How did the League of Nations fail in its aims to keep peace?


The Birth of the League

The League of Nations was Woodrow Wilson's idea to keep Europe peaceful.  Although many believed this wouldn't work many were open to trying his idea.

The League of Nations wasnt particuarly strong in the beginning.  Despite Wilson being the creator of the Leauge America never joined due to it never being approved by congress.  This was because they didnt believe the Treaty was fair and they were not prepared to ban trading.

Due to the abscence of the USA the four main powers were Britain, France, Italy and Japan.  These became permanent members of the council.  Britain and france usually guided the policy but they had been severley weakened during the war and didnt have the resources to fill the gap the USA had left.  

Without the USA many felt that the League would not be able to impose effective sanctions. 

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Structure of the League

  • The Assembly was the League's parliment.  They could vote on admitting new members, adding temporary members to the council, the budget of the league, other ideas put forward to the council.  The assembly met once a year.  Decisions had to be unanimous.
  • The council was a smaller group that met about 5 times a year made up of the 4 permanent memebers and the temporary members.  Each permanent member had a veto.  The council could use moral condemnation, economic and financial sanctions and military force against the 'aggressor' in a dispute.  
  • The secretariat was a civil service to keep records of meetings.
  • The permanent Court of International Justice was to settle disputes peacefully.  The Court could give advide on border disputs or legal advice to the Assembly and Council.
  • The International Labour Organisation brought together representatives of the government, employers etc once a year to try and improve the conditions of working people around the world.
  • The league of Nations comissions were used to tackle major problems facing the world. 
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Why did the League fail in the 1930s?

Within the 1920s the League was quite successful.  It solved disputes between smaller countries and was responsible for returner thousands of P.O.W and refugees back to their homes.

However, when a permanent major power of the League Musslini invaded Corfu in 1923 the League sided with him which began people doubting the League.

In the 1930s there were 3 main problems the league faced.  The Manchurian crisis, The disarmament conference where Hitler spoke and the Abyssinian crisis.  The 1930s was labelled the Dark valley.

People began to lose respect for the League and were gradually becoming less influenced by the League.  this could have been due to the worldwide depression meaning that more countries faced political problems as a result.

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The Manchurian Crisis

The depression hit Japan badly.  To become a major power to the extent it was before the depression hit they wanted to build up the Japanese empire by force.

In 1931 the Japanese claimed Chinese soldiers sabotaged the South manchurian railway they controlled.  To retaliate the Japanese invaded Manchuria.  In 1932 they set up a puppet government.  Later in 1932 they bombed Shanghai.

China appealed to the League.  Japan claimed it was not the aggressor as China was in a state of anarchy so invaded in self defence and to keep peace.  League officials sailed round the world to asses the situation themselves.

In september 1932 a full year after the invasion the judgement was made that Japan was the aggressor.  However, Japan refused to withdraw from Manchuria and instead announced they would invade more of China.

Japan resigned from the League and invaded Jehol.  Banning trade wasn't effective as the USA was Japan's made trading partner.  Any other sanctions could never be agreed upon. Britain and France couldn't risk using force and starting another war.

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The Abyssinian Crisis

In December 1934 there was a dispute between Italian and Ethiopian soldiers at the Wal-Wal inside Abyssinia.  Mussolini began planning an invasion and the Abyssinian emperor Haile Selassie appealled to the League for help.

  • Phase 1- Mussolini is supposedly settling the dispute with the league from January 1935- October 1935 but is actually preparing for a full scale invasion of Abyssinia.   Britain and france wanted to keep on good terms with Mussolini so didnt take the situatuion seriously.  However, as the year went on more and more people thought that the League should be doing something about the dispute.  After 8 months the League decided no one was responsible for the Wal-Wal crisis and offered Mussolini some of Abyssinia which he refused.
  • Phase 2- In October 1935 Mussolini's army was ready and he launched a full scale invasion.  A comittee was set up to decide sanctions.  The league banned arm sales to Italy but allowed them to abyssinia.  It banned all loans to Italy and all imports from Italy.  It banned the export of tin, rubber and metals.  It wasted 2 months deciding on an oil ban as the economy was already poor and this vould worsen it.  Britain and France never closed the Suez canal.  
  • A deal was made to give Mussolini 2/3 of Abyssinia.
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Hoare-Laval Pact

In december 1935 while sanctions were being duscurssed the two Foreign Ministers from Britain and France, Hoare and Laval, met with mussolini to make a secret deal.

The aim was to give Mussolini 2/3 of Abyssinia in return of calling off his invasion.  Laval told Britain if they didn't support the idea that France would no longer support the sanctions against Italy.

Details of the plan were leaked to the french press leading to outrage.  Hoare and Laval were fired.  Italy invaded the rest of Abyssinia.

The USA disgusted with Britain's and France's actions stepped up all exports to Italy. Mussolini continued to ignore the League and kept taking more parts of Abyssinia.  In May Haile Selassie was forced into exile.

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