TutorChase logo
IB DP History Study Notes

3.2.9 Combined International Response (1940)

By 1940, the rise of the Axis powers had become an unequivocal concern for the global community. Recognising the looming threat, nations sought to orchestrate a consolidated strategy to deter further aggression, setting the stage for many pivotal moments in World War II.

Consolidation of International Response

As Axis ambitions burgeoned, the international community found it imperative to foster a unified front to ensure peace and security. This consolidation can be attributed to:

  • Mounting Aggression of Axis Powers: The meticulous annexations and invasions, like Poland, Norway, and France by Germany, and Italy's ambitions in North Africa, resonated alarm bells.
  • Lessons from Appeasement: Past endeavours of appeasement had merely emboldened the Axis powers. Nations recognised the imperative for collective security and unity.
  • Shared Democratic Values: Many democratic nations saw not just their territories but their foundational principles under threat, ushering a more concerted response.

Diplomatic Measures

Diplomacy took centre stage as nations manoeuvred through the complex geopolitical terrain to counteract Axis ambitions.

  • Neutrality Acts: The USA, initially distant from European conflicts, enacted the Neutrality Acts, an isolationist stance. But as threats became more pronounced, amendments allowed aid to Allies, signifying a shift in US foreign policy.
  • Lend-Lease Act: This landmark US legislation circumvented direct involvement in the war. Instead, it facilitated the provision of military and financial aid to countries crucial to US defence. This greatly bolstered British and later Soviet wartime resources.
  • Alliances and Agreements: Recognising the shared threats, alliances were formed and strengthened. The Anglo-Soviet Agreement stands out, consolidating British and Soviet stands against Axis aggression.

Economic Measures

To thwart the Axis machinery, nations employed economic strategies, understanding that war wasn't just fought with weapons but with resources and finances.

  • Economic Sanctions: The League of Nations, albeit with dwindling influence, imposed sanctions on Italy after its Abyssinian escapade. These were aimed at economically isolating aggressive nations.
  • Trade Embargoes: Targeted embargoes on essential commodities, especially by the USA towards Japan, aimed to cripple the war machines of aggressor nations.
  • Financial Aid and Economic Support: The Allies, particularly the UK, were buoyed by financial assistance, chiefly from the US, ensuring they weren’t economically outmanoeuvred during the war.

Military Measures

The realisation that military confrontations were inevitable prompted nations to recalibrate their defence strategies and postures.

  • Massive Mobilisation: Countries began extensive mobilisation drives. The UK and France's declaration of war on Germany following the invasion of Poland exemplifies the military resolve.
  • Strategic Alliances: Geopolitical realities were recognised, with the UK overseeing operations in the west, while the USSR fortified the eastern territories against possible Axis advances.
  • Mutual Defence Pacts: The urgency of the situation saw nations formulating defence pacts, with the UK guaranteeing the borders of several European nations.

Role of Responses in Shaping WWII

The collective international countermeasures during this period played an instrumental role in determining the subsequent dynamics of WWII.

  • Stymied Axis Objectives: Economic constraints, brought about by sanctions and embargoes, did impair the Axis powers, slowing their advances and affecting their war strategies.
  • Empowered Allied Resistance: Aid, especially from the USA, played a monumental role in fortifying the Allies, enabling them to mount formidable resistance during pivotal battles, from the skies over Britain to the frosty realms of the Soviet Union.
  • Formidable Allied Unity: The diplomatic efforts led to a robust Allied unity, ensuring coordinated campaigns. This unity laid the foundation for monumental wartime operations, such as the Normandy invasion.

In summation, the international response in 1940 was a defining moment in the annals of history. The measures taken not only exemplified global resilience against the menace of the Axis powers but also forged alliances and strategies that would significantly determine the trajectory and outcome of WWII.


By 1940, British foreign policy had significantly evolved from its earlier stance of appeasement. The Munich Agreement of 1938, which sought to placate Hitler by conceding the Sudetenland, showcased the initial policy of appeasement. However, as Germany's ambitions became clear with further annexations and invasions, Britain recognised the need for a more assertive posture. The guarantee to Poland, the mutual defence pacts with various European nations, and eventually declaring war on Germany after the invasion of Poland were indicative of this shift. By 1940, with the fall of France, Britain stood resolute against Axis aggression, marking a clear departure from its previous strategies.

