Coordinates: The Stresa Front was an agreement made in Stresa, a town on the banks of Lake Maggiore in Italy, between French prime minister Pierre Laval, British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald, and Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini on April 14, 1935. Formally called the Final Declaration of the Stresa Conference, its aim was to reaffirm the Locarno Treaties and to declare that the independence of Austria "would continue to inspire their common policy". The signatories also agreed to resist any future attempt by the Germans to change the Treaty of Versailles. The Stresa Front broke down within two months of the initial agreement after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia.
The Stresa Front was triggered by Germany's declaration of its intention to build up an air force, increase the size of the army to 36 divisions (500,000 men) and introduce conscription, in March 1935. All of these actions were direct violations of the Treaty of Versailles, which limited the size of the German Army to 100,000 men, forbade conscription in Germany and prohibited a German air force.
Even though the increasingly belligerent Germany dominated discussions within the conference room, Mussolini was most clever outside. With Britain, he discussed plans to pursue his aim of making Italy 'great, respected and feared' through the invasion and conquest of Abyssinia and create an all-powerful empire. Mussolini made sure not to discuss his expansionist plans within the confines of the conference itself, as he knew of the risk of the Western democracies issuing a veto over it. Furthermore, Mussolini could not risk the conference being sidetracked from its main aims : reaffirming Locarno and opposing any more breaches of international agreements.
Mussolini got his way, and his plans to invade Abyssinia were not brought up. He took that silence as acquiescence to his colonial war, and so he launched his invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935. That was the turning point for Mussolini, as he drifted away from Britain and France and toward Germany.
The Stresa Front could be seen as a failure because it had vague terms and it was not clear how its aims should be upheld. It ignored all referring to Germany, as Britain was adopting a dual policy and did not want to antagonize Hitler. The hard line was provided by Mussolini, but Britain 'kept the door open' with Germany to obtain agreements. Hitler had used tactics that made Britain and France guess his next move.
However, the vague terms of the agreement kept Hitler guessing at what Britain would do. Britain failed to realise its advantage over Germany and then lost it by the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.
Another reason for the agreement's failure was that Britain, France and Italy all did not want to invade Germany, but a full-scale invasion of Germany was necessary to cease its rearmament. The British government was unwilling to so because the British public was strongly antiwar.
The Anglo-German Naval Agreement, soon allowed Germany to increase the size of its navy to 35% (by tonnage) of the Royal Navy and also to build submarines. The British government had not discussed that with its Stresa partners. The members of the Stresa Front were pulling in different directions.
The front collapsed completely with the Italian invasion of Abyssinia.
Mussolini had long ambitions of controlling Abyssinia and was enraged by the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement without being informed beforehand. Mussolini had held back on his invasion plans to avoid alienating his allies, especially since Ethiopia bordered French Somaliland and British Somaliland. However, he felt betrayed by Britain and so decided that there was no reason against the invasion. He also believed that the agreement violated the Stresa Front.
On January 6, 1936, Mussolini told German Ambassador Ulrich von Hassell that he would not object to Germany taking Austria as a satellite state if it maintained its independence. On 22 February, Mussolini then agreed to Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland and stated that Italy would not honour the Locarno Treaty if the remilitarization occurred.