National Socialism and the Search for International Order

Nov 10, 2011

25th Annual Lecture at the GHI | Speaker: Mark Mazower (Columbia University), Comment: Lutz Klinkhammer (German Historical Institute Rome)

Professor Mazower's lecture on "National Socialism and the Search for International Order" asked the question what vision for the management of international affairs emerged from Nazi foreign policy. Nazi foreign policy, he argued, went far beyond revisionism aimed at the Treaty of Versailles; it was a challenge to the principles of nineteenth-century internationalism as embodied by the League of Nations. The League had sought to protect the cultural, linguistic, and political rights of minorities in the new Eastern European states through a series of "minority treaties" that gave minorities the right to appeal directly to the League. By the mid-1930s, it was clear that the League had failed to protect these minorities. Nazi jurists such as Carl Schmitt criticized the universalism of the League of Nations as hypocritical; in fact, they argued, the League of Nations sought to preserve British and French dominance in international affairs. The Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan, which established the alliance of the axis powers in September 1940, stipulated that all the nations of the world should be given their "proper place"; that is, it reflected a belief in a hierarchy of nations and in hegemonic rule, which differed sharply from the universalism of the Atlantic Charter issued by Britain and the United States in August 1941. Mazower concentrated his analysis of Nazi conceptions of a new international order on the period 1938 to 1940 because after that these discussions were overtaken by the messy and brutal reality of Nazi occupation and the Holocaust. While some Nazi policymakers on the ground continued minority policies similar to that of the League of Nations in occupied territories, at least for a time, Nazi jurists and bureaucrats such as Wilhelm Stuckart explicitly envisaged the possibility of exterminating minorities in order to create a continent of racially satiated states. In conclusion, Mazower argued that the Nazi assault on the League of Nations threw into question many of the assumptions underlying international law and the international order - not just in Nazi Germany but among the Western Allies. As a result, the postwar order reflected a much more hard-nosed approach to international affairs. Even though the United Nations were designed to resurrect the League of Nations in some respects, the UN was very different from the League, not least because it did not attempt to protect minority rights in the same way. Thus, even though Nazi Germany was defeated, its ideas for a new international order left an imprint on the postwar order.

Lutz Klinkhammer's comment noted that although the Tripartite Pact used the term "new order," this was not a term commonly used by the Nazis. The Nazis, Klinkhammer argued, did not really do much planning for a new order in Europe. The order that they did establish during the war was defined by cumulative radicalization, destruction, and a distinction between "Eastern" and "Western" countries that was not a geographical distinction but one made ad hoc at the beginning of the occupation regimes in different countries. The Japanese, by contrast, had much more developed plans for hegemony in their sphere. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion. Mark Mazower's lecture and Lutz Klinkhammer's comment will be published in the spring 2012 issue of the GHI Bulletin.