The League of Nations


The League of Nations


  • The International Labour Organisation was in many ways successful; the organisation limited the number of hours young children could work, banned poisonous white lead in paint and collected data of working conditions and encouraged the government to improve in this area
  • The League oversaw some 400 000 prisoners of war to their homelands and in 1922 the Refugee Commission successfully aided the refugee crisis that hit Turkey and Greece
  • The League prevented many diseases (e.g. cholera, smallpox and dysentery) from spreading in refugee camps
  • The Health Commission (later WHO) educated people on different diseases and limited the spread of leprosy and launched a campaign on eradicate mosquitoes which lessened cases of malaria and yellow fewer
  • Even though Russia was not a member of the League and usually opposed everything it did, it turned to the Health Commission for advice on how to stop the plague in Siberia
  • The Slavery Commission helped reduce slavery for example in Sierra Leone
  • The League named companies involved in illegal drug trade which discouraged others from pursuing similar policies
  • The League had some success in resolving border disputes; e.g. The Aaland Islands 1921; the islands belonged to Finland legally but most of the inhabitants were Swedes and wanted to be ruled by Sweden. In the end the League chose to give the islands to Finland and while Sweden didn't like the decision no aggression followed
  • In the case of economic collapse the League was able to help with international loans and by sending commissioners to supervise economic activity. This happened with Austria and Hungary in 1922-23 and Estonia in 1927 and in all three instances economic stability was achieved (until Great Depression)


  • Need for all member nations to agree on any action to be taken -> decision-making difficult and slow (Article 5)
  • Absence of the USA (most significantly), Russia and Germany (e.g. made economic pressuring harder because even if the member nations started an embargo the US could still trade with the aggressor)
  • Vagueness in Articles (e.g. Article 8 "the lowest point consistent with national safety")
  • Most of the threats were empty; the League didn't have the economic nor military means to stop aggressors if simple reasoning didn't stop them
  • The Permanent Court of Justice could only intervene on a dispute if it was asked to do so. Additionally, the court could not force the nations to follow its rulings. This meant that while the court had power in theory it lacked it in effect
  • The isolation of Germany caused Germans to grow more bitter and sign the Treaty of Rapallo with Russia in 1922 and use this to bypass many of the clauses of Versailles. This is arguable a key reason as to why Britain and France changed their attitudes towards Germany in hopes of it turning its back against Russia
  • France and Britain acted as the leading powers of the League but they had contrasting views on post-war policies and were both too weakened by the war to act as "the world's policeman"
  • Not a global organisation -> much harder to deal with conflicts outside Europe (e.g. Manchuria in 1931)
  • Nations didn't want to sacrifice their own position for the greater good
  • Disarming the defeated nations (esp. Germany) was hard but it was even harder to get the victorious nations to disarm as well (a key point of Wilson's Fourteen Points) -> disarmament failed because of concerns over security, rising nationalism in Germany, Japan and Italy and the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression
  • France questioned the League's responsibility of enforcing the treaties, believing this to show sympathy to the defeated nations -> many disputes referred to the Conference of Ambassadors and the League struggled to establish an international standing
  • It often seemed like the large powers only took actions that benefitted themselves -> e.g. in 1920 Lithuania and Poland fought over Vilna and after the war ended Polish troops refused to leave the city. In the end the League gave Vilna to Poland even though Poland was the aggressor because the French refused to oppose Poland in hopes of Poland blocking communism from Russia and helping France if Germany recovered


The League wasn't successful as a military organisations mainly because of all decisions having to be unanimous and the League lacking the central powers of the US and Russia. Britain and France worked as the leading powers but had difficulty in making decisions because France wanted to aggressively crush Germany while Britain wanted to restore Germany to benefit British trade. Additionally, both Britain and France were more focused on their own policies than international interests. However, the League did succeed in more socialist aims regarding for example health and slavery. However, this remains ignored by many historians and the more significant side of things is often thought to be the military side. When it came down to solving disputes the League was generally more successful with smaller nations (e.g. Greece-Bulgaria conflict) than with larger ones. This might have been because the smaller nations were intimidated by the League. It almost seemed like there were separate rules for the larger powers and the smaller powers (as argued by Greece). When the League tried to solve disputes that involved powerful League member nations both the League and the Conference of Ambassadors could be easily manipulated (most of the time by France or Italy). Overall, a key issue of the League when solving disputes was the self-interest of nations which disabled them from leading international diplomacy.


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