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

AQA Modern World History GCSE revision notes based on the syllabus.

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The League of Nations

  • The League had four main aims: to encourage cooperation, to stop aggression, to improve living and working conditions and to encourage disarmament.
  • The League of Nations was designed to police the world.
  • There were 42 members to start with, and 59 by the 1930's.
  • The League could warn countries in disputes, apply economic sanctions and then send troops in.
  • The League tried to improve social conditions - such as health, slavery and refugees - as well as political situations.
  • Every member country of the League had a vote on what should happen in a particular situation.
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Early Successes for the League of Nations

  • The League resolved several difficult situations where countries argued over territorial claims - and it did it without fighting.
  • It solved the dispute in 1921 between Germany and Poland over Upper Silesia; the dispute between Sweden and Finland over the Aaland Islands in 1921, and the conflict when Greece invaded Bulgaria in 1925.
  • These early successes gave them a good reputation.
  • They also did a lot of good work to help refugees after the war.
  • It worked to combat the spread of serious diseases such a leprosy, malaria, and the plague.
  • It fought against slavery, and tried to create better working conditions for people all across the world.
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The Manchurian Crisis 1 (1931-1932)

  • There was a 'crisis' in Manchuria mainly because of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent depression. The depression hit Japan badly because both China and the USA put up tariffs on Japanese goods. The collapse of the American market put the Japanese economy in crisis - without trade, Japan could not afford to feed its people, so the army leaders saw no other choice but to build up a Japanese empire by force.
  • In 1931, an incident on the South Manchurian Railway gave them a good opportunity to expand their empire. In September 1931, the Japanese claimed that Chinese soldiers had sabotaged the South Manchurian Railway, which was under Japanese command. In retaliation to this, Japanese forces overran Manchuria and threw out all Chinese forces.
  • In response, the League sent Lord Lytton to assess the situation. In 1932 - a full year after the invasion - Lord Lytton and the other officials presented their report. Lord Lytton judged that the Japanese had been wrong and that Manchuria should be returned to the Chinese.
  • Japan refused to accept this report and withdrew from the League in 1933, and the next week, they invaded Jehol.
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The Manchurian Crisis 2 (1931-1932)

  • The League was powerless as without the USA, they could not put economic sanctions on Japan. The League also discussed banning arms sales to Japan, but the member countries disagreed. The League was powerless against strong nations and had no strong members in the east.
  • Hitler and Mussolini saw the obvious weaknesses in the League.
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The Abyssinian Crisis (1935-1936)

  • Mussolini invaded Abyssinia for four reasons. Firstly, Italy had been defeated by Abyssinia in 1896 and the Italians wanted revenge. Secondly, Abyssinia was well positioned for Italy to add her lands in Africa. Thirdly, Mussolini had seen Japan get away with the Manchurian invasion despite the League of Nations' threats. Lastly, Mussolini dreamed of making Italy a great empire again.
  • In December 1934, there had been a a dispute between Italian and Ethiopian soldiers at the Wal-Wal oasis 80km inside Abyssinia. Mussolini claimed that this was actually Italian territory and he demanded an apology and began preparing Italian troops for an invasion of Abyssinia. Haile Selassie, the Abyssinian Emperor, appealed to the League for help.
  • In October 1935, Mussolini launched a full scale invasion of Abyssinia. The League imposed economic sanctions, but it delayed banning oil exports in case the USA did not support them. Britain and France did not close the Suez canal to Italian ships, so supplies got through anyway.
  • By May 1936, the Italians had captured the capital, Addis Ababa.
  • This crisis also gave Hitler the opportunity to invade the Rhineland.
  • The League had failed to protect Abyssinia and its credibility had been destroyed.
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Problems with the League of Nations

  • The USA didn't join the League, so economic sanctions would be hard to enforce.
  • The American people did not like the Treaty of Versailles and refused to accept it.
  • American people also believed that it would be too expensive - many people wanted to stay out of Europe, and only wanted to worry about American affairs (isolationism).
  • Britain and France were in charge of the League, but neither country was strong enough after the war to do the job properly.
  • Economic and military sanctions could only work if a powerful nation like the USA was applying them, but most countries were still rebuilding.
  • Germany and Russia were not allowed to become members when the League first formed.
  • The League had no army of its own, and most members didn't want to commit troops to war.
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