The Abyssinia Crisis
was a diplomatic crisis
during the interwar period
originating in the "Walwal
incident." This incident resulted from the ongoing
conflict between the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) and the
Empire of Ethiopia (then commonly
known as "Abyssinia" in Europe).
effects were to undermine the credibility of the League of Nations
and to encourage
to ally itself with
Both Italy and Ethiopia were members of the League of Nations which
was founded in 1920. Italy was a founding member of the League.
Ethiopia joined September 28, 1923. The League had Article X,
rules forbidding aggression among members
On August 2, 1928, in addition to abiding by Article X, Italy and
Ethiopia signed the Italo–Ethiopian Treaty of
. This treaty declared a 20-year friendship between
the two nations.
On August 27 in the same year, both Italy and Ethiopia signed the
. This was an
international treaty "providing for the renunciation of war as an
instrument of national policy."
Italian encroachment and clash
Italy built a fort at Walwal, an oasis in
fort was in clear violation of the Italo–Abyssinian Treaty of
Friendship. The Italians built the fort as part of a gradual
encroachment into what was clearly Ethiopian territory.
On September 29, 1934, Italy and Abyssinia released a joint
statement refuting any aggression between each other. However, on
November 23, an Anglo–Ethiopian boundary commission discovered the
Italian force at Walwal. British members of the delegation retired
to avoid an international incident.
The Walwal incident
On December 5, 1934, for reasons which have never been clearly
determined there was a skirmish between the garrison of Somalis who
were in Italian service and a force of armed Abyssinians. According
to the Italians, the Ethiopians attacked the Somalis with machine
guns. According to the Ethiopians, the Italians attacked them. The
Ethiopians claimed the Italians were supported by two tanks and
three aircraft. In the end, approximately 107 Ethiopians and 50
Italians were killed.
On December 6, 1934, Emperor Haile Selassie
Ethiopia protested Italian aggression at Walwal. On December 8,
Italy demanded an apology and, on December 11, followed up this
demand with a demand for financial and strategic
On January 3, 1935, Ethiopia appealled to the League of Nations for
arbitration in the Walwal incident. But the League's response was
dull and sluggish. In actuality, many nations were working
independently of the League in order to keep Italy as an ally.
after Ethiopia's initial appeal, Minister of Foreign
Affairs Pierre Laval of France and Foreign
Secretary Samuel Hoare met with
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
On January 7, 1935, a meeting between Laval and Mussolini resulted
in the "Franco–Italian
." This treaty gave Italy parts of French
the official status of Italians in French-held Tunisia, and
essentially gave the Italians a free hand in dealing with
In exchange for this, France hoped for Italian
support against German aggression.
February 23, Mussolini began to send large numbers of troops to
Eritrea and Italian
These were the Italian colonies that
bordered Ethiopia to the northeast and southeast respectively.
There was little international protest to this build-up.
On March 8, Ethiopia again requested arbitration and noted Italian
military build-up. On March 13, Italy and Ethiopia agreed on a
neutral zone in the Ogaden. On March 17, Ethiopia again appealed to
the League due to continued Italian build-up. On March 22, the
Italians yielded to pressure from the League of Nations for
arbitration into the Walwal incident. But on May 11, Ethiopia again
protested the ongoing Italian mobilization.
Between May 20 and 21, the League of Nations held a special session
to discuss the crisis in Ethiopia. On May 25, a League council
resolved to meet if no fifth arbitrator has been selected by June
25, or if a settlement was not reached by August 25. On June 19,
Ethiopia requested neutral observers.
23 to 24, the United
Kingdom attempted to quell the crisis and sent Under-Secretary
of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony
Eden to broker peace.
It was a failed mission though, as
Mussolini was bent on conquest. Following that, Britain declared an
arms embargo on both Italy and Ethiopia on July 25. Many believe
that this was a direct result of Italy's decree that supplying
Ethiopia would be perceived as an act of unfriendliness.
also cleared its warships from the Mediterranean, further allowing Italy unhindered
25, Italian and Ethiopian officials meet in the Hague to discuss arbitration and these discussions fell
apart by July 9.
On July 26, the League confirmed that no fifth member has been
selected. On August 3, the League limited arbitration talks to
matters except for the sovereignty of Walwal. The League met again
on September 4 to examine relations between the two
On August 12, Ethiopia pleaded for arms embargo to be lifted. On
August 16, France and Britain offered Italy large concessions in
Ethiopia to avert war and Italy rejected these offers. On August
22, Britain reaffirmed its embargo on armaments.
On September 3, the League exonerated both Italy and Ethiopia of
the Walwal incident since both nations believed Walwal was within
its territorial borders. On September 10, Pierre Laval, Anthony
Eden, and Sir Samuel Hoare agreed on limitations to Italian
On September 25, Ethiopia again asked for neutral observers. On
September 28, Ethiopia began to mobilize its large but
The war and occupation
On October 3, 1935, shortly after the League exonerated both
parties in the Walwal incident, Italian armed forces
from Eritrea invaded Ethiopia
declaration of war
. In response,
Ethiopia declared war on Italy and the two nations were at
On October 7, the League of
declared Italy the aggressor
and started the slow process of imposing sanctions
. However, these sanctions did
not extend to several vital materials, such as oil and were not
carried out by all members of the League. Specifically, the
United Kingdom and France did not take any serious action against
Italy (such as blocking Italian access to the Suez Canal).
Even actions such as the Italian use of chemical weapons and the
massacre of civilians did little to change the League's passive
approach to the situation.
In December 1935, Hoare of Britain and Laval of France proposed the
secret Hoare-Laval Plan
end the war but allow Italy to control large areas of Ethiopia.
Mussolini agreed to the plan, but it caused an outcry in Britain
and France when the plan was leaked to the media. Hoare and Laval
were accused of betraying the Abyssinians, and both resigned. The
plan was dropped, but the perception spread that Britain and France
were not serious about the principles of the League. After the plan
was dropped, the war continued and Mussolini turned to German
dictator Adolf Hitler
sanctions placed by the League were dropped after the Italian
capture of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on May 5, 1936.
Ethiopia was then merged
with the other Italian colonies to become Italian East Africa
, or AOI).
Ethiopia never surrendered and Italian control of AOI was never
The end of the AOI came quickly during World War II
. In early 1941, as part of the
, Allied forces
launched offensive actions against the isolated Italian colony. On
May 5, 1941, five years after the Italians had captured his capital
Emperor Haile Selassie entered Addis Ababa in triumph. Italy would
be defeated soon after.
- Barker. The Rape of Ethiopia 1936. Pg. 17.
- According to Mockler, 107 Ethiopians were killed and 40