Structure of the League
- League of Nations = Created by post-war treaties
- Based in Geneva, Switzerland; historically neutral country
- Began work in January, 1920
- Improve people's lives and jobs
- Enforce the Treaty of Versailles
- Stop war (through collective security)
ASSEMBLY: The League's parliament. Met annually. 58 members at its peak. Representatives from every nation. One nation: one vote. Had ultimate authority over the League's actions.
COUNCIL: Quick response group. Met more frequently, responded to crises. Smaller, with four permanent members: France, Britain, Italy, Japan. Permanent members: power of veto.
SPECIAL COMMISSIONS: Humanitarian work. Including health, slavery, mandates, refugees. Specifically: International Labour Organisation, World Health Organisation...
Weaknesses in the Structure of the League
- NO ARMY; Relied on collective security, on members' willingness to act together against aggressors. Clemenceau didn't like this; League has no way to enforce its decisions. Wilson supported this; to have an army would be to violate its aim to achieve collective disarmament.
- USA NEVER JOINED! Congress refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, and so also rejected the League. Americans thought joining the League would be like 'signing a blank cheque'. Trade sanctions ineffective, as sanctioned country trades with USA. No economic support.
- DEFEATED NATIONS EXCLUDED; nowhere to air grievances. Germany didn't join until 1926, Russia excluded due to Communist revolution. Their exclusion meant that they did not have to obey the League's covenant, and left them unmonitored and uncontrolled.
- DECISIONS HAD TO BE UNANIMOUS, making the League slow to take action. This was a significant problem in the Assembly, which had over 50 members
The League in the 1920s - Successes
1921, Upper Silesia - Germany v. Poland; both lay claim to the area.
Decision: Plebiscite. British and French troops keep order. Area is divided.
1921, Aaland Islands - Sweden v. Finland; both lay claim to the islands.
Decision: Finland retains islands, but Swedish culture is preserved.
1925, Bulgaria - Greece v. Bulgaria; Greece invade Bulgaria after Greek soldiers killed.
Decision: Greece condemned as aggressor, pays compensation to Bulgaria.
Special Commissions - working for a better world
- 400,000 refugees returned home
- 200,000 Sierra Leone slaves freed
- ILO banned toxic lead in paints
- USSR aided with plague in Siberia
The League in the 1920s - Failures
1920, VILNA - Poland v. Lithuania
Dispute: Vilna was historically Lithuanian, now inhabited by Poles. Polish army seized it.
Decision: League requests Poland to withdraw. Poland refuses. Conference of Ambassadors awards Vilna to Poland.
1923, CORFU - Italy v. Greece
Dispute: Italian politicians killed by unknown gunmen while in Greece. Mussolini demands apology, and large fine in compensation. Greece refuses, Italy attacks Corfu (violating the League's covenant!)
Decision: League pressured Greece to pay compensation to Italy. Italy threatens to leave the League. Conference of Ambassadors demands Greece pay compensation. Italy withdraws from Corfu.
In both of these disputes, the League of Natiopns FAILED TO CONDEMN THE AGGRESSOR.
How successful was the League in the 1920s?
Settled disputes successfully:
- Aaland Islands, 1921
- Upper Silesia, 1921
- Bulgaria, 1925
Saved Austria and Hungary from economic collapse.
Special commissions did important humanitarian work.
Failed to deal with aggressors:
- Vilna, 1920 - didn't remove Poles
- Corfu, 1923 - no effective action
Failed to achieve international disarmament.
Great Powers continue to make international agreements independently of the League:
- Washington Conference, 1921; USA, Britain, France, Japan limit size of navies
- Locarno Treaties, 1925 - signed between Germany + Great Powers, agree not to go to war
Effect of Economic Depression
By the late 1920s, the economies of many European countries were beginning to recover.
- 1924, Dawes Plan - USA lends Germany money for reparations
- 1929, Young Plan - Reparations scaled down
Economic recovery => Trade links => Improved international relations!
