Belfer Center Home > Publications > Academic Papers & Reports > Journal Articles > Wishful Thinking or Buying Time? The Logic of British Appeasement in the 1930s

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

"Wishful Thinking or Buying Time? The Logic of British Appeasement in the 1930s"

"Wishful Thinking or Buying Time? The Logic of British Appeasement in the 1930s"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 33, issue 2, pages 148-181

Fall 2008

Authors: Norrin M. Ripsman, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, January–June 2011, Jack S. Levy

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Belfer Center Studies in International Security



Scholars typically define appeasement as a policy of satisfying grievances through one-sided concessions to avoid war for the foreseeable future and, therefore, as an alternative to balancing. They traditionally interpret British appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s as a naïve attempt to maintain peace with Germany by satisfying his grievances. The standard conceptualization of appeasement and the empirical treatment of the 1930s, however, are theoretically limiting and historically incorrect. Appeasement is a strategy of sustained, asymmetrical concessions with the aim of avoiding war, at least in the short term. There are three distinct variations of appeasement: (1) resolving grievances (to avoid war for the foreseeable future); (2) diffusing secondary threats (to focus on a greater threat); and (3) buying time (to rearm and/or secure allies against the current threat). British appeasement was primarily a strategy of buying time for rearmament against Germany. British leaders understood the Nazi menace and did not expect that appeasement would avoid an eventual war with Germany. They believed that by the time of the Rhineland crisis of 1936 the balance of power had already shifted in Germany's favor, but that British rearmament would work to reverse the balance by the end of the decade. Appeasement was a strategy to delay an expected confrontation with Germany until the military balance was more favorable.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Norrin M. Ripsman and Jack S. Levy. "Wishful Thinking or Buying Time? The Logic of British Appeasement in the 1930s." International Security 33, no. 2 (Fall 2008): 148-181.

Bookmark and Share


Receive email updates on the most pressing topics in science and int'l affairs.

<em>International Security</em>

The Fall 2014 Issue of the quarterly journal International Security
is now available!

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.