Italy's foreign policy under Benito Mussolini had to be robust to show the world how powerful Italy was under his leadership. As leader of Italy, Mussolini wanted to re-establish the greatness of the Roman Empire. Mussolini believed that conquered foreign territory was the sign of a great nation and a great power - hence the rationale behind the invasion of Abyssinia.
Mussolini had grievances shared by many Italians after the Treaty of Versailles was announced. He believed that Italy should be allowed a sphere of influence in the Mediterranean Sea as he believed that Italy was the most powerful of the Mediterranean countries. Mussolini referred to the Mediterranean Sea as "Mare Nostrum" – the same as the Romans had done when they dominated Europe. "Mare Nostrum" translates as "Our Sea".
However, the nation that effectively dominated the Mediterranean was Great Britain as Britain had strong naval bases in Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus. Britain also controlled the Suez Canal, along with the French. Therefore, there was a non-Italian presence that undermined Italy’s standing in the Mediterranean. Britain could control the Mediterranean Sea – something Mussolini wished to do.
Mussolini made it clear where his foreign policy would take Italy:
|"My objective is simple. I want to make Italy great, respected and feared."|
"The Twentieth Century will be a century of Italian power."
When Mussolini gained power in 1922, Germany was not considered a European power. Hitler’s drive for power had yet to come. Italy herself was still recovering from World War One. Therefore, Mussolini was not in a great position to demand more from the two main powers of Europe – Britain and France. For this reason, between 1922 and 1933, Italy did little to destabilise Europe. Fiume barely concerned anyone and was settled with relative speed. As Italy did not appear to be a threat in the same league as Russia, her calls for more influence in Yugoslavia did not cause too much concern. All this changed in 1933 – the year Hitler got power in Germany.
In 1933, Mussolini saw Hitler as a junior partner in the relationship between the two dictators. He also saw Hitler as a potential rival especially as Hitler had made it clear that he wanted a union with Austria – forbidden by Versailles. Austria had a common border with Italy and such a move by Germany would have alarmed Mussolini – if Hitler was a rival.
Mussolini tried to keep on good terms with France and Britain as well. In June 1933, he invited representatives from France, Germany and Britain to a meeting in Rome. They signed the Four Power Pact. This, according to Mussolini, was a sign of the growing power Italy had: these countries came to Rome; Italians did not have to go to a venue out of Europe. Mussolini, so he claimed, was providing Europe with leadership.
In 1934, Mussolini met Hitler in Venice. The meeting did not go well. For some reason, Mussolini would not use his translator and he was not fluent in German. Secondly, Hitler kept quoting "Mein Kampf" which bored Mussolini – or the parts he could understand. It was after this meeting that Mussolini referred to Hitler as "a silly little monkey". Mussolini met Hitler in military uniform. Hitler, on a rare foreign venture, wore civilian dress which would have been normal for a state’s leader. The impact of military uniform was not lost on Hitler again.
Relationships between Hitler and Mussolini reached a low when Dollfuss, leader of Austria, was murdered by Austrian Nazis.