Non-intervention had been proposed in a joint diplomatic initiative by the governments of France and the United Kingdom. It was part of a policy of appeasement, aimed at preventing a proxy war, and escalation of the war into a major pan-European conflict.
On 3 August 1936, Charles de Chambrun presented the French government’s non-intervention plan; Galeazzo Ciano promised to study it. The British, however, accepted the plan in principle immediately. The following day, it was put to Nazi Germany by André François-Poncet. The German position was that such a declaration wasn’t needed. A similar approach was made to Russia. On 6 August, Ciano confirmed Italian support in principle. The Soviet government similarly agreed in principle, so long as Portugal was included, and that Germany and Italy stop aid immediately. On 7 August, France unilaterally declared non-intervention. Draft declarations had been put to German and Italian governments. Such a declaration had already been accepted by Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia, renouncing all traffic in war material, direct or indirect. The Portuguese Foreign Minister, Armindo Monteiro, was also asked to accept, but held his hand. On 9 August, French exports were suspended. Portugal accepted the pact on 13 August, unless her border was threatened by the war.
On 15 August, the United Kingdom banned exports of war material to Spain. Italy agreed to the pact, signing on 21 August. Although a surprising reversal of views, it has been put down to the growing belief that countries could not abide by the agreement anyway. On the 24th, Germany signed. The Soviet Union was keen not to be left out. On 23 August, it agreed to the Non-Intervention Agreement, and this was followed by a decree from Stalin banning exports of war material to Spain, thereby bringing the USSR into line with the Western Powers.
It was at this point that the Non-Intervention Committee was created to uphold the agreement, but the double-dealing of the USSR and Germany had already become apparent. The ostensible purpose of the committee was to prevent personnel and matériel reaching the warring parties of the Spanish Civil War, as with the Non-Intervention Agreement. The Committee first met in London on 9 September 1936.[nb 2] It was chaired by the British W. S. Morrison. Charles Corbin represented the French, Italy by Dino Grandi, and the Soviets by Ivan Maisky. Germany was represented by Ribbentrop; Portugal, whose presence had been a Soviet requirement, was not represented. The second meeting took place on 14 September. It established a subcommittee to be attended by representatives of Belgium, Britain, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, Sweden, to deal with the day-to-day running of non-intervention. Among them, though, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy dominated, perhaps worryingly so. Soviet non-military aid was revived, but not military aid. Meanwhile, the 1936 meeting of the League of Nations began. There, Anthony Eden convinced Monteiro to have Portugal join the Non-Intervention Committee. Álvarez del Vayo spoke out against the Non-Intervention Agreement, claiming it put the rebel Nationalists on the same footing as the Republican government.0 The Earl of Plymouth replaced W.S. Morrison as British representative. Conservative, he often adjourned meetings – to the benefit of the Italians and Germans – and the Committee was accused of an anti-Soviet bias.
On 12 November, plans to post observers to Spanish frontiers and ports to prevent breaches of the agreement were ratified. France and Britain became split on whether to recognise Franco’s forces as a belligerent as the British wanted, or to fail to do as the French wanted.This was subsumed by the news that the Italian and German governments had recognised the Nationalists as the true government of Spain. The League of Nations condemned intervention, urged its council’s members to support non-intervention, and commended mediation. It then closed discussion on Spain, leaving it to the Committee. A mediation plan, however, was soon dropped.
The Soviets met the request to ban volunteers on 27 December, Portugal on 5 January, and Germany and Italy on 7 January. On 20 January, Italy put a moratorium on volunteers believing that supplies to the Nationalists were now sufficient. Non-intervention would have left both sides with the possibility of defeat, which Germany, Italy and Russia in particular were keen to avoid.
Observers were posted to Spanish ports and borders, and both Ribbentrop and Grandi were told to agree to the plan, significant shipments already having taken place. Portugal would not accept observers, although it did agree to personnel attached to the British Embassy in Lisbon. Zones of patrol were assigned to each of the four nations; an International Board was set up to administer the scheme. There were Italian assurances that Italy would not break up non-intervention.
In May, the Committee noted two attacks on the patrol’s ships by Republican aircraft. It reiterated calls for the withdrawal of volunteers from Spain, condemned the bombing of open towns, and showed approval of humanitarian work. Germany and Italy said they would withdrawn from the Committee, and from the patrols, unless it could be guaranteed there would be no further attacks. Early June saw the return of Germany and Italy to the committee and patrols. Following attacks on the German cruiser Leipzig on 15 and 18 June, Germany and Italy once again withdrew from patrols, but not from the Committee. This prompted the Portuguese government to remove British observers on the Spain–Portugal border. Britain and France offered to replace Germany and Italy, but the latter powers believed these patrols would be too partial. Germany and Italy requested that land controls be kept, and belligerent rights be given to the Nationalists, so that rights of search could be used by both the Republicans and Nationalists to replace naval patrols. A British plan suggested that naval patrols would be replaced by observers in ports and ships, land control measures would be resumed. Belligerent rights would only be granted when substantial progress was made on volunteer withdrawal.
It culminated in a period during 1937 when all the powers where prepared to give up on non-intervention. By the end of July, the Committee was in deadlock, and the aims of a successful outcome to the Spanish Civil War was looking unlikely. Unrestricted Italian submarine warfare began on 12 August. The British Admiralty believed that a significant control effort was the best solution to attacks on British shipping. It was decided by the Committee that naval patrols did not justify their expense and would be replaced with observers at ports.
The Conference of Nyon was arranged for all parties with a Mediterranean coastline by the British, despite appeals by Italy and Germany that the Committee handle the piracy and other issues the conference was to discuss. It decided that French and British fleets patrol the areas of sea west of Malta, and attack any suspicious submarines. Warships that attacked neutral shipping would be attacked. Eden claimed that non-intervention had stopped European war. The League of Nations did report on the Spanish situation, noting the ‘failure of non-intervention’. On 6 November, the plan to recognise the Nationalists as belligerents once significant progress had been made was finally accepted. The Nationalists accepted on 20 November, the Republicans on 1 December. On 27 June, Maisky agreed to the sending of two commissions to Spain, to enumerate foreign volunteer forces, and to bring about their withdrawal. The Nationalists wished to prevent the fall of the favourable Chamberlain government in the United Kingdom, and so were seen to accept the plan.
Remind you of anything?