Why did the League of Nations fail to keep the peace?

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Aims of the League

1. Stop agression

2. Disarmament

3.Encourage co-operation

4. Improve living and working conditions

'Police the world'

Britain, France, Japan and Italy were the 4 permenant members. They had the power of veto.

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The League of Nations had 42 founder members, however:

  • America refused to join, and it was Woodrow Wilson's idea in the first place! American 's did not want to be paying for and involved in Europes problems.
  • Germany was not allowed to join and regarded it as the 'League of victors', however it joined later in 1926
  • USSR was not allowed to join because of communist fears, but joined in 1934

These countries that were missing were powerful and infulential. Without them, the league would always be weak,

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Structure of the League


The assembly met once a year. The council met 5 times a year. The secretariat ran the league day to day.

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Powers of the League

Sanction 1 - Verbal warning

Sanction 2 - Economic sanctions like trade refusal to push offending nation into bankrupcy

Sanction 3 - Military action, however league had no army so had to be enforced by members

Idea of collective security: if one state attacked another, all the members would join together and act against the agressor.

The league settled several small disputes in the 1920's like Corfu 1923, where Italy invaded Greece, and Bulgaria 1925, where Greece invaded Bulgaria

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The Manchurian Crisis 1931-1933


  • The Great Depression seriously affected Japan, who had a quickly growing population and increasing poverty level. They needed to expand for new industry and space, which Manchuria offered.
  • In 1931, Japanese soldiors guarding the Manchurian railway claimed there was an explosion which was created by the Chinese. This was the excuse to invade.
  • Japan invaded Manchuria and China appealed to the league for help.

Action taken

  • The Lytton Commision was set up by the league to look at evidence from China and Japan.
  • This commision took a whole year to issue a report saying Japan was in the wrong, but control had already been established.
  • Japan refused to leave and pulled out of the League.

Effect on the League

  • Japan was too far away to send troops and had no neighbouring League members
  • It's main trading partner was the USA who was not in the League
  • Britain and France didn't want and couldn't afford a war, so nothing was done

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The Abyssinian Crisis 1925-1936


  • Italy invaded Abyssinia under the power of Fascist Mussolini who was changing italy into a dictatorship
  • Italy had been defeated by Abyssinia is 1896 and wanted revenge
  • In October 1935 Mussolini sent troops in to invade
  • The Abyssinian leader appealed to the league for help

Action taken

  • The league imposed economic sanctions after a while, but didn't stop coal or oil
  • Didn't close the Suez canal which would have made invasion impossible
  • Britain and France made the Hoare-Laval pact with Italy to give them 2/3 of Aybssinia because they wanted to keep Mussolini on their side, but this was leaked and forced to end
  • Mussolini had victory and walked out of the league

Effect on League

  • Marked end of leagues peace keeping
  • Italy and Germany signed the Berlin-Rome Axis and started making pacts that would lead to WW2. The league was in tatters.
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Collapse of the League

French and British self interest

Absent powers - USA, USSR and Germany

Ineffective sanctions

Lack of armed forces

Unfair treaty

Reaching decisions too slowly

European club for victors

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