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Britain’s Grand Strategy of Restrained Punishment


London’s grand strategy between 1932 and 1939. The ‹rst section discusses the contenders for regional leadership that Britain confronted. The next sections focus on how Britain responded to these challenges, the domestic coalitional consequences, and the effect on Britain’s grand strategy.


Scholars who examine Britain’s diplomatic history in the decade prior to World War II tend to focus on Great Britain’s position in a single region (i.e., the Continent, the Mediterranean, the Far East, or the empire).3 Had Britain encountered a single challenger it could have concentrated its considerable resources from the other parts of its empire, without any debate over alternative foreign policy strategies and the related ‹nancial and security rami‹cations. By the 1930s, Britain confronted Germany, Japan, and Italy, rising at differential rates and in disparate parts of its empire, as well as challenges from within its empire. As one author notes, “There is no major discussion of British foreign policy in the 1930s which faces the problems, as the Chamberlain administration had to, as part of a concurrent though rarely concerted attack on Britain’s position in Europe, in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and in East Asia and the Paci‹c” (Watt 1965, 208). Another states that “British statesmen from Lansdowne to Churchill grappled with one overriding problem: how to maintain Britain’s leading position in the world as her relative power declined. Rarely was this task more dif‹cult than in the late 1930’s” (Lee 1973, 1).

First, Britain confronted a number of contenders for regional leader- ship. In the Far East, Britain faced Japan, the United States, and (to a lesser extent) the Soviet Union; in the Mediterranean, Italy; and on the Continent, Germany. Second, differential rates of industrial growth meant these contenders encroached on Britain’s empire at uneven rates. Germany was the ‹rst power to encroach on and, based on some indica- tors, to surpass Britain in key sectors such as iron and steel production, energy consumption, and relative shares of world manufacturing (Kennedy 1987, 200–202). Behind Germany, Japan overtook France in the 1930s and was rapidly gaining on Britain’s industrial lead. On most economic indicators, Italy remained a distant, third-rate power.

Third, Britain’s regional leadership was challenged by rising contenders in different periods during the 1930s. In 1931, with the invasion of Manchuria, Japan was the ‹rst power to challenge Britain’s regional hege-

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