History Lessons: The Munich Agreement

September 26, 2012

History Lessons: The Munich Agreement
Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.
from The Water's Edge

A new installment of “History Lessons” is now out. This time I examine the signing of the Munich Agreement in the early morning hours of September 30, 1938. (The agreement itself is dated September 29, 1938.) In the video, I discuss the origins of the crisis over the Sudetenland, what British prime minister Neville Chamberlain thought he was accomplishing in his negotiations with Adolf Hitler, and why the Munich Agreement did not bring “peace for our time.”

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Diplomacy and International Institutions

Watch the video on YouTube here.

The Munich Agreement has become a classic example of how not to conduct foreign policy, and it turned “appeasement” into a dirty word. But Munich also highlights a classic dilemma of diplomacy: accommodation can signal weakness and invite aggression, but standing firm can trigger conflicts otherwise avoided. Policymakers choose between these two risks at their peril because which of them is greater is clearer when looking backward in history than when looking forward into the future.

So here’s a question to consider when thinking about American foreign policy: on what issue or conflict is the United States most likely to repeat Neville Chamberlain’s mistake?

If you are interested in learning more about the Munich Agreement, here are some books worth reading:

Faber, David. Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II (2009).

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Diplomacy and International Institutions

Goldstein, Erik and Igor Lukes (eds). The Munich Crisis, 1938: Prelude to World War II (1999).

Latynski, Maya (ed). Reappraising the Munich Pact: Continental Perspectives (1992).

Record, Jeffrey. The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler (2006).

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