League Of Nations 1920s Essay Questions

The League of Nations - Overview

The other aims included:
c.)  To safeguard the independence of countries and their frontiers and to encourage nations to reduce their armaments.
d.)  To bind all members of the League to respect and preserve the territorial integrity and political independence of all states, large and small
e.)  To settle problems which might lead to hostility between nations, such as colonial disputes, refugee problems and conflicts over international law. This is in order these problems do not worsen and lead to war.
f.)  Member nations were required to submit all their disputes to arbitration
g.)  Secret treaties between nations were forbidden.
The Organisation and Membership of the League
a.     The permanent headquarters of the League was established in Geneva in Switzerland.
b.     The League began its work in January 1920. Its organisation was based on three bodies:
  • The General Assembly, in which each member-nation had one vote, met annually.
  • Its function was to decide general policy, discussed international disputes and problems
  • It could, for example, propose a revision of peace treaties and it handled the finances of the League.
  • A unanimous vote was needed for any important decision.

  • The Council, a much smaller body which met more often, at least three times a year, advised the Assembly on what action to take.
  • It was the most powerful body of the League. It consisted of four permanent members (Britain, France, Italy and Japan) and four temporary members chosen by the Assembly for a three-year term.
  • The number of temporary members was increased to six in 1922 and to nine in 1926.
  • It was the Council’s job to deal with specific political disputes as they arose and again decisions had to be unanimous.
  • In its function of peace-keeping, it was expected that the League would operate as follows: all disputes threatening war would be submitted to the League and any member which resorted to war, thus breaking the covenant would face action by the rest; the council would recommend what effective military, naval or air force the members should contribute to the armed forces.

  •  The Secretariat, headed by the Secretary-General.
  • It consisted of various officials who recorded and administered work and decisions of the League.
  • It looked after all the paperwork, preparing agendas and writing resolutions and reports for carrying out the decisions of the League.
  • When the Assembly first met in November 1920, almost all of the Allied Nations had joined the League.
  • Some of the new European states and several neutral countries also joined.
  • By 1935, the League had 62 member-nations.

Achievements of the League in the 1920s

The League also had the task of making the world a better one. Special committees were set up to look into the big problems of the world and to suggest solutions.
  1. There was the Health Organisation for improving the world’s health – for example, by trying to wipe out leprosy.
  2. In 1919, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), aimed to improve the conditions in which people worked, was established as an affiliated body of the League. The ILO distributed information on labour conditions and encouraged governments to improve the workers’ standard of living.
  3. In 1921, there was also a world law court, the Permanent Court of International Justice, based in the Hague, the Netherlands, to try legal disputes between countries. It consisted of 15 judges of different nationalities and dealt with legal disputes between states, as opposed to political ones.
  4. Other special committees had the job of improving child welfare, women’s rights, of stopping drug smuggling, and of helping refugees.
  • The League helped to find homes for refugees and arranged international loans for poor nations.
  • It also established technical organisations which provided experts to deal with problems concerning health, drugs, refugees, communications, labour conditions and finance.
  • These organisations attempted to prevent the trade in drugs and slaves as well as helping backward countries to improve their health conditions.
With so much work to do, the League needed a large number of organisers to handle paperwork, communications and publicity. This was done by the Secretariat in Geneva. The first chairman of this body of civil servants was an Englishman, Sir Eric Drummond.

