Notes for Lecture 8 -the League of Nations

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Notes for Lecture 8 -The League of Nations
Collective security was at the heart of the League concept -some basic conceptual difficulties with this -need for clear cut act of aggression, need for unity against aggression (but why would aggression occur if all were peace loving and united, need to disregard other political elements such as alliances.
Origins of the League:

Concert of Europe; Hague Conferences.

Public international unions

World War One -the "idealists" and the Supreme War Council

Woodrow Wilson
The League Covenant:

  • Great power Concert

  • Permanent Secretariat

  • Enhanced role for international law

  • Crisis management

  • Preservation of territorial integrity

  • Collective security

  • Reduction of armaments

  • The mandates system

  • Article 23 (the social clause)


Some success in early years -repatriation of prisoners of war from Russia, Filand-Sweden dispute over Aaland Islands, Austrian loan, partitition of Upper Silesia, adminstration of Saar Territory, supervision of Danzig (Gdansk), environmental conventions

But also early signs of problems in the security area:

  • 1920 Poland Lithuania dispute

  • Bolivia-Paraguay war of 1928

  • Greek-Italian border conflict 1923

  • Greco-Bulgarian border conflict 1925

  • Italy-Yugoslavia conflict

The 1930s crises

1931: Manchuria. Lytton Commission. Showed:

  • Some initial problems in determining exact facts

  • Apprehensions about American reaction

  • League's procedures involved delay

  • Eurocentric nature of League

Abyssinia (Ethiopia) 1935 -annexation of a sovereign state member of League.

Anglo-French concerns with possibility of pushing Mussolini further towards Hitler

Economic sanctions imposed but not on oil or on closing Suez Canal to Italian shipping

Hoare-Laval Pact December 1935

Was the League unlucky in its era? Yes -four out of seven major powers governed by extreme groups committed to radical change, great depression, isolationist policies of USA. But League was set up to deal with bad times.

Could the League Covenant have been a stronger document? Yes but consider Hinsley's judgement in Power and the Pursuit of Peace: "Everything we know about the history and the nature of international relations goes to show that the League, as it was constructed, was bound to fail; and that it was bound to be constructed as it was constructed". IE the fault lay in the nature of the international system which, because of sovereignty, power politics, international rivalries, was only able to produce a relatively weak commitment in the League Covenant, so the League was bound to fail in the absence of an underlying international balance of power that constrained and deterred potential aggressors (of whom there were many in the 1930s –Germany, Japan, Italy and Russia

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