Despite it being on the winning side of the First World War, Italian prestige internationally in 1922 was low- largely due to their failure to complete the promised Italia Irredenta.
Benito Mussolini strived to undo this by presenting a return to the Italian ‘Roman Empire’. Mussolini was able to improve prestige via the acquisition of Fiume and Albania, participation in numerous treaties, including the Locarno Pact in 1925, posing Italy as key in European politics, and the defence of Austria against Germany in 1934 which presented a facade of Italian military might.However, Mussolini essentially failed to improve the prestige of Italy by 1943, as the positive relations that were established in the 1920s unravelled in the 1930s due to military disappointments e. g. the humiliation in Greece, the Abyssinian War and alliance with rising power Germany isolated Italy from its previous powerful allies Britain and France.
Mussolini’s foreign policies lead to some successes in improving the prestige of Italy, especially whilst his policies were more cautious in the 1920s, due to his incomplete consolidation of power.Firstly, Mussolini improved the prestige of Italy by acquiring the port of Fiume in 1924 after an Italian-Yugoslav agreement. Whilst forming a new relationship with Yugoslavia, Fiume was essentially a propaganda victory allowing Mussolini to boast his achievement of establishing a new (prestigious) Fascist empire that could discard the grievances of ‘mutilated victory’ that previously-Liberal Italy hadn’t been able to.
Fiume also signified Mussolini’s first reach into Eastern Europe and the Adriatic and thus Italy’s first step into their fantasised ‘Italian Empire’.The procurement of Albania as an Italian protectorate improved the prestige of Italy in a similar way. Despite Albania’s weak European standing in 1926, this procurement evidenced Mussolini’s imperialistic promise of Fascist expansion into the Balkans improving the European prestige of Italy by making up for the lack of Italian Western Europe influence which was dominated by Britain and France, and giving promise to Mussolini’s plans of empire creation.In turn, the prestige of Italy was further improved by Mussolini’s involvement in several European treaties.
1925 saw the signing of the Locarno Pacts between Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Although Italy achieved very little territorially in the pact, the prestige of Italy was improved. Mussolini appeared as one of the key-players in Europe due to his association with arguably the three most influential European countries, and appeared as a champion of international co-operation.His seemingly-strong position was emphasised by his participation in the Kellogg-Briand pact in 1928 renouncing war in Europe, partly because Britain- keen to maintain Italy as an ally- looked favourably upon Italy, as they were eager to divert from war due to their lack of mobilisation in the country. The defence of Austria against German promise of Anschluss in 1934 and establishment of the Stresa Front in 1935 contributed to Italy’s improvement of prestige.The defence at the Brenner Pass presented Italy as a prestigious-peacemaker by calming the threat of German invasion; demonstrating Italian military might against Germany’s growing military and protecting the integrity of the Italian state by enforcing its borders.
The agreement at the Stresa Conference between Italy, France and Britain against German rearmament again portrayed Italy as an influential power. However, in actuality; the Stresa Front was merely a propaganda victory- like most of Mussolini’s ventures- and disintegrated shortly after its conception due to Britain’s naval agreements with Germany (1935).Furthermore, the military success in Abyssinia (1935-1936) demonstrated one of Mussolini’s largest foreign policy failures to improve prestige. Despite Italy avenging the defeat at Adowa (1896), the use of poison gas/ slaughtering of the native Abyssinians attracted international negative press, especially in Britain and France where many of their colonies were becoming more independent; Italy was condemned by the League of Nations.Italy’s apparent military achievements were undermined by Mussolini turning his back on the Hoare-Laval Pact of 1935 that promised to establish foreign relations with Britain and France and so economic sanctions were imposed onto Italy. Italy’s prestige was damaged, as the country appeared untrustworthy, and militarily-backwards.
The country suffered from huge financial costs and because of this couldn’t hope to expand and mobilise its army to fight future-more vital- Italian wars. Italy’s prestige was further damaged by their subsequent failures in military ventures and new reliance on rising-power Germany.Mussolini’s decision to aid Franco in the Spanish Civil War of 1936, in hope of emphasising Italian greatness, backfired. Suffering defeat at the Battle of Guadalajara in March 1937, Italy faced national humiliation- far from the prestigious image Mussolini desired.
Hoping to counteract this, Mussolini established new relations with Germany which included the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936 and Italy’s prestige was boosted by this; a prospect of a ‘Fascist Empire’ seemed more plausible due to Germany’s aggressiveness that Italy hoped to mirror in the parallel wars.Italy did gain a promising ally in Hitler. However, by destroying relations with the Allied countries, Italy became totally dependent on raw materials/ supplies from Germany- not a quality of a prestigious country undergoing autarky. Their inferiority to Germany became clearer, exampled by their unawareness of Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia (March 193). In turn, the Italian army suffered another humiliating defeat invading Greece 1939; the military had been worn too thin and could not live up to the imperialistic promises of Fascism.
By September 1939, Italy was forced to stay neutral at the outbreak of war, destroying any myth that Italy was a powerful and prestigious European power. The prestige of Italy was further damaged by Mussolini’s implementation of anti-Semitic legislation 1938-39 (in order to appease his German superior) which not only increased distaste for Mussolini domestically, but also distanced the Fascist power from the majority of Europe which opposed anti-Semitism.Overall, Mussolini was successful initially in improving Italian prestige, but this was a trend that did not continue. The prestige of Italy appeared to improve during the 1920s and early 1930s due to Britain and France’s eagerness to retain Italy as an ally to combat the growing threat of Nazi-Germany, but the consistent military failures of the Italian army, and Italy’s dependence on new-ally Germany (Pact of Steel 1939) undermined this and failed to bring Fascist Italy out of the shadows of its more militarily-strong ally.
By placing reliance on Germany, Italy isolated itself from the international community, and could never hope to achieve high levels of prestige whilst inferior to the greatest European threat of the time. Mussolini had the mouth of a prestigious European power, but lacked the military and resources to back it up.