Appeasement in an international context is a diplomatic policy of making political or material concessions to an aggressive power in order to avoid conflict. The term is most often applied to the foreign policy of the UK Governments of Prime Ministers Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and most notably Neville Chamberlain towards Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy between 1935–39.
At the beginning of the 1930s, such concessions were widely seen as positive due to the trauma of World War I, second thoughts about the vindictive treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, and a perception that fascism was a useful form of anti-communism. However, by the time of the Munich Pact—concluded on 30 September 1938 among Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy—the policy was opposed by the Labour Party, by a few Conservative dissenters such as future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War Duff Cooper, and future Prime Minister Anthony Eden. Appeasement was strongly supported by the British upper class, including: royalty, big business (based in the City of London), the House of Lords, and media such as the BBC and The Times.
As alarm grew about the rise of fascism in Europe, Chamberlain resorted to news censorship to control public opinion. He confidently announced after Munich that he had secured "peace for our time".
The policies have been the subject of intense debate for more than seventy years among academics, politicians, and diplomats. The historians' assessments have ranged from condemnation for allowing Hitler's Germany to grow too strong, to the judgment that Germany was so strong that it might well win a war and that postponement of a showdown was in their country's best interests. Historian Andrew Roberts argued in 2019, "Indeed, it is the generally accepted view in Britain today that they were right at least to have tried... Britain would not enter hostilities for many more months, admitting unreadiness to directly oppose Germany in combat. She sat and watched the invasion of France, acting only four years later."
The history of the 1930s is relevant to present times in that it demonstrates how extreme nationalism can start in one country and then spread to other countries when democracies fail to exist. Fascist Italy was able to seize Ethiopia in 1935 and evoked no significant response. Hitler's dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938 was met by the appeasement of Munich supported by the argument that the UK was not concerned by such distant lands. Neville Chamberlain was excoriated by history not because his appeasement of Hitler was immoral but because it was mistaken in that he failed to recognize his imperialist ambitions.
Prior to, and following, the Chinese massacre in Tiananmen Square, various Western governments have been accused of pursuing a policy of appeasement with China, dating back in some cases over 20 years since the original seizure of Tibet by China. For example in 1992, President Bush's policy of engagement with China led him to veto legislation which linked the continuation of USA trade benefits to improvements in China's human rights and arms control record. Similarly with respect to the actions of Serbia, notably against Bosnia, the USA and European countries were accused of pursuing a policy of appeasement, and a wheedling diplomacy that rewarded nationalist aggression.