10 Ways Nazi Germany Sucked at War: (6) They Sucked at Political Diplomacy




What a surprise – Nazis are good at, ahem, pissing other people off. Although in fairness, the Germans generally were in both world wars.


In more formal terms, they were consistently deficient in political diplomacy – a broader extension of their failure to have effective allies or coordinate with them effectively, or indeed, their inability to understand the limits of military force within war and their national power within the world, as political diplomacy strives to keep conflict within those limits.


As I’ve said before, it’s as if the one German leader who understood those limits, Bismarck, used up all Germany’s political diplomacy for the next sixty years. Whenever Germany has succeeded, it has done so by essentially following a Bismarckian strategy – striving to keep the peace and balance of power in Europe, particularly through good relations or at least some sort of arrangement to avoid conflict with Russia, trusting to Germany’s position as the most populous and prosperous state in continental Europe (outside Russia) to achieve predominance. That is how Germany returned to predominance after the Second World War – the arrangement to avoid conflict with Russia (or the Soviet Union) essentially being the European alliance with the United States.


Accordingly, Germany’s consistent deficiencies in both world wars can be mapped out by its lapses from Bismarckian strategy – foremost among which was the failure of Germany’s leaders to apprehend that their most effective ‘ally’ was Russia, at least in terms of avoiding conflict with Germany’s larger and more populous neighbor. Instead, Imperial Germany found itself increasingly in conflict with Russia – and worse, potentially encircled by an alliance between Russia and France. Astute political diplomacy might have counterbalanced that with some sort of dĂ©tente or arrangement with Britain – history has paid a heavy price for the failure to form an Anglo-German Entente – but Imperial Germany antagonized Britain with its rival naval and colonial ambitions (in which Bismarck had little interest). Germany compounded this by characteristically ignored the long-term political consequences of infringing Belgium’s neutrality with respect to Britain entering the war for the short-term military advantage of attacking France – just as it did for submarine warfare against Britain with respect to the United States entering the war (not to mention the incredibly inept promise to ally with Mexico attacking the United States).


Ironically, although Nazi Germany similarly lapsed into the same conflict as its predecessor, it initially had more success with what might be called a neo-Bismarckian strategy – firstly, in its diplomatic offensives that outmaneuvered its adversaries, at least until they resulted in actual war, but even then in initially containing that war to campaigns that matched its military capacity. Of course, that was never going to last – most directly because Nazi Germany once again failed to recognize that their most effective ‘ally’ was the Soviet Union through the Nazi-Soviet Pact, without which Nazi Germany would not have been able to invade Poland, go to war with the western Allies and defeat France in the first place. That all came crashing down when Nazi Germany abandoned the Pact to attack the Soviet Union instead (rivalled only by its incredibly inept declaration of war on the United States).


In addition to that, Nazi Germany could not or would not offer anything to exploit divisions within or between its adversaries – despite those divisions resulting in cold war between former allies as soon as they had defeated Germany – or to the subjects of its conquests as a political alternative to military victory:


Neither Germany nor Japan “had the political will and moral authority to enable them to supplement their own war efforts by enlisting the support of peoples under their jurisdiction. Throughout the areas they conquered both Germany and Japan installed puppet administrations, yet in their determination to reserve for themselves the power of decision, neither would sponsor client regimes that could mobilize support for the Axis cause even when potential support existed. German and Japanese attitudes were determined in part by the fact that neither Axis power was prepared to rely on anyone other than their own nationals for the order and effective exploitation of conquered territories. In essence, this failure to tap the potential goodwill of various conquered peoples was the product of philosophies that offered subjected peoples nothing other than slavery or death”.

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