The Munich Agreement is one of the most criticized diplomatic agreements in history. In 1938, Adolf Hitler turned his sights on absorbing the Sudetenland, the part of Czechoslovakia dominated by ethnic Germans, into Germany. With tensions rising, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain rushed to Germany in September for talks to keep the continent at peace. Without consulting with Czechoslovakian leaders, he agreed to Hitler’s demand, a decision that was ultimately formalized when Germany, Britain, France, and Italy signed the Munich Agreement on September 30. Chamberlain returned from Munich proclaiming that he had achieved "peace for our time." He was wrong. Less than a year later, German troops invaded Poland. The Second World War had begun.
James M. Lindsay, CFR’s senior vice president and director of studies, highlights the lesson learned from the Munich Agreement: Appeasing an adversary’s demands may defuse a crisis, but it can also increase the chances of war by emboldening that adversary to demand more. Chamberlain thought that if Germany gained the Sudetenland that Hitler would finally be satisfied with the status quo in Europe. But Hitler instead viewed Munich as confirming his belief that Britain and France both lacked the will to stop German expansion. Lindsay invites his audience to consider on what issue or conflict the United States might repeat Chamberlain’s mistake.
This video is part of History Lessons, a series dedicated to exploring historical events and examining their meaning in the context of foreign relations today.
For more analysis from James M. Lindsay, visit The Water’s Edge blog.