The Soviet Union, initially sceptical of Western intentions, underwent a strategic shift as the 1940s approached. Stalin was wary of the growing threat posed by Nazi Germany. Initially, to buy time and avoid an immediate two-front war, the USSR signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939, leading to the partitioning of Poland. However, as the threat from Germany grew evident with the latter's successive conquests, and the fallacies of the non-aggression pact became clear, the Soviet Union sought stronger alignments with the Allied powers. This culminated in the Anglo-Soviet Agreement, underscoring the USSR's evolving foreign policy in response to dynamic international circumstances.

The Neutrality Acts of the 1930s were a series of legislations passed by the US Congress to ensure the nation avoided potential entanglements in overseas conflicts. These Acts were reflections of prevalent isolationist sentiments among Americans post-WWI. Key provisions included bans on arms shipments to warring nations, prohibition of loans to belligerents, and the requirement for warring countries to pay cash for non-military goods and transport them in their own ships. Essentially, they sought to prevent scenarios that might drag the US into war, delineating the nation's commitment to stay removed from European conflicts.

The League of Nations, conceived post-WWI as a global peacekeeping body, faced a gradual decline in its influence by the onset of the 1940s. Multiple factors contributed to this. The League's inability to prevent or effectively address Japanese aggression in Manchuria and Italian invasion of Abyssinia showcased its limitations. Additionally, major powers like the US never joined, and others, like Japan and Germany, withdrew. Its structure, requiring unanimous decisions, often resulted in paralysis. These factors, combined with an over-reliance on the principle of collective security without a potent enforcement mechanism, rendered the League largely ineffective by 1940.

Initially, the USA adopted an isolationist approach towards European conflicts, primarily manifested through the Neutrality Acts. This stance was rooted in the nation's desire to avoid being entangled in another overseas war. However, as Axis aggression intensified and the threats became more pronounced, there was a palpable shift in American foreign policy. This transition culminated in the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, which marked a departure from strict neutrality. Through this legislation, the USA could supply military and financial aid to countries vital to its defence without direct involvement. Essentially, while not entering the war, the US played a significant supporting role for the Allies.

Practice Questions

Analyse the importance of economic measures adopted by nations in response to the Axis powers' aggression in shaping the dynamics of World War II.

Economic measures were pivotal in shaping the trajectory of WWII, acting as both deterrence and empowerment. The sanctions and embargoes imposed, especially by the League of Nations and the USA, aimed to economically isolate and impede the war efforts of the Axis powers. While these measures sometimes had limited direct impact, they symbolised international disapproval and imposed strain on Axis resources. Concurrently, financial aid, exemplified by the USA's Lend-Lease Act, fortified the Allies, ensuring they weren't economically outflanked. In essence, these economic strategies played a dual role: constraining the Axis while bolstering the Allies, thereby influencing the broader dynamics of the war.

To what extent did diplomatic efforts in 1940 influence the consolidation of the Allied response against the Axis powers?

Diplomatic manoeuvres in 1940 were instrumental in solidifying the Allied front against Axis belligerence. The shortcomings of earlier appeasement strategies led to a heightened emphasis on collective security. Alliances and agreements, like the Anglo-Soviet Agreement, showcased a tangible shift towards a united stance. Furthermore, the transformation of US foreign policy, from the Neutrality Acts to facilitating aid via the Lend-Lease Act, underlined the growing global commitment against Axis ambitions. While military and economic strategies were crucial, diplomatic efforts provided the necessary framework, ensuring coordination and unity amongst the Allies, thereby significantly enhancing their collective efficacy against the Axis onslaught.

Maddie avatar
Written by: Maddie
Oxford University - BA History

Maddie, an Oxford history graduate, is experienced in creating dynamic educational resources, blending her historical knowledge with her tutoring experience to inspire and educate students.

Hire a tutor

Please fill out the form and we'll find a tutor for you.

1/2 About yourself
Still have questions?
Let's get in touch.