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Assess the Short Term Impact of the Economic Crisis on the League of Nations Essay

The League of Nations was created in January 10th 1920. It worked by the principle of collective security, in which all disputes threatening war would be submitted to the League and any member resorting to war would have broken the Covenant, and would face collective action by other members. However, permanent members such as Britain and France, had veto powers to reject decisions to safeguard their own national interests. Thus, unanimity was never achieved.

However the league was not initially as powerful as it seemed as it lacked basic requirements such as a police force and authority overall. Therefore the great depression was not the only factor which had an impact on the league as there remained many faults in the way the league was run. The global economic crisis of 1929 affected nearly all great powers. It led to countries who owed money to each other drowning in huge debt e. g. Austria’s bank, which went bust. During the economic crisis, every country imposed high duties on imports in an effort to protect its own industries.

This increased tensions between countries as they were all trying to reproduce their own economy and secure themselves as the most powerful country, but revealed the Leagues weaknesses. This is supported by a historian who states, “The situation really began to drift out of control with the onset of the great depression, it brought unemployment and living standards to most countries causing extreme right wing governments to come into power in Japan and Germany together with Mussolini, they refused to keep with the rules and took a series of actions which revealed the Leagues weakness. Japan was affected by the economic crisis of 1929, so aimed to rebuild its economy. However they did this by acquiring the south Manchurian Railway, while completely ignoring the League’s aim of avoiding aggression.

China was angered by this and considered the League for help and support, so the League decided to set up an enquiry headed by Lord Lytton, who rejected Japanese claims and called for a withdrawal of Japanese forces as they refused to recognise Manchukuo as a separate state. However little did China now that the Leagues minor efforts would go to waste once Japan withdraws from the League in 1933 because without its own armed forces the League could not compel Japan to comply with the commissions demands. This shows the Leagues major weakness as it freely allowed countries to leave whenever the conditions didn’t suit them, indicating no clear system and a sense of being powerless.

Robert Wolfson and John Laver share the same view as they state “this was in a sense, the moment of truth for the League – how would it deal with a member who rejected its decisions? , he later indicates “if collective security is not used effectively in Manchuria there may be a European war in 10 years’ time. ” Furthermore, distracted by the great depression, the European powers and U. S lacked the will and resources to oppose Japanese militarism. The League therefore failed to live up to its ‘collective security’ and exposed how weak they were, this is backed up by Tony Howarth who states, “The invasion of Manchuria had two important side effects – putting aside for a moment its dreadful revelation that the League was powerless in the face a determined aggressor.

First it raised the prestige of the Japanese army. Second, it made it possible for the army to pressurise the Japanese government to undertake a policy of armed expansion. ” Here we can clearly see that the League was unable to deal with the more powerful and larger states as they were lacking power and authority, this is perfectly linked to the cartoon David Low drew in 1933 where it shows Japan getting away with trampling over the League and a League official freely allowing them to get away with the aggression (giving flowers) .

This shows the League being humiliated and blames the weak leaders and not the League itself as they were not taking serious action in order to prevent Japans invasion of Manchuria, this links back to the global economic crisis as it was primarily the great depression which affected the League as the crisis was a result from the 1929 catastrophe. On October 3rd 1935 Italian troops invaded Abyssinia from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland.

The League stated that Italy were the aggressors and imposed limited sanctions – they failed to place sanctions on Oil which was needed to enable the continuation of war. Sanctions were not increased or universally applied, even after it emerged that Italian forces were making use of Chemical weapons against civilians. Instead of imposing sanctions the British and French foreign ministers came up with the Hoare-Laval Pact. This pact would end the war but would grant Italy large areas of Abyssinia.

This pact weakened the Leagues position as Britain and France (2 leading members) were prepared to give way to Italy. However Antony Eden reveals his contradictory views in his Telegram, “There is neither sign of any weakening in overwhelming support for the covenant which was feature of debate in Assembly nor any sign that members of the League would be unwilling to shoulder their obligations should situation demand it. The only nation which has shown a marked lack of enthusiasm for effective action under the covenant is France.

