Why did collective security fail in the 1930s?


The Depression

- The poverty and despair caused the rise of extremist groups; e.g. extreme nationalists and extreme political groups -> difficult to restrict
- A major economic collapse in the USA meant that the delicate structure of European nations benefitting from Amercian capitalism was put at risk -> equally true for Japan
- The support for governments fell since people blamed the governments for the crisis -> France shifted to a radical-left wing government and Britain's political support shifted to the right-wing
- The German economy collapsed after the US wasn't able to borrow them money anymore -> high rise in unemployment -> the Weimar government lost credibility and collapsed when Franz von Papen took the role of virtual dictator in 1932
- The Japanese economy fell which was followed by a radical shift to the right -> more military -> by 1932 liberal politics in Japan came to an end
- Belgium and Poland focused their governments into preparing for a possible threat from Germany
- The USSR believed that capitalism had caused the depression and Western power (esp. Britain and France) feared that communism would spread to Europe
- It was hard to resrict the growing froces of expansionism in Europe and Asia -> reviewal of strategies for international tension
- The League's key weapon was economic sanctions which was effective since the struggling countries valued their trade
- The USA was even more isolated
- The British took up protectionism for trade within their empire in the Ottawa Agreements of 1932
- France and Italy took longer to be affected because they were less dependent on trade but eventually their economies fell too
- The Depression led to alliances and agreements outside the League and while economic sanctions worked to intimidate the countries to an extent taking aggressors down by force was not an option

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The Manchurian dispute (1931-33)

- Japan suffered greatly from the Depression and some believed that expansionism would be the only option, however Japan was already dominated by Britain, France and the Netherlands and the USA was trying to increase their influence in the Pacific and would be concerned by any aggression there
- In September 1931 the Kwantung Army set up a bomb in Mukden and blamed China -> Japan conquers the area -> China askes the League for help -> the League asked Japan to withdraw their forces but the army didn't listen -> the League investigated the dispute but it took a year and by the time they stated Japan to be guilty the conquer had already been completed -> Lytton Report; instruction on members to not recognize the new Japanese state Manchukuo and invited Japan to hand Manchuria back to China -> Japan leaves the League and blames them for hypocrisy because Britain had been known to violently conquer in China like Japan had done (the League didn't tolerate this type of empire-building
- The League failed to resolve this crisis because a) members were preoccupied with their own economies because of the Depression and the US was the only one who could start an embargo that would affect Japan and the US was not a member b) military actions were hard to impose because Manchuria was so geographically remote and only Britain and the US had the naval capasities to confront them -> Britain was unwilling esp. after the Washington conference and the US was not a member c) France and Italy were preoccupied with the situation in Europe and France was said to even privately symphatize with the Japanese situation
- The Manchurian dispute was a failure for the League and had shown everyone that Japan could get away with their actions
- By removing itself from the League Japan had ended collective security in the Far East
- In Europe Mussolini was encouraged by the Manchurian crisis -> Abyssinian crisis
- Historian Sandra Wilson argues that the Manchurian crisis wasn't all that significant for the militarism in Japan since many Japanese viewed the end of the crisis in 1933 as a return to normality and expected Japan to continue working with Western states -> however the Pacific War has lead us to view the Manchurian crisis in a different light

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The Abyssinian crisis (1935)

- Mussolini asumed that the League wouldn't mind since Britain and France wouldn't strongly object -> the French foreign minister Pierre Laval had given Mussolini a free hand in Abyssinia and Britain wanted Italy to have power over the region without officially conquering it (neither France nor Britain wanted to lose Italy as an ally against Nazi Germany)
- Italy assaulted Abyssinia with brutality and ferocity on 3 October 1935 which compromised Britain and France and caused the Abyssinian Emperor, Haile Selassie, to appeal to the League
- The League condemned Italian actions but Britain and France sought a settlement outside the League to ensure good Italian relations that would benefit them
- The British and French Foreign Ministers came up with the Hoare-Laval Pact that would allow Italy to control two thirds of Abyssinia which Mussolini could have agreed to but it was never presented to him because the plan was leaked to French press and the pro-League British population forced Hoare to resign
- In the end the League's sanctions were diluted because no embargos were put on exports to Italy and Britain refused to close the Suez Canal to Italian shipping -> Mussolini was able to escalate his efforts until May 1936 when Italy was in control of Abyssinia
- Generally the British supported the League's efforts and in France the left-wing supported the League and the right-wing supported Italy
- The Abyssinian crisis showed once again how a member of the League could get away with aggressions
- The League had also shown the ineffectiveness of collective security for the maintenance of peace -> member states valued selfish gain more than international peace (esp. Britain and France)
- The collapse of the alliance between Britain, France and Itay had caused Italy to get closer to Nazi Germany and the League's weakness was exploited by Hitler with the militarization of the Rhineland in March 1936
- Many historians agree that the Abyssinian crisis officially ended collective security and the League's authority with it

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