Anglo-Italian Rivalry in the Mediterranean

April 13, 1937

Report Outline
Tension Over Ethiopian and Spanish Crises
British Interests in Mediterranean Area
Growth of Italy's Mediterranean Interests
Strategic Factors in Anglo-Italian Rivalry

Tension Over Ethiopian and Spanish Crises

Italy's thinly veiled support of the Spanish insurgent cause, following hard upon her conquest and annexation of Ethiopia, has operated to continue the strain in Anglo-Italian relations that began in the late summer of 1935. Mussolini's campaign in East Africa and his aid to the Fascist uprising in the Iberian Peninsula have threatened Great Britain's imperial communications at two vital points—Suez and Gibraltar—and offered a challenge to the supremacy of the Mediterranean held by England for over two centuries. On various occasions during the Ethiopian and Spanish crises, the tension between the two nations has appeared in imminent danger of flaring into open conflict.

The virtual certainty that such a clash would immediately precipitate a general European war has resulted in the taking of extraordinary preventive measures. While the Ethiopian conquest has now of necessity been accepted as an accomplished fact, the Spanish civil war is still a source of danger, as was indicated a few days ago when the British Cabinet refrained from insisting upon the right of British merchant ships to enter Bilbao, presumably because it feared that an attempt to break the rebel blockade of that port would provoke an Italian effort to break the loyalist blockade of Malaga.

French protests early in January over the alleged infiltration of German troops in the Spanish zone of Morocco, in violation of the spirit if not the letter of a Franco-Spanish treaty of 1912 virtually neutralizing this territory across the straits from Gibraltar, recalled the German-inspired Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911 that were links in the chain of diplomatic incidents leading to the outbreak of the World War. While the present threat to European peace revolves to a large extent around the clash of Fascist-Communist political philosophies, more fundamental interests are important, if not controlling, factors. Among these, Anglo-Italian rivalry in the Mediterranean takes a prominent place.

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