Problems and failures of the League in the 1920s and 1930s

Failures of the League
  • Despite its success in settling disputes between small nations, the League failed to preserve peace among the major powers. It was unable to stop any of the serious acts of aggression which took place in the inter-war period and this failure contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War.
  • The world economic crisis which began in 1929 contributed to the League’s decline. It brought unemployment and falling living standards to most countries, and caused extreme right-wing governments to come to power in Japan and Germany; together with Mussolini, they refused to keep to the rules and pursued a series of actions which revealed the League’s weaknesses.
However, the League was powerless against Japan.
  • Economic sanctions were discussed but without America, Japan’s main trading partner, they would be meaningless.
  • Britain and France, both prime movers of the League, suffered from serious economic problems in the 1930s and were reluctant to exert economic pressure on Japan or apply a trade boycott of Japan in case it led to war, which they were ill-equipped to win, especially without American help. Moreover, they were unwilling to risk their navies or armies in a war with Japan.
  • Furthermore, Britain seemed more interested in keeping up good relationships with Japan than in agreeing to sanctions.
  • The League also discussed banning arms sales to Japan but member countries could not even agree about that: they were worried that Japan would retaliate and the war would escalate.
  • Only the very firmest of leads from the USA might have persuaded them to act but the USA at no time contemplated war.
  •  Japan successfully defied the League and the prestige of the League was damaged, though not yet fatally.
  • Small nations believed the League had been let down by its Great Power members, which alone had the strength to force the Japanese out of Manchuria. The League had shown itself to be powerless if a strong nation decided to pursue an aggressive policy and invade its neighbours.
  • The Manchurian invasion showed that a Great Power using force, contrary to the Covenant, could only be stopped by greater force, of which was found lacking.
How successful were the economic sanctions?
  • The sanctions did not include a ban on exports of oil, coal and steel to Italy. Moreover, Britain and France dragged their feet over a scheme to prevent Italy’s obtaining oil.
  • Members not only feared that the Americans would not support the sanctions, they also feared their own economic interests would be damaged. Some nations like Germany and the USA were not involved. Their firms continued their trade with Italy.
  • The sanctions were thus incomplete: they caused some shortages in Italy but failed to halt the Italian war effort.
  • More important still, the Suez Canal which was owned by Britain and France was not closed to Mussolini’s ships although the canal was the Italians’ main supply route to Abyssinia and closing it could have ended the Abyssinian campaign very quickly. Italy was allowed to make use of the Suez Canal to reach their supply ships. This could only have been enforced by Britain and France, but they did not suggest it. This failure was fatal for Abyssinia.
  • So half-hearted were the sanctions that Italy was able to complete the conquest of Abyssinia without too much inconvenience in May 1936.
  • By June 1936, Italy’s victory was recognised by the League when the sanctions were abandoned.
To conclude
a.     Again, Britain and France must share the blame for the League’s failure.
b.     In reality, neither Britain nor France was prepared for a possible war with Italy.
c.     Both were anxiously watching the developments in Germany where Hitler was rearming rapidly.
d.     Their motives were the desire not to antagonise Mussolini too much so as to keep him as a possible ally against the real danger – Germany.
e.     IF the British and French had hoped that their handling of the Abyssinian crisis would help strengthen their position against Hitler, they were soon proved very wrong.
f.      The results were disastrous: Britain and France had still succeeded in annoying Italy enough to force it into alliance with Nazi Germany, called the Rome-Berlin Axis.
g.     Small states lost all faith in the League and Hitler himself was encouraged to break the Versailles Treaty. The Great Powers have failed again in their promises to guarantee the collective security of small states.

Collective security had been shown up as an empty promise. The League of Nations had failed

4.)  Further signs of weaknesses
a.     Italy, Japan and Germany were alike in that the leaders of all three nations glorified war. They did this partly to take their peoples’ minds off the fact that they were often poor and without jobs.
b.     They all taught their people too to see themselves as members of super races, with the right to conquer and rule over other ‘inferior’ nations and races.
c.     They all believed in ‘totalitarian’ type of government. This means governments which try to stamp out any rival views and look upon human beings as of no importance except as servants of the state.
  • When Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles by rearming Germany and remilitarising the Rhineland, the League could not stop him.  As a result, Germany went on to annex Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938 and then invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1939.
  • The League failed to stop Italy, Germany and the USSR from intervening in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.
  • It also failed to stop the USSR from invading Poland, the Baltic States and Finland in 1939.
  • By 1938, the League had become so weak and ineffective that member-nations did not even ask it to intervene in the territorial expansion of aggressive nations.

