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Imperial Contenders and Britain’s Grand Strategy of Restrained Punishment, 1932–1939

In the decades after World War I, Britain was a leading world power (McKercher 1991). New regions in the Near East (namely, the former Ottoman Empire) were included in Britain’s empire. Germany had been disarmed under the Versailles Treaty, and its navy was scuttled at Scapa Flow after the Great War. Other potential contenders for regional leader- ship such as Italy and Japan were relatively quiescent. France gave priority to its army and to the construction of the defensive Maginot line over its navy. Russia had been greatly weakened by the revolution, civil war, and Stalin’s purges of the of‹cer corps. The United States returned to a policy of near-isolationism, concentrating its efforts in the Americas. In sum, Britain was in the enviable position of “not wanting to quarrel with any- body because we have got most of the world already, or the best parts of it, and we only want to keep what we have got and prevent others from tak- ing it away from us” (Pratt 1975, 3).

However, by 1930, Britain’s global interests were under siege in dis- parate parts of its empire and by several contenders for regional hegemony. Britain faced Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States in the Far East, Germany on the Continent, and Italy in the Mediterranean. As well, Britain encountered nationalist challenges within its empire in Egypt and India, and a civil war in Palestine. The Spanish civil war (1936) posed a threat to Britain’s passage to its Far Eastern empire through the Straits of Gibraltar and the strategic Balearic Islands. Economically, Britain’s tradi- tional exporting industries were succumbing to foreign competition, while Britain’s growing dependence on trade with its empire meant, more than


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