Foreign policy aims

Hitler had three main aims in his foreign policy:

  • revise the Treaty of Versailles
  • unite all German-speaking people into one Reich
  • expand eastwards to achieve Lebensraum

Historians have disagreed about Hitler’s aims. A J P Taylor argued that Hitler did not deliberately set out for a destructive war. Instead, Hitler was an opportunist and made gains in his foreign policy by direct action and audacity.

Hugh Trevor-Roper has argued that Hitler had a long term plan - a programme of colonisation of Eastern Europe and a war of conquest in the West. This Stufenplan, step-by-step policy, led to war.

Probably the most convincing argument is that Hitler had consistency of aims, but was also an opportunist that was flexible in his strategy.

There were three stages to his foreign policy.

  • A moderate policy up to 1935.
  • Increased activity between 1935 and 1937.
  • A more confident foreign policy after 1937, certain that there would be little opposition to his plans.

Rearmament and conscription

Rearmament created jobs in the armaments industry pushing the idea of 'guns before butter'. Rearmament started almost as soon as Hitler came to power but was announced publicly in 1935.

The introduction of national service meant all young men spent six months in the RAD and then they were conscripted into the army. By 1939, 1.4 million men were in the army, so they were not counted as unemployed.

In January 1935, the population of the Saar coalfield, separated from Germany by the post-war treaties, were allowed a plebiscite and showed that over 90 per cent of the population wanted to reunite with Germany. Hitler regarded this as a great triumph because it was the first of the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles to be reversed.