Reasons for the failure of the League

The League looked most impressive on paper but right from the start of its existence, it was actually rather weak. It failed to achieve its aims because of a number of serious weaknesses in its organisation and membership.
There were some big problems:

a.     Absence of major nations
The League needed the goodwill and help of every country but it started with a severe handicap. To be effective, the League needed to include all the Great Powers and united action to deter any aggressor. For the first few years of its existence, the League was deprived of three of the world’s most important powers at one point in time or another, namely the United States, the Soviet Union and Germany:The 

United States of America (USA)
  • The League suffered the blow when USA refused to join the League because of its isolationist policy after the First World War.
  • In 1920, most Americans had been in favour of America’s membership of the League; certainly at least a great majority of American newspapers had supported entry.
  • By the mid-1920s, there was a widespread attitude that perhaps the League was ‘all right for Europeans’.
  • Despite their important foreign trade with Europe, the Americans were just not interested in getting involved with the problems of other countries, particularly European affairs.
  • The reasons behind their decision was varied: many Americans wanted to return to a policy of isolation and feared that membership of the League might cause them to be embroiled in another war and the high human cost attached.
  • There was also a feeling of self-sufficiency in the USA.
  • Without the support of American economic and military power, the decisions of the League were less effective.
  • Economic sanctions against an aggressive nation, for example, could not be very successful if the United States continued to trade with it.
  • More importantly, the League was deprived of a powerful member whose presence would have been of great psychological and financial benefit.
  • By the time American entered the Second World War in 1941, many Americans felt that the USA had been badly served by the politicians who in 1919 and 1920 had kept the USA out.
  • By 1945, Americans generally recognised that their absence from the League had been a tragic mistake.

  • In 1919, Germany welcomed the idea of a League of Nations and wished to be among the founder-members.
  • But after the strong terms of the Versailles Treaty became known, their enthusiasm turned to bitterness.
  • There was still much bitterness against Germany after the First World War.
  • The Allies made it clear that Germany would have to apply for membership when Germany had fully accepted the Treaty terms.
  • In Germany, the League stood for scorn and ridicule.
  • It was closely connected in many people’s minds with the loss of Germany’s colonies, the need to pay reparations and the transfer of German land to the people of Poland, Denmark, France and Belgium. Geneva was openly referred to as a club for the victors of the First World War.
  • Defeated Germany was allowed to join the League only in 1926, after seven years of steadily improving relations. As a result of the settled, improved conditions in Europe, British and French troops left the areas they had occupied in Germany since 1919. It also showed that Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann’s policy of steady reconciliation was working.
  • However, with the departure of Germany from the League in October 1933, the Third Reich was no longer obliged to adhere to the rulings of the League.
  • Germany also walked out of the Geneva Disarmament Conference and as a result, the Conference broke up. Without Germany, there was no point in carrying on. Germany expanded its military strength and extended its borders, contrary to the Treaty of Versailles. 

The Soviet Union (USSR)
  • At the start of 1920, the Russians had no diplomatic relations with the Western powers.
  • Communist Russia was not allowed to join the League as she was viewed with suspicion by the Western powers because the Soviet policy was to encourage world revolution in the early 1920s.
  • The Soviet Union, on its part, did not join because of the intervention of the West in the Russian Civil War and it regarded the League as a capitalist organisation and a club dominated by rich countries opposed to Communism. Even the good work of the League could not dispel this bitterness.
  • In 1933, both Germany and Japan left the League. These were the two powers most feared by the USSR.
  • It finally joined the League in 1934, after its relations with the Western powers had improved and membership of the League might be useful to the USSR.
  • Russia was eventually expelled from the League after its attack on Finland in 1940.

Indeed, without such major powers, the League lacked authority and sanctions were not effective.

b.     The self-interest of leading members
  • In the absence of the USA, Britain and France were the most powerful countries in the League as they usually guided policy. (Italy and Japan were also permanent members of the Council.)
  • The continued absence of the USA and the USSR plus the hostility of Italy made the League very much a Franco-British affair. Any action of the League needed their support.
  • However, both countries were not ready to take on this role as both had been weakened by the First World War. Neither country was quite the major power it had once been and neither had the resource to fill the gap left by the USA.
  • Indeed, some British politicians said that if they had forseen the American decision, they would not have voted to join the League either.
  • They felt that the Americans were the only nation with the resources or influence to make the League work. In particular, they felt that trade sanctions would only work if the Americans applied them.
  • For the leaders of Britain and France, the League posed a real problem.
  • They were the ones who had to make it work, yet even at the start they doubted how effective it could be.
  • Moreover, the powerful member-nations were unwilling to work together in order to stop aggressive nations because of policy differences.
  • The League depended on Britain and France to provide firm support in times of crisis.
  • When conflicts occurred, however, neither the British nor the French government were prepared to abandon their own self-interest to support the League.
  • (i) British concerns
  • Britain was determined to maintain peace and encourage economic recovery after the war.
  • British politicians, for example, were more interested in rebuilding British trade and looking after the British empire than in being an international police force.
  • (ii) French concerns
  • France’s main concern was still Germany: that Germany was still dangerous and wanted to keep it weak.
  • It was worried that without an army of its own, the League was too weak to protect France from its powerful neighbour. It did not think Britain was likely to send an army to help it.
  • This made France quite prepared to bypass the League if necessary in order to strengthen its position against Germany.
  •  The effects of the Great Depression made international cooperation through the League even more difficult.
  • Member-nations became more concerned with solving their own economic problems than with preserving peace.

