The League of Nations

The League of Nations was formed after the First World War, during 1919 at a close time of the signing of the Treaty Of Versailles. The League was the brainchild of Woodrow Wilson of America, but despite it being his vision, America never joined the League. It was an organisation set up to settle international disputes peacefully and effectively and to improve the international way of life, offering aid and an alternative to violence, making the world as whole a better more peaceful place. The official aims were : To deal with disputes among nations, to prevent war, to protect the independence of countries and safeguard their borders and to encourage each country to reduce its armaments

The League of Nations faced many problems from the start of its existence some which cold of been avoided some which possibly couldn’t of been. The course of most of the problems was the fact that not all international countries were actually in the League. This meant that it was hard for the League to impose sanctions (possibly the most used means of punishment by the League) and to impose and keep international law. The absence of America in the League left Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and U.S.S.R as the main international states to give the League Of The Nations of the structure and backbone to what it stood for and stands for today.

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In this essay I will discuss the possible strengths and weaknesses of the League. I will also look at the events, which happened in the 1930’s and before; such as the events in Manchuria, were Japan invaded and seeked to take over. And the issue over Italy wanting to expand their empire and take over Abyssinia.

In 1931 Japan controlled most of the economy of Manchuria. It owned the important mines, railroads, factories and ports. It kept a large army in the port city of Kwantung to protect these assets. The worldwide depression had hit Japan hard and many people within Japan saw conquering new territory as a way out of the depression. During the night of September 18, Japanese soldiers blew up a section of the Japanese railroad and blamed the explosion on the Chinese and so had an excuse to occupied the city of Shenyang. China asked for the Leagues help. The League ordered the troops to withdraw. Japan agreed to order the withdrawal of the troops, but the Japanese government did not have control over their troops.

The Japanese army continued to advance into Manchuria. By the end of 1931 the Japanese troops had control of the entire province of Manchuria which they renamed Manchukuo. The League of Nations was meant to keep the peace through ‘collective security’. If persuasion did not work, the League could use economic sanctions or military sanctions against the attacker. Although these were options, none of the members of the League of Nations wanted to use sanctions against Japan. First, because the Depression had damaged the worlds economy no nation wanted to worsen the damage. Second, the powerful members of the League, Britain and France, did not think that they could enforce the sanctions. They believed that if they tried to enforce them that Japan would seize Hong Kong and Singapore.

Italy wanted to expand its overseas colonies and in October 1935 invaded Abyssinia. The League condemned Italy and introduced economic sanctions which, however did not incluse a ban on exports of coal, oil and steel to Italy. (These are vital to modern warfare.) So half-hearted were the sanctions that Italy was able to complete the conquest of Abyssina by May 1936. A few weeks later sanctions were abandoned and Mussolini had flouted theLaeague. Britain and France had not wanted to antagonise Mussolini and had even tried to form a secret deal with him during the invasion to give him two thirds of Abyssinia. They did not want to push him into an alliance with Hitler. Mussolini was annoyed by the sanctions anyway and began to draw closer to Hitler; small states lost faith in the League; and Hitler himself was encouraged to break the Versailles Treaty. After 1935, the League was not taken seriously again.

Some of the other failures were Disarmament Commission – this committee made no progress in persuading the member states to reduce armaments, though all had agreed to do so when they agreed to the covenant of the League of Nations. The main reason for this was the act from self interest of countries not to reduce their armaments in the case of future wars, and countires wanting power seeked only through armaments. Poland and Lithuania – The two countries had rivial claims to Vilna. The League of Nations was over ruled by the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris. The Conference of Ambassadors was formed to deal with problems arising out of the Versailles Treaty. And the Corfu Incident – A group of ambassadors was working on a boundary dispute between Greece and Albania. An Italian General was sent to investigate and he was shot in Greece. The reasons for the shooting were never clear, but Mussolini immediately ordered the shelling of Corfu, a Greek island and demanded heavy compensation. The League offered a solution, but the Conference of Ambassadors rejected it and rewrote one in favour of Italy upon heavy pressure from Italy and Mussolini.

Despite failures of the league, there was also many successes especially in more smaller less international schemes : International Labour Organization was developed and worked to improve working conditions all over the world. They persuaded governments to set maximum working day and week, specify adequate minimum wages and introduce old age pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits. Refugee Organization – solved the problem of the thousands of prisoners of war marooned in Russia at the end of the war; about half a million were returned home. After 1933 valuable help was given to thousands fleeing from Nazi persecution in Germany. Health Organization – did good work in investigating the causes of epidemics and was particularly successful in combating typhus in Russia which endangered the rest of Europe. And Mandates – supervised the government of the territories taken from Germany and Turkey according to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. (Another committee was responsible for the Saar, which worked very efficiently. The 1935 plebiscite had a large majority vote to return to Germany.

Some of the more political disputes solved were Aaland Islands (1920) Sweden and Finland quarrelled over the islands and the League decided in favour of Finland. Upper Silesia(1921) – Germany and Poland quarrelled over the industrial area. The League decided to partition the area between the two countries. Greece and Bulgaria (1925) – Greek troops invaded Bulgaria after some shooting incidents on the frontier. The League swiftly intervened. Greek troops were withdrawn and damages paid to Bulgaria. And Province of Mosul – Turkey claimed the province of Mosul which was part of the British mandate of Iraq. The League ruled in favour of Iraq and therefore Britain.

The smaller more domestic issues were what the League was good at. The League of Nations did a great job in aiding countries to provide better living conditions. This could be because countries may of liked to deal with things in there own countries and fix their own problems rather than to get involved in international disputes and possibly hinder themselves. The league had a lot of successes in the smaller issues of improving life (as listed above) the schemes proved to be effective in various ways. Such as aiding unemployment and proving better living.

There are many reasons why the league could of failed. Firstly at the time of the league of nations, the world was recovering some the effects of the First World War. This meant that the economy of a lot of the countries involved was at a slump. This meant that money couldn’t be spent in order to deal with issues in the league. The world could simply not afford it. Things like imposing sanctions cost a lot of money to set up, and to carry out. The league could simply not afford it.

Secondly is that not all the countries in the world were apart of the League which meant it was hard to carry out complete international law. Another problem with not all countries joining was that imposing international sanctions sometimes didn’t work with countries outside the league still being abled to trade with the sanctioned country. One big issue over not all countries being in the league was the issue over America not joining. America was a big power in the world, if not the biggest. The league could have benefited from having America’s support and America’s backing in a lot of issues, but instead they had to go alone without the help of the U.S.A, despite America’s status in the world.

Also the League of Nations where never ready to carry out physical action, instead the main course of action was to condemn a country. This lack of action was probably due to self interest and not being able to afford to fight a war. But it could be said that if there was more action there could have been more done over some of possible failures of the league. The league of nations failed to carry out actions and to stop some countries doing as they please an army could have sorted out a lot of disputes instead of them happening.

Another reason was that the League Of Nations wasn’t seen strong enough by any country in the wrong. The was not actually anything to keep a country in the league and make them follow the league’s instructions. If a country in the league did not like what was being done, they simply left the league. This is why there was so many counties coming in and out of the league since it was set up. A prime example of a country leaving the league from being displeased was Germany after the issue over the league wanting it to restrict there army. Things didn’t go Germany’s way so they simply left and followed there own interests.

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