League of Nations

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League of Nations

The League of Nations came into being after the end of WWI. The League of Nation's task was simple - to ensure that war never broke out again. After the turmoil caused by the Treaty of Versailles, many looked to the League to bring stability to the world.

America entered World War One in 1917. The country as a whole and the president – Woodrow Wilson in particular – was horrified by the slaughter that had taken place in what was meant to be a civilized part of the world. The only way to avoid a repetition of such a disaster was to create an international body whose sole purpose was to maintain world peace and which would sort out international disputes as and when they occurred. This would be the task of the League of Nations.

The Organization of the League of Nations

Forty-two countries joined the League at the start. By the 1930s about 60 countries had signed the 26 promises of the Covenant – notably Article 10, in which nations promised to keep the peace and help nations that were attacked. World powers such as Britain, France, Italy and Japan were on the Council, meeting 4–5 times a year to solve disputes.   The League seemed strong.

The League’s main strength came from the fact that it was set up by the Treaty of Versailles – which had been signed and agreed by the 32 nations.

The League of Nations was to be based in Geneva, Switzerland. This choice was natural as Switzerland was a neutral country and had not fought in WWI. No one could dispute this choice especially as an international organization such as the Red Cross was already based in Switzerland.

If a dispute did occur, the League, under its Covenant, could do three things - these were known as its sanctions:

  1. It could call on the states in dispute to sit down and discuss the problem in an orderly and peaceful manner. This would be done in the League’s Assembly who would listen to disputes and come to a decision on how to proceed. If one nation was seen to be the offender, the League could introduce verbal sanctions - warning an aggressor nation that she would need to leave another nation's territory or face the consequences.

  2. If the states in dispute failed to listen to the Assembly’s decision, the League could introduce economic sanctions. This would be arranged by the League’s Council. The purpose of this sanction was to financially hit the aggressor nation so that she would have to do as the League required. The logic behind it was to push an aggressor nation towards bankruptcy, so that the people in that state would take out their anger on their government forcing them to accept the League’s decision. The League could order League members not to do any trade with an aggressor nation in an effort to bring that aggressor nation to heel.

  3. If this failed, the League could introduce physical sanctions. This meant that military force would be used to put into place the League’s decision. However, the League did not have a military force at its disposal and no member of the League had to provide one under the terms of joining - unlike the current United Nations. Therefore, it could not carry out any threats and any country defying its authority would have been very aware of this weakness. The only two countries in the League that could have provided any military might were Britain and France and both had been severely depleted strength-wise in World War One and could not provide the League with the backing it needed. They were also hit hard financially by WWI and would not be able to use their finances to support the League.


Although the League had definite advantages, it was weak in other ways. The country, whose president, Woodrow Wilson, had dreamt up the idea of the League - America - refused to join it. As America was the world’s most powerful nation, this was a serious blow to the prestige of the League.

Germany was not allowed to join the League in 1919. As Germany had started the war, according to the Treaty of Versailles, one of her punishments was that she was not considered to be a member of the international community and, therefore, she was not invited to join. This was a great blow to Germany but it also meant that the League could not use whatever strength Germany had to support its campaign against aggressor nations.

Russia was also not allowed to join as in 1917, she had a communist government that generated fear in western Europe, and in 1918, the Russian royal family – the Romanovs - was murdered. Such a country could not be allowed to take its place in the League.

Therefore, three of the world’s most powerful nations (potentially for Russia and Germany) played no part in supporting the League. The two most powerful members were Britain and France - both had suffered financially and militarily during the war - and neither was enthusiastic to get involved in disputes that did not affect Western Europe.

Therefore, the League had a fine ideal - to end war for good. However, if an aggressor nation was determined enough to ignore the League’s verbal warnings, all the League could do was enforce economic sanctions and hope that these worked as it had no chance or enforcing its decisions using military might.



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