Failure of economic sanctions
  • Economic sanctions were supposed to be the League’s main weapon, but members of the League did not willingly impose them because they were worried that without America, they would not work.
  • Economic sanctions were difficult to enforce as member countries were unwilling to stop trading with an aggressor because it would harm their own trade as much as an aggressor’s.
  • When they did impose them, they were easily broken.
  • The League therefore lacked the muscle to enforce the decisions of its assembly and council.

Lack of power to enforce decisions
  • If economic sanctions failed, military force was the next action but it would always be a last resort because of the cost.
  • The League could talk about quarrels between countries, it could cut off trade with attackers, but it did not have the force to make countries stop fighting.
It had no independent army at its disposal to back up its decisions. It therefore, relied entirely upon the cooperation of its members to carry out any of its decisions, usually on the strength of its more powerful members, such as Britain and France in the absence of the United States.  However, Britain and France were not willing to commit their troops, particularly if it was not in their interests to take action. (Both countries were still recovering from the dreadful effects of the First World War), leaving the League powerless.
Even if the member-nations reached agreement, the League did not have the necessary power to enforce its decisions. Article 16 expected member states to supply troops if necessary, a resolution was passed in 1923 that each member would decide for itself whether or not to fight a crisis. This clearly made nonsense of the idea of collective security. Several attempts were made to strengthen the covenant but these failed because a unanimous vote was needed to change it and this was never achieved.

e.     Serious weaknesses in the Covenant
When a crisis occurred, the League was supposed to act quickly and with determination. But it didn’t, WHY?
  • In many cases, however, the League met too infrequently and took too long to make decisions. The work of the League was slowed down by the requirement that all important decisions had to be taken unanimously and this in itself, was difficult to achieve. It was moreover difficult to ensure decisive actions against any aggressor.
  • Cooperation was difficult as member-nations ignored the League whenever their own interests were affected.
  • The need for all members to agree on a course of action undermined the strength of the League.

Close association with the Versailles Treaties
  • An initial disadvantage that it was too closely linked with the Versailles treaties, giving it the air of being an organisation for the benefit of the victorious powers.
  • In addition, it had to defend the peace settlement which was far from perfect.
  • The League was bound to uphold the peace treaties which had created it.
  • In time, however, it became apparent that some of the terms of those peace treaties were harsh and unjust and needed amending.
  • For example, the disappointment of Italy and the inclusion of Germans in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
  • This further undermined the League.

The Great Depression, 1930s
  • It was indeed unfortunate that many of the crisis in the 1930s coincided with the Great Depression, which afflicted most democracies.
  • Many economic problems arose as a result of the Depression. It damaged the trade and industry of almost all countries.
  • In Japan, the Depression threatened a complete collapse of the country’s industry.
  • In Italy, economic problems encouraged Mussolini to try to build an overseas empire to distract the people’s attention away from the difficulties the government faced.
  • It affected relations between countries.
  • Worried about the changing situation in Germany, France began building a series of frontier defences on its border with Germany (Maginot Line).
  • More importantly, the Depression also led to important political changes within countries.
  • In Germany, unemployment and poverty led people to elect the Nazis, who promised to solve economic and social problems. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis made no secret of their plan to overturn the Treaty of Versailles and regain lost German territory.
  • The effects of the Great Depression made international cooperation through the League even more difficult.
  • Major countries of the world were plagued by severe economic problems on the home front and thus, redirected their energy to solving economic problems rather than channel their attention to deal with global problems of international significance.
  • Member-nations were more concerned with solving their own economic problems than with preserving peace.
  • For example, Britain suffered high unemployment and was not willing to get involved in sorting out international disputes while its economy was suffering. The USA was also unwilling to support sanctions when its own trade was in such a mess.
Not surprisingly, in view of the depressed state of economic affairs, most, if not all, countries were less than willing to commit their resources to deal with these problems, which if pursued vigorously, might just involve a war to enforce peace! This nonchalant and indifferent attitude provided aggressors like Japan and Italy to get away scot-free for their misdeeds.