Antony the British Minister favoured the League so this source can be biased as his interests would without doubt lay upon the League, however he blames France for not following the basic rules of the covenant and does not focus much on Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia, indicating that maybe he was fine with the invasion. However, A. J. P Taylor shares contrary views as he states that “There is no concrete interest in the state of Abyssinia. Mussolini was concerned to show off Italy’s strength and not require practical gain.

Taylor suggests that Italy only did what they did in order to gain security for their country while having no intentions of causing conflicts and having selfish aims. Therefore did not invade Abyssinia for economic reasons. What is more, is that the global economic crisis brought right wing leaders into power e. g. Adolf Hitler, who was looked upon as a great leader and last resort in Germany who could introduce reforms and change Germany’s economy for the better, especially after they were blamed for the outbreak of the war and faced major reparations which worsened their economy, far more than any other major countries economy.

The great depression gave Hitler the opportunity to aggressively campaign in order to secure Lebensraum and recover territories lost, this frustrated Leagues efforts to maintain peace as they were not living up to their policy of ‘collective security’. Germany left the League of Nations in 1933, which made it even harder for the other great powers to control and regulate actions taken by Hitler. An example of Hitler’s daring improvisations was the re-occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, which could no longer be dealt with by the League of Nations as it lost the control to interfere with what Germany did.

Therefore in general the great depression had a major impact on the League of Nations as it exposed every bit of the Leagues weakness, as supported by Robert Wolfson and John Laver who states “each of these coincidences and accidents made it all the easier for a collective security system to fail. ” However it is fair to say that the League itself was not initially powerful. It lacked authority and had no police force whatsoever, hence the reason why powers were continuously threatening to leave the League, such as Japan and Germany’s withdrawal in 1933.

This undermined the Leagues power as it simply failed to control the League’s members and what was worse it that any country could join the League when it suited them, which caused divisions and conflicts as the policy of ‘collective security’ was not turning out to be very successful as it primarily was thought to be. During Neville Chamberlain’s speech, he stated “the league of nations and the policy of collective security to which we have given so whole – hearted support with such disappointing results….

We should therefore abandon the idea of the League and give up the ideals for which the League stands” He is clearly undermining the Leagues power and indicating that they did not live up to what they promised. Chamberlain shares the views that the League might have been able to sort out little problems but it was clearly unable to stop major crisis as the Nations would have to find another way to deal with that.

Hitler’s Mein Kampf reveals how he felt about the League of Nations, “they did not realise that in most cases they were dealing with persons who had no backing whatsoever, who were not authorized by anybody to conclude any sort of agreement whatsoever; so that the practical result of every negotiation with such individuals was negative and the time spent in such dealings had to be reckoned as utterly lost. ” Here Hitler is expressing how the League were clearly not organised and had no authoritative figure or system whatsoever which is a major setback and a failure of how the League was run overall.

Another major issue was the fact that the U. S. A and USSR did not join the League. This was a problem as these were the only 2 powers near enough and strong enough to take effective action, however were not members of the League, which is why the League lacked power and authority. “America’s consistent refusal to use nothing more than words in support of the League had shown just how toothless and helpless the international community was when it came to enforcing and upholding the peace.

A dangerous precedent had been set. ” This can be linked to the cartoon called ‘the gap in the bridge’, which shows a gap in the bridge and a keystone which represents USA, not joint to the bridge, preventing the League from being stable and unable to function without USA’s support, so consequently all the foreign nations try to pull USA into the League as they are desperate for a Nation which is military and economically stable, hence tied and dependent on the US.

In conclusion the global economic crisis had a huge impact on the League as it exposed its weaknesses and undermined its authority and power. ”the existence of the League caused cabinets and foreign ministers to wobble between the old and the new diplomacy, usually securing the benefits of neither, as the Manchurian and Abyssinian cases amply demonstrated. ” However the setup and running of the League itself lacked enforcement powers and had no real machinery of collective security. Ironically, therefore the Leagues actual contribution turned out to be not deterring aggressors, but confusing the democracies. ” Hence after analysing many contemporary sources and historian views it was mainly the global economic crisis which had an impact on the League of Nations as it highlighted and exposed the weaknesses of the League while undermined its system of ‘collective authority’.


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