THE spring of 1936 will see the fortieth anniversary of Italy's defeat at Adua by the armies of Emperor Menelek of Abyssinia. A resounding victory over Abyssinia by that date might well be pleasing to Fascist amour propre. Is any such plan really being matured at Rome, and, if so, will France and Great Britain, acting with or without the League, permit it to be carried out?
The Italo-Abyssinian situation forms an integral part of the general European diplomatic picture and has a particular bearing on Italy's relations with France. France has been Abyssinia's chief support since the days of Menelek. It was France which furnished him with officers, munitions, and diplomatic support against Crispi's effort to impose an Italian protectorate upon Abyssinia in accord with the Italian interpretation of the Treaty of Uchiali (May 2, 1889). It was France which, against the desires of both Italy and Great Britain, secured Abyssinia's admission to the League on September 28, 1923. Two-thirds of Abyssinia's foreign trade passes over the French railroad from Addis Ababa to Jibuti, the capital of French Somaliland. This virtual monopoly on Abyssinia's external commerce is protected by an agreement forbidding the concession of any rights to another company that would compete with the Addis Ababa line.
One might suppose that Abyssinians would resent this strangle-hold on the economic life of their country and that France's paramount diplomatic position at Addis Ababa would be impaired. That this is not the case has been due to the thorough realization on the part of the Abyssinian ruling caste that without the aid and comfort of at least one Great Power they are at the mercy of the others, and that France, since her defeat at Fashoda in 1898, has put aside any ulterior designs on. Abyssinia's territorial integrity. Diminutive French Somaliland touches Abyssinia for not more than 250 miles, whereas the possessions of England and Italy hem her in along thousands of miles -- on all her other frontiers, in fact.
Manifestly, then, any aggressive move in Abyssinia pourparlers between Signor Mussolini and M. Laval the affairs of Abyssinia occupied an important place. As these lines are written, the exact terms of the agreements entered into at Rome are still unpublished, as indeed they are likely to remain for some time. We have, however, the official summary issued on January 8. The first impression given is that Italy by no means got the best of the transaction. Mussolini, in fact, was not in a strategic position for effective bargaining. His revisionist policies in Central Europe had, after twelve years, proved infeasible as a result of Nazi ambitions among the Danube and the solidarity of the Little Entente. He may well have wished, then, to counterbalance this check by diplomatic, and perhaps even military, victories in Africa. M. Laval, however, seems to have begrudged him any substantial consolation.
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