Other things to note:

Assessment of role of League
Despite these problems, many people were very enthusiastic about the League in its early days and it was able to do a lot of useful work in the 1920s.
  • The real explanation for the failure of the League was simple: when aggressive states such as Japan, Italy and Germany defied it, the League members, particularly Britain and France, were not prepared to support it either by decisive economic measures or by war.
  • The League was only as strong as the determination of its leading members to stand up to aggression; unfortunately, determination of that sort was sadly lacking during the 1930s.

Other Attempts at Collective Security

a.     The Locarno Treaties, 1925
  • From 1925-1929, there was a period of economic stability and international cooperation in Europe.
  • The peaceful policy of the German chancellor and later Foreign Minister, Gustav Stresemann, and the French desire for greater security led to improved relations between Germany and France.
  • In 1925, representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Italy met at Locarno in Switzerland. There they discussed an agreement to preserve the peace of Europe and later signed the Locarno Treaties in London. By these treaties, France, Belgium and Germany agreed to respect the borders between their countries and promised not to go to war against each other except in self-defence.
  • Britain and Italy signed this agreement to ensure that it was maintained. It agreed to settle all future disputes with France, Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia by peaceful means.
  • The Locarno Treaties were regarded as a great step towards preserving peace in Europe and improving Franco-German relations by removing some of the mistrust between two countries.
  • Friendly cooperation, however, could not last long.
Although international relations remained good until about 1931, the basic causes of hostility between Germany and the Allies had not been removed:
  1. Germany still wanted the Versailles Treaty to be revised; and
  2. France continued its policy of keeping Germany weak and isolated.

b.     The Kellogg-Briand Pact, or Pact of Paris, 1928
  • Another attempt at collective security was the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, or Pact of Paris, in 1928.
  • This was an agreement signed by the French foreign minister, Aristide Briand and the American Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg.
  • The Kellogg-Briand Pact declared that war should be used as ‘an instrument of national policy’ and condemned it as a means of settling international disputes. Kellogg and Briand persuaded 65 nations to sign the Pact, including Japan and Italy.
  • The fragility of world peace was sorely tested when two of its signatories, Japan and Italy soon broke it. 
  • This only goes to show how seriously the Pact was regarded and how successful the Pact was in promoting world peace.
  • The Kellogg-Briand Pact, like the Locarno Treaties, was an important attempt at international cooperation.
  • However, it failed to keep the peace for very long.
  • Its greatest weakness was that it contained no measures to punish aggressive nations nor did it provide any way to enforce its terms. The major powers could still make war by claiming that they were acting in self-defence or to protect their own interests.
  • Moreover, it failed to remove German resentment against the Treaty of Versailles. When the Great Depression reached Germany not long afterwards, Hitler made use of this resentment to gain support for his Nazi Party.

Attempts at Disarmament
In the 1920s, the League largely failed to bring about disarmament.
a.     The Washington Conference, 1921-22
  • The first attempt to limit armaments after the First World War was made at the Washington Conference.
  • President Warren Harding of the United States organised the conference to discuss the balance of power in East Asia and the Pacific.
  • The United States wanted to prevent further Japanese expansion and to protect its own interests in the region.
  • The main aim of the conference was to prevent the growth of a naval arms race between Britain, Japan and the United States.
How successful?
  • The conference achieved some limitation of naval armaments. Britain, Japan and the USA agreed to limit the size of their navies but that was as far as disarmament ever got.
  • The Five-Power Naval Treaty of 1922 stopped competition in capital ships. However, it did not limit the number of other fighting ships, such as light cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Nor did it reduce land forces, war planes and heavy guns. Furthermore, no measures were taken to ensure that the limitations were observed.

