Journal Article - International Security

Wishful Thinking or Buying Time? The Logic of British Appeasement in the 1930s

| Fall 2008

Abstract

Scholars typically define appeasement as a policy of satisfying grievances through one-sided concessions to avoid war for the foreseeable future and, therefore, as an alternative to balancing. They traditionally interpret British appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s as a naïve attempt to maintain peace with Germany by satisfying his grievances. The standard conceptualization of appeasement and the empirical treatment of the 1930s, however, are theoretically limiting and historically incorrect. Appeasement is a strategy of sustained, asymmetrical concessions with the aim of avoiding war, at least in the short term. There are three distinct variations of appeasement: (1) resolving grievances (to avoid war for the foreseeable future); (2) diffusing secondary threats (to focus on a greater threat); and (3) buying time (to rearm and/or secure allies against the current threat). British appeasement was primarily a strategy of buying time for rearmament against Germany. British leaders understood the Nazi menace and did not expect that appeasement would avoid an eventual war with Germany. They believed that by the time of the Rhineland crisis of 1936 the balance of power had already shifted in Germany's favor, but that British rearmament would work to reverse the balance by the end of the decade. Appeasement was a strategy to delay an expected confrontation with Germany until the military balance was more favorable.

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For Academic Citation: Norrin M. Ripsman and Jack S. Levy. Wishful Thinking or Buying Time? The Logic of British Appeasement in the 1930s.” International Security, vol. 33. no. 2. (Fall 2008):
148-181
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