The League of Nations
Aims, strengths and weaknesses - the basics
The League of Nations was set up by the Treaty of Versailles.
- Its aims were to stop wars, encourage disarmament, and make the world a better place by improving people's working conditions, and by tackling disease.
- Its organisation comprised an assembly, which met once a year; a council, which met more regularly to consider crises; a small secretariat to handle the paperwork; a Court of International Justice; and a number of committees such as the International Labour Organisation and the Health Committee to carry out its humanitarian work.
- Its main strengths was that it had set up by the Treaty of Versailles, which every nation had signed, and it had 58 nations as members by the 1930s. To enforce its will, it could offer arbitration through the Court of International Justice, or apply trade sanctions against countries that went to war.
- Its main weaknesses were the fact that it was set up by the Treaty of Versailles (which every nation hated); that its aims were too ambitious; that Germany, Russia and the USA were not members; that it had no army; that its organisation was cumbersome; and that decisions had to be unanimous.
The League's Succeses and Failiures
1. Prisoners of war 1920 The League took home half a million First World War prisoners of war.
2. Aaland Islands 1921 Sweden and Finland accepted the League's arbitration to give the Aaland Islands to Finland.
3. Poland 1921 The Poles invaded Vilna (the capital of Lithuania). The League ordered Poland to withdraw. Poland refused; the League could do nothing
4. Turkey 1922 The League set up camps and fed Turkish refugees.
5. Corfu 1923 Mussolini ignored the League's orders to pull out of Corfu, and made Greece pay money to Italy.
6. Disarmament 1923 and 1932 Disarmament talks failed, because Germany demanded as many weapons as everyone else.
7. Austria 1923 The League sent economics experts to help Austria when its government went bankrupt.
8. Kellogg-Briand Pact 1928 Sixty-five countries signed a treaty to end war - but then they just ignored it.
9. Jobs 1920s The International Labour Organisation failed to persuade countries to adopt a 48-hour week.
The Manchurian and Abysinian Crises
In September 1931, the Japanese claimed that Chinese soldiers had sabotaged the Manchurian railway in Korea, which Japan controlled. Japan attacked and by February 1932, had brutally conquered Manchuria. Meanwhile, in January-March 1932, Japan attacked and captured the city of Shanghai in China itself. In March 1932, China appealed to the League of Nations. In April 1932, a League delegation led by Lord Lytton arrived in Manchuria to see what was happening, and in October 1932 it declared that Japan should leave. In February 1933, a special assembly of the League voted against Japan, so the Japanese walked out. The League, however, could not agree on sanctions, and Britain and France were not prepared to send an army. Not only did the Japanese stay in Manchuria, but in July 1937 they also invaded China.
In December 1934, a dispute about the border between Abyssinia and the Italian Somaliland flared into fighting. In January 1935, Haile Selassie, the emperor of Abyssinia, asked the League to arbitrate. In July 1935, the League banned arms sales to either side, five-power committee to arbitrate. In October 1935, the League's committee suggested that Italy should have some land in Abyssinia.Instead, Italy's 100,000-strong army invaded Abyssinia. The Italian troops used poison gas and attacked Red Cross hospitals. Britain and France refused to intervene. In December 1935, news leaked out about the Hoare-Laval Pact - a secret plan made by the foreign secretary of Britain and the prime minister of France to give Abyssinia to Italy. In the end, the League did almost nothing. By May 1936, Italy had conquered Abyssinia.
It is as important that you know the effect the two crises had on the League, as it is that you know the story of the events themselves:
- It became clear that if a strong nation was prepared to ignore the League, the League could do nothing about it.
- The League's delays and slowness made it look scared.
- Sanctions were shown to be useless.
- Everybody realised that Britain and France were not prepared to use force.
- The four major powers - Japan, Italy, Britain and France - all betrayed the League.
- Smaller nations realised that the League could not and would not protect them.
- Britain and France decided that the League was useless to stop war, and followed instead the policy of appeasement.
- Hitler was encouraged to move ahead with his plans.
Other Failiures of the League
Dates and events 1932-1939
DateEvent 1932-1933 Japan attacks and conquers Manchuria. The League objects, but can do nothing. 1933 Hitler announces that Germany is leaving the League. 1935-1936 Italy attacks and conquers Abyssinia. The League objects, but can do nothing. 1935 Hitler renounces the Treaty of Versailles and starts re-arming in defiance of the League. 1936 The League's Disarmament Conference fails. 1936 German army re-occupies the Rhineland in defiance of the League. 1937 Italy leaves the League. 1938 Germany informs the League that Germany and Austria are uniting, in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. 1938 Munich Agreement - Britain and France, ignoring the League, follow the policy of appeasement and give Hitler the Sudetenland. 1939 The fascists win the Spanish Civil War and Spain leaves the League 1939 Second World War
Two Important Events
Halie Selassie the Abyssinian emperor
In the early 1930s, two events destroyed people's belief in the ability of the League to stop wars. In both situations, the League did not act quickly enough or made poor decisions about how to suppress the aggressor nation. This served to show that smaller countries could not expect protection from the League and that aggressors (such as Hitler) had nothing to stand in their way.
- By February 1932, Japan (a member of the League's Council) had invaded and conquered Manchuria. It took the League nearly a year to send a commission and declare that Japan ought to leave - whereupon Japan left the League. The League couldn't send an army, and it needed America's support to impose sanctions successfully. In the end, it did nothing.
- In 1935, Italy invaded Abyssinia. Although the Abyssinian emperor Haile Selassie went to the League himself to ask for help, all the League did was to ban arms sales, which did Abyssinia more harm than Italy. A League commission offered Italy part of Abyssinia, but Italy invaded anyway. Far from stopping Italy, Britain and France tried to make a secret pact to give Abyssinia to Italy.