 b.     The London Conference, 1930
  • A further attempt to limit the growth of naval armaments was made at the London Conference of 1930.
  • The London Naval Treaty limited the ratio of cruisers between Britain, Japan and the USA.
  • However, the naval powers distrusted each other.
  • The added clauses to the agreements they signed, which allowed them to increase the number of their fighting ships if other powers did not observe the agreed limits.
  • Japan did not observe the naval limitations after its withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933.

c.     The Geneva Conference, 1932-34
  • The Geneva Conference was the last attempt to limit the growth of armaments before the Second World War.
  • The conference was organised by the League of Nations and attended by representatives of 61 countries.
  • It aimed to limit not just naval armaments but all kinds of weapons.
  • Many different suggestions on disarmament were discussed, including a French suggestion for an international peacekeeping force.
  • However, none of the suggestions gained wide support and so no decision was reached.
  • During the early stages of the conference, it was proposed that Germany should be allowed arms equality with Britain and France.
  • But when Hitler came to power in 1933, the Western powers at the conference were worried and decided against the idea.
  • France was determined to preserve its own security and therefore, wanted to maintain its military superiority. The Germans, meanwhile, continued to demand arms equality. This would mean either a reduction in British and French forces or German rearmament. In 1933, when it became clear that German demands would not be granted, Hitler withdrew Germany both from the conference and from the League of Nations.
  • After Germany’s withdrawal, the Geneva Conference could no longer hope to establish a balance of armaments in Europe. In the summer of 1934, it came to an end.
  • Following the failure of the Geneva Conference, an arms race began in Europe.
  • Hitler began to rearm Germany and to violate the terms of the Versailles Treaty.
  • This last attempt at disarmament showed once again that collective security had failed.
  • The failure of disarmament was particularly damaging to the League’s reputation in Germany. Germany had disarmed: it had been forced to but no other countries had disarmed to the same extent. Countries were NOT prepared to give up their armies and they were certainly not prepared to be the first to disarm lest disarming might leave them vulnerable.

 The Last Gasp of the League of Nations
  • The final Assembly of the League was held in April 1946.
  • 34 nations were represented, meeting once more in the Palace of the Nations.
  • They knew that a new body, the United Nations Organisation, was already in existence and that it would take over most of the League’s work.
  • The Assembly turned its assets and records over to UNO.
  • Then it voted itself out of existence.

The First World War showed that the old ways of keeping peace had failed – the world’s leaders now had to find another way to prevent war.  The 1920s saw the setting up of the League of Nations and many other individual agreements between countries.

To answer questions on the League of Nations and the search for international order in the 1920s you will need to be familiar with both the key content and the key themes of the period.
 The aims of the League of Nations
i.               The Convenant
ii.             Collective security

The roles of the various bodies within the League (Not so impt)
i.               The Assembly
ii.             The Council
iii.            The Permanent Court of International Justice
iv.            The International Labour Organisation
v.             The League of Nations Commissions
vi.            The Secretariat

The strengths and weaknesses of the League
i.               The League’s powers in theory
ii.             The League’s powers in practice
iii.            Membership of the League
iv.            Non-membership of the League
The League’s successes in the 1920s
i.               Solving international disputes
ii.             The International Labour Organisation
iii.            Other areas of success

The League’s failures in the 1920s
i.               International disputes
ii.             Disarmament

The aims, terms and results of international agreements in the 1920s
i.               Concerns of the major powers
ii.             France’s treaties
iii.            The Geneva Protocol
iv.            The Dawes Plan
v.             The Locarno Treaties
vi.            The Kellogg Briand Pact
vii.          The Young Plan
As with all examination questions you will not be asked simply to learn this content and write it out again.  You will be asked to show your understanding of some key themes from the period.  These are:

i.               The attitudes of the major powers to the League of Nations.
ii.             How the League made decisions.
iii.            The importance of the work of the League’s agencies.
iv.            Why the major powers sometimes acted without the League.
v.             How far the League was responsible for the relative peace in international affairs in the 1920s.

