact of Steel” with Germany on 22 May 1939. By this treaty, Italy committed itself to joining with Germany in any conflict (not only a defensive war) in which its partner was involved and not to advance a separate offer of an armistice or peace without its partner’s consent. Italy almost immediately breached the Pact of Steel by evading its obligation to declare war on Britain and France in September 1939.
   See also Foreign Policy.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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