Appeasement is an extremely problematic foreign policy goal. It is based on the assumption that acceding to the demands of aggressive states will prevent war from breaking out. The folly of this approach lies in the fact that aggressive states are rarely satisfied in this way. Capitulating to their demands simply feeds their thirst for power, making them stronger. In the long run, such a policy is likely to increase the risk of war rather than reduce it.
Britain and France pursued a policy of appeasement with Adolf Hitler throughout most of the 1930s. Hitler had never made a secret of his expansionist (and racist) aims in Europe. They are clearly spelt out in his book Mein Kampf [My Struggle]. In the late 1930s he orches- trated a propaganda campaign against the Czechoslovak government, claiming that it was persecuting the Sudeten Germans. There was a grain of truth in this claim. The Sudeten Germans were excluded from government positions for linguistic reasons and many Sudeten Ger- mans were unhappy about this discrimination. Hitler took advantage of the situation to promote further unrest among the Sudeten Ger- mans. Consequently, he demanded that Sudetenland be turned over to German control. Of course, this was totally unacceptable to the Czechs. But Hitler continued to press his claims against Czechoslova- kia. The Western states, eager to avoid another European war, insisted on an international conference to settle the matter. On 30 September 1938 the Munich Agreement was signed and control of the Sudeten- land passed to Germany, with France and Britain guaranteeing the newly drawn borders of Czechoslovakia. Hitler also pledged not to go to war with Britain. Within six months, Hitler had invaded Czechoslovakia and controlled the whole country.

As a consequence of the Munich Agreement, Hitler consolidated his grip on Eastern Europe and invaded Poland the following year. Clearly, the policy of appeasing Hitler had failed dismally. Rather than forestalling war in Europe, the Munich Agreement actually made war possible by tipping the balance of power in Germanyís favour. Had the West been prepared to go to war to protect Czechoslovakia against Germany, a full-scale world war might have been averted. This is, of course, conjecture. But there is no doubt that the annexation of the Sudetenland made Hitler a more formidable enemy than he otherwise might have been.
The moral which policymakers and scholars have drawn from this unsavoury affair is that the international community must not accom- modate aggressive and unreasonable states. To do so is to court disaster. But while this holds true in the case of Nazi Germany, it is important not to rule out conciliation altogether. There may well be occasions when appeasement is an appropriate policy option. It is conceivable that a state may have legitimate grievances which should be heard and accommodated. One of the dangers with ruling out accommodation and conciliation is that it may actually increase the possibility of mis- perception and leave a state with no other option but to go to war. Moreover, there is now a tendency for government elites to use the example of Munich to defend their own aggressive foreign policies. It is no accident that US policymakers revisited the Munich case as a way of justifying their involvement in Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. But it is as important not to swayed by such rhetoric as it is to recognise that a policy of appeasement can have dangerous outcomes. Whether a policy can be condemned as a form of appease- ment is ultimately context-dependent. Each case needs to be evaluated on its merits.

See also: arms race; balance of power; misperception; prisonersí

Further reading: Carr, 1946; McDonough, 1998; Robbins, 1997