  • All five of the Paris Peace Treaties – Versailles, Neuilly, Sevres, Saint Germain and Trianon – began in the same way, by describing a new organisation for keeping peace in the world – the League of Nations.
  • This was Wilson’s pet idea. His proposal for keeping the pace through a permanent international organisation of nations was adopted in the Paris Peace Settlement of 1919. He wanted a peace that would last, and thought that wars could only be avoided if there was a body specifically designed for settling quarrels between countries. Although Wilson was certainly a great supporter of the idea of an international organisation for peace, the League was in reality the result of a coming together of similar suggestions made during the First World War by a number of world statesmen.
  • Wilson’s great contribution was to insist that the League Covenant should be included in each of the separate peace treaties. The League Covenant is the list of rules by which the League was to operate. It had been drawn up by an international committee including Lord Cecil of Britain, Jan Smuts of South Africa and Leon Bourgeois of France as well as Wilson himself. This ensured that the League actually came into existence instead of merely remaining a topic for discussion.

The Aims of the League
The two main aimsof the League of Nations were:
a.) To maintain world peace through collective security by dealing with disputes among nations and discourage aggression from any nation.
  • When one nation attacked another, the member states of the League would act together to restrain the aggressor by means of economic and military measures (sanctions) against the aggressive nation.
  • Economic sanctions might include a refusal to ship essential materials to this nation or a total embargo on trade with it. Military sanctions might include military action by member-nations against the country.
b.)  To encourage international co-operation in order to solve economic and social problems and thus improve living and working conditions for all people.
“News from the Outside World,” depicting the three nations who were not members of the League (USA, Russia and Mexico) as bums who are following with interest the goings-on of the “civilized” nations that were part of the League of Nations. Rollin Kirby 1924 (Won a Pulitzer Prize for this cartoon)
The Organisation of the League of Nations
TheCovenant of the League
a.     The Covenant of the League of Nations, as the first part of each treaty was called, described how peace was to be kept:
b.     Article 16 of the Covenant of the League spelt out its powers:
  • If any member of the League quarrelled with another member, they would talk about their differences instead of going to war.
  • The talks would take place in the League’s Assembly in Geneva, a sort of world parliament which met once a year and in which each member country had one vote.
  • If this did not work, and a member was attacked, all other members would go to its help. This was known as collective security.
  • Help would be arranged by the Council of the League, a smaller body which could meet quickly in a crisis.
  • The League could say that it disapproved of the action of the aggressor.
  • It would help the victim by cutting off all links with the aggressor, especially trade and financial links, in other words, impose economic sanctions. It could use military force against an aggressor.
During the 1920s, the League of Nations successfully settled a number of disputes between small, weak nations. When a dispute involved a great power, however, the League often favoured the more important country.
  1. In 1920, it settled a dispute between Sweden and Finland over the Aaland Islands.
  2. In the following year, Yugoslavian troops withdrew from Albania when the League threatened to impose economic sanctions on Yugoslavia.
  3. In 1925, the League stopped Greece from attacking Bulgaria by threatening an economic embargo.
  4. It also solved border disputes in other parts of eastern Europe.

