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French security and a British 'continental commitment' after the first world war : a reassessment

Jackson, Peter (2011) French security and a British 'continental commitment' after the first world war : a reassessment. English Historical Review, CCXXVI (519). pp. 345-385. ISSN 0013-8266

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In his classic study Britain and France between two World Wars, Arnold Wolfers characterised ‘British support’ as the ‘conditio sine qua non’ of French security policy. Wolfers argued that only an alliance with Britain would enable France to deter a German bid to revise the Treaty of Versailles by force. France’s ‘entire post-war foreign policy’, he judged, could be characterised as ‘a continuous struggle to get Britain to pledge her support to France’. This conclusion has rightly become a cornerstone of the historiography of international relations between the wars. Yet there has been surprisingly little examination of the precise character of the security commitment desired from Britain by France. Historians have tended to assume that throughout the inter-war period French policy aimed consistently at a resurrection of the 1914-1918 military alliance. This judgement does not hold up to careful scrutiny. The essay that follows will argue that the commitment sought from Britain between 1919 and 1925 evolved from that of a traditional military ally to that of joint-guarantor of a Europe-wide system of inter-locking arbitration and mutual assistance pacts.