However, many experts believe it opened the doors to Hitler's aggression and paved the way for the beginning of World War II.
Radio Sputnik discussed the role of the Munich agreement with Geoffrey Roberts, professor of history at University College Cork, Ireland and a leading British scholar on Soviet diplomatic and military history.
Sputnik: This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Munich Agreement. What is your assessment of that event as a historian from the point of view of its contribution to the outbreak of the Second World War?
Geoffrey Roberts: The Munich Agreement made the Second World War virtually inevitable. After Munich there was no doubt that Hitler was going to attempt to establish German hegemony in Europe; he was bent on expansionism and war. So, Munich is a prelude to the Second World War in the sense that it was the last chance to stop Hitler short of all, and that was just a chance, there's no certainty. Some people argue that had Britain, France and other countries slapped Hitler in 1938 over Czechoslovakia, then Hitler would have backed down and there would have been no war. I'm not so sure. But certainly, the last chance to avert the Second World War was the Munich crisis of 1938.
Sputnik: Many say that actually the Munich Agreement shaped political and diplomatic thinking since it was implemented; do you agree and how precisely, if at all, has it influenced modern diplomacy and politics?
Geoffrey Roberts: It shaped certain forms of political and diplomatic thinking. One of the things that is very widespread, particularly in Western political circles, and has been ever since 1938 is what is sometimes called the Munich Analogy. The Munich Analogy is basically: the lesson of history from Munich was that you can't appease dictators if you make concessions so that they aren't going to take more. That analogy has been used in all kinds of different contexts, in relation to different leaders and states, including, of course, currently in relation to Putin and Russia.
Many people in the West make this argument: that just like Hitler, Putin and Russia can't be appeased; [there should be] no concessions, you need to take a hard line. In my view, that's a complete misreading of history. It's certainly true that Hitler wasn't appeasable or proved not to be appeasable; but there's nothing wrong with the principle of appeasement, it depends on who you're trying to appease. Who you're trying to make peace with, who you're making concessions to and what kind of compromises you make. So, it's kind of misinterpretation, misuse and abuse of history. It is quite widespread and it has actually become more widespread in recent years because of this current bout of Russophobia which seems to be gripping certain political circles in the West.
Sputnik: Back to the concept of appeasement, because, of course, that policy is what many people would say is exactly what the Munich Agreement was. Do you think that there is any room in today's global politics for appeasement?
Geoffrey Roberts: That's what we need in global politics. That's exactly what we need — we need appeasement; we need peacemaking, negotiations; we need efforts to satisfy different interests on an honorable, legal and appropriate basis.
Sputnik: What lessons do you think can be learned from the event if we move it to a contemporary context? What can be learned from the Munich Agreement?
Geoffrey Roberts: Let's make the trip back to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. One of the reasons that British and French politicians treat the Soviet Union the way they do is that they don't trust Stalin, they don't have a great opinion of the Red Army, they think they can afford to marginalize and sideline Russia. But there's also another very important reason, another important political calculation, which is that they fear the Soviet Union; they fear the Soviet subversion of Western society, they fear the contagion of communism.
In fact, the more extreme version of that fear is that they think that Stalin and the Soviets are actually plotting to bring about a new World War so there could be a world revolution. So, let's jump forward to the present situation; there are uncanny parallels with that situation, because we have the same kind of great fear today of Russia. It's not a fear of revolution but it's certainly a fear of subversion of Western democracy and Western civilization. As this is going to happen, it's not going to happen through communism, it's going to happen through fake news, misinformation and cyber warfare. It was only when the great fear about the Soviet Union was overcome as a result of the Second World War that the anti-fascist, anti-Nazi alliance went on to win WWII. The lesson for today is if we want to actually resolve problems of international security then we need to overcome this great fear of Russia in the present. That's one lesson I would draw.
The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.