Besides settling international disputes, the League encouraged co-operation between countries and helped to solve social and economic problems.
  1. The Disarmament Commission worked to persuade member countries to reduce the size of their armed forces and to cut down their stocks of weapons.
  2. The Mandates Commission kept an eye on the German and Turkish colonies, which were put under the temporary rule of Britain and France by the Peace Treaties. It also supervised the administration of mandated territories, the Free City of Danzig and the Saar.
The League of Nations as the muzzle that would contain the 'dog of war'. Meaning that nations would talk through disputes rather than resorting to violence.
1.)  The Corfu Incident (1923)
  • In the Corfu Incident of 1923 involving Italy and Greece, Italy refused to accept the authority of the League.
  • Mussolini over-reacted to the news of the murder of the Italian soldiers. He used force to demand compensation from the Greek government.
  • When this was not immediately forthcoming, he shelled and then captured the Greek island of Corfu. Greece protested to the League of Nations.
  • The League seemed unable or unwilling to respond. Italy was one of the four permanent members of the Council and so the League trod carefully.
  • The Corfu Incident was seen as serious failure for the League in the 1920s. It showed that powerful nations could still bully a less powerful neighbour.
  • The dispute was finally settled through the mediation of Britain and France.
2.)  Invasion of Manchuria (1931)
  • Japan ignored the League when it seized Manchuria in 1931 and when it invaded China in 1937.
  • In 1931, China appealed to the League of Nations which condemned Japan and ordered its troops to be withdrawn.
  • When Japan refused, the League appointed a commission under Lord Lytton which decided in 1932 that there were faults on both sides and suggested that Manchuria be governed by the League.
  • However, Japan rejected this and withdrew from the League in March 1933.
  • The League had some points to its CREDIT over Manchuria.  Japan’s aggression had been fairly assessed, and then made public to the whole world. Japan had been condemned and from 1932 onwards, Japan was to be isolated until it found friends in the Fascist dictators.
3.)  Abyssinia (Ethiopia) (1935-6)
In the same way, the League could not prevent Italy from seizing Abyssinia in 1935-6 and Albania in 1939.
  • In 1934, the Italian army had built a fort at Wal-Wal, an oasis in Abyssinia, the last uncolonised state in Africa. The Italian soldiers in the fort refused to talk; shots were fired. The Abyssinians were easily defeated by Italian armoured cars and aircraft.
  •  In October 1935, the Abyssinians claimed that the Italians had launched a full-scale invasion into their territory.
What did the League did or did not do?
  • Sanctions would only work if they were imposed quickly and decisively but such was not the case.
  •  The League condemned Italy, a member of the Council, and introduced economic sanctions, namely prohibition of export of arms; prohibition of loans to Italy; prohibition of imports from Italy; and prohibition of certain exports, like rubber and metals, to Italy.
A cartoon with the caption, ‘The Man Who Took the Lid Off’ by cartoonist, David Low published in October 1935. The figure taking off the lid is Mussolini. You can see a 'devil-like' figure emerging from the hole with a lot of steam, inferring opening up Hell.
A cartoon from Punch, 1935. Punch was usually very patriotic towards Britain. It seldom criticised British politicians over foreign policy. Here you can see the French maid and English gentleman chastising Mussolini. The cartoonist is disagreeing with the level of action taken against Italy in this instance.

Was The League Of Nations A Success Or A Failure?

After the First World War everyone wanted to avoid repetition of the mass slaughter of the war that had just ended. US was horrified by such an act, therefore, President Woodrow Wilson suggested an international body whose sole purpose was to maintain World peace. Before 1920 there was no such organization or place where the national Delegates could meet up and try to talk their way through their problems. After the War with great number of deaths, this idea was liked by almost everyone. Its main task was to sort out international disputes whenever they occurred. The League aimed to discourage aggression from any nation, to encourage countries to co-operate, especially in business and trade, to encourage nations to disarm, to improve the living and working conditions of people in all parts of the world.

The headquarters of the League was based in Geneva, Switzerland. There where no disputes here as this was and is a neutral country and did not take part in the WWI. This country already had an international organization running here, Red Cross. The Covenant laid out the structure and rules for each of the bodies within the organization. However, the very democratic organization of the League was a great problem. The top most element of the League was the Assembly. This was the League's Parliament. Every country in the League sent a representative to the assembly. This only met once a year and it needed the agreement of ALL member countries before taking a decision. It represented all members, states regardless of size, and they all had a vote each. The assembly did not really have power at all and most decisions were compromises. The council was a smaller group and met more often, usually five times a year and on emergencies. It included the permanent and the temporary members. It was conquered by the permanent members. These were the major powers: Britain, France, Japan and Italy in the 1920s. The temporary ones were elected by the assembly for a three year period. The permanent countries had a Veto. This means that they could say no to a decision even if all the others agreed and that would block the decision. On a Dispute or a problem, the council had three options/steps. First step: Verbal Sanctions, a warning was given to the offender to leave the invaded territory or else. Second step was to impose Economic sanctions on the country. This meant that all the member countries had to completely stop trade with the offending Nation and push it towards bankruptcy. But how was this possible when all the member countries were busy rebuilding the nations? This was one of the reasons why the US did not join the League. Third step was to impose Physical Sanctions - Military force was to be used against the offender but the League did not have an army. The League army was its member's army but often the members were not willing to risk their armies and navies for other...

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