BUT THEN, November 1929 - Wall Street Crash => America enters Great Depression
- Everyone trades with the USA; every country affected
- Trade and industry damaged internationally, leading to SELF INTEREST; leaders of France and Britain not willing to help solve international disputes while home economy suffers.
- International relations deteriorate!
Economic Depression => Unemployment rises => Rise of Dictators!
When economies are in crisis, people are desperate - turn to POLITICAL EXTREMISTS who promise solutions. e.g., Hitler; Nationalist - not concerned with improving international relations; Militarist - determined to build military strength, to rearm Germany
The Manchurian Crisis, 1931-33
Dispute: Japanese army uses excuse of explosion on Japanese controlled railway to begin occupation of Manchuria. China appeals to League for help.
- Instruct Japan to withdraw. Japan completes occupation, renames Manchukuo, establishes puppet government.
- Lytton Commission, 1932 - condemns Japan, but takes a year to gather information
- When League accepts the report, Japan leaves the League. No further action by League.
Why did the League fail to deal with Japanese aggression?
- Japan powerful and determined. Members not willing to transport armies so far, risk war.
- League eurocentric; problems in East Asia seem less important - a far away problem
- Japan supposedly restoring order in Manchuria; China very weak at this time
- Accepted that Japan had legitimate economic interest in Manchuria; within sphere of interest
Effect: League seems weak, ineffective, too slow to act.
The Disarmament Conference - 1932-34
Increasingly tense international relations resulted in increasing pressure to disarm.
Disarmament Conference, 1932-34
- Resolutions to ban bombing civilians, limit tanks, prohibit chemical warfare, BUT no discussion of how these limits should be achieved. e.g., ban on chemical weapons blocked!
- Germany pushing for equality - either all countries disarm to their level, or they are allowed to rearm. Initially, there is refusal to treat Germany equally. Germany walks out, but are encouraged to return with promises of equality. Yet no agreement can be made within League.
- 1933, Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany! While promising not to rearm if others disarm, he is secretly rearming Germany. The same year, he walks out of the Conference, leaves the League altogether.By this stage it was no secret that Hitler was rearming.
Effect: Race to rearm begins!
1935, Anglo-German Naval Agreement - Britain allows Germany an army 35% of their own. Acts INDEPENDENTLY OF THE LEAGUE, and in DIRECT VIOLATION of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Abyssinian Crisis, 1935-36
Dispute: Italy had been planning an invasion since the clash at the Wal Wal oasis the previous year. Abyssinians stood no chance against modern warfare.
- Morally condemns Italy
- Sanctions imposed; yet NO OIL RESTRICTIONS, and Suez Canal not blocked to Italians! Could have cut off supplies, halted progress of invasion.
Hoare-Laval Plan - Desperate, British and French politicians seek to partition Abyssinia to avoid further conflict, but plan is leaked. Unwilling to take decisive action against aggressor!
- Hitler invaded Rhineland in final stage of invasion; France willing to sacrifice abyssinia to gain Italy's support against Hitler.
Why did the League fail to deal with Italian aggression?
- Desperate to retain Italy's friendship
- Britain and France didn't see it as unreasonable for Italy to want to colonise Africa
- Unwilling to risk war!
How successful was the League in the 1930s?
- Problem: Japan invade Manchuria
- Response: Long delay, no action taken
- Effect: League seen as weak and ineffective
DISARMAMENT CONFERENCE, 1932-34
- Problem: Germany complains that it is the only country to disarm
- Response: League members can't agree to disarm
- Effect: Germany leaves the League and openly rearms => race to rearm!
- Problem: Italy invade Abyssinia
- Response: No effective sanctions agreed. Britain and France make secret deal.
- Effect: League seen as powerless and irrelevant
The events of the 1930s showed that the League of Nations was powerless to stop a strong, determined aggressor.