When World War One ended in 1917 most of Europe was left in destruction, crisis and confusion, which created the need for a conference to be held to sort out problems like punishing Germany, drawing new boarders, and preventing future wars. Three most powerful countries, the United States, United Kingdom and France, controlled the Peace Conference, which was held in Versailles in 1919. The president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson had his own agenda during the peace conference. Wilson wanted to create the League of Nations and believed that it would prevent future wars. During the peace conference Wilson pushed the idea of collective security; the idea that an attack on one was an attack on all. The League of Nations, and the features it possesses and the peace making goals it pursued, indeed it sounded promising.
During the early years of the League of Nations’s experience, there were high hopes that the organisation could prevent future wars and bring about stability and peace to the nations. Did the League of Nations prevent future wars and bring about peace? Was the League of Nations a failure? How successful was the League of Nations? In order to answer to the questions, a couple of things are needed; A very brief history which is provided above, the features, the goals, the successes and the failures of the League of Nations, when all is said and done, a clear conclusion will be provided wether it was successful or not.
Before analyzing wether the League of Nations was successful or not, first the reader must understand what the features are of the League of Nations. And a brief infromation is needed about the League of Nations aims.
After a long and bloody World War One, people’s hatred towards war became the motivation to look for a way to prevent future conflicts. Here, the League of Nations was born with an attempt to construct a peaceful global order and to insure war never break out again. The League could do three things, these were known as sactions. It could call on the states in conflict to sit down and discuss and solve the problem in an orderly and peaceful manner. If one country was considered to be the offender, the league could apply sanctions on that particular country by giving the aggressor a warning that it would need to leave another nations territory or suffer the consequences.
If the states in conflict failed to listen to the League, then the League could apply economic sanctions. And if this failed, the League could apply physical santions, which means that military force could be used against the aggressor. Although there were some people who did not believe that the international cooperation was the right method to prevent future conflict. The majority of citizens and leaders came to a conclusion during the world War One, that a League of Nations must be set up without any delay and they were confinced that it could prevent future conflict as a whole if not, then at least future military conflict alone (Bennett, 2002: 27) (Walters, 1969: 4).
The League experienced at least thirty disputes in the first years of its existence, and most of these conflicts were as peacefuly as it can get resolved. The reason why it was successful, it had to do with the fact that the League had to deal with small or middle powers in most of the situations and to the large powers that agreed to work together and stop the risk of war (Bennett, 2002). A successfully handled potential conflict was resolved in 1925, which gave the League a confidence boost.
It was a Greek-Bulgarian border conflict; this began when Bulgaria was invaded by Greek troops after a shooting incident near the border, which was brought to the council’s attention by the Bulgarian government. The League requested a cease fire and a withdrawal of troops from Bulgarian territory, and the request met within three days, the request it self came from the council president, Brian of France. Although the succes was not for collective security, but it did show the advantages of the existence of the League, when it had to deal with two small states where the great powers had no interests, that way they could work together as one (Bennett, 2002) (Barros, 1970).
The League had other responsibilies than collective security, which involved the peace of the world. The Council, in many ways the executive body of the League, was empowered by the Covenant. Its main function was to oversee the work of the League, like international peace and security. As the League grew larger and became more important it took on more tasks, so did the Council. There were various functional institutions within the League, among them the Economic and Financial organizations, the health Organization, the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs, and the Advisory, Committee of Experts on Slavery (Armstrong, 2004) (Walters, 1969). In other words some of the League’s tasks are “supervision and execution of agreements relating to the traffic in woman and children and the drugs trade” (Armstrong, 2004: 20).
The main problem and the reason of the League’s Failure it began before the League was created, and that was because other great powers were not members throughout the League’s life. Germany was not allowed to join the League; it was admitted to join the League in 1926 and left after seven years in 1933. The soviet union did not join in the early years of the League, it joined in September 1934, Japan left in 1933, Italy left in 1937 and several other states were not part of the League. That had a big impact on the succes of the League. The first difficult and a great test of the League’s ability to solve disputes was experienced by the League in 1931. In September of that year Japan carried a series of attacks in Manchiria on the basis that they were protecting their interest in the South Manchurian Railway, which an explosion was detonated by Chinese soldiers.
When Japan captured Mukden, their main aim to conquer Manchuria became obvious. In the meantime the League council did not take effictive action against Japan mainly because the League did not have the support of Great Britain and France, unwilling to apply sanctions against Japan such as economic or military, on top of that the United States made it clear that it would not support the League aswell. At first the League Council hoped to solve the conflict the same way as it had handled the Greece-Bulgarian conflict, which was a successful attempt. So what the Council did, it called for a cease-fire and withdrawal of troops. When the Japanese did not ceasefire nor withdraw from Chinese territory, the Council decided to send a League commission to investigate the conflict and to report it back to the League. The Lytton Report described the military attacks were aggressive, but no action was taken by the League, other than that the council had little options (Bennett, 2002) (Walters, 1969).
As a result the ineffectiveness of the League to solve a major power dispute was a heavy blow to the reputation of the organization and it made it clear for other states that the sanctions do not apply for a great power state. In other words it can attack or conquer other states without consequence. Even bigger, perhaps the greatest test to the League’s effectiveness was the Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia. On 5 December 1934 near the Ethiopian desert town of Wal Wal, the Italian troops clashed with those of Ethiopian. On 13 December the Ethiopian government brought the problem to the League’s attention. After three weeks of watching Italian troops preparing for war, the growing Ethiopian crisis greated another major test for the League.
The small powers members are looking to Britain and France for leadership, but the British and Frensh government had interests in the region and had had their differences with Ethiopia in the past, so they had to choose either for Haile Selassie or Benito Mussolini. Because they feared nazi Germany’s growing power they prefered Italy over Ethiopia, to use Italy as a counterbalance. At the time Italy had not aligned itself with Hitler, and that gave them hope that Italy could be persuaded not to. This hope made Britain and France support Italy with regard to the crisis. With the major powers on Italy’s side there is not much the League can do now (Bennett, 2002) (Walters, 1969).
Although the League had its successes and in several cases it provided solutions and made peace between states, but it had a major goal and the main goal of the League of Nations was to prevent war. It was set up to prevent disputes between countries and if disputes did arise, then it prevented them from becoming wars. If necessary, the League could use the threat of force (collective security) as a last option to prevent nations from attacking other nations. None of this worked on a major power state.
The members of the League were unwilling to use force to enforce League’s rulings like the Italian invasion of Ethiopia or the Japanese actions in China. Eventually, World War Two erupted and the League was completely powerless to stop that and some say that the League of Nations was to blame for WWII. The League was set up to prevent war and yet the biggest war in human history happened within 25 years of the League’s founding. Clearly, the League had one major goal and that goal was not achieved. Therefore, it was a failure.
* Armstrong, D. & Lloyd, L. & Redmond, J. (2004). International Organisation: In World Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
* Armstrong, D. & Lloyd, L. & Redmond, J. (1996). From Versailles to Maastricht: International Organisation in the Twentieth Centry. London: Macmillan Press LTD * Barros, J. (1968). The Aaland Islands Question: Its Settlement by the League of Nations. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press * Barros, J. (1970). The League of Nations and the Great Powers: The Greek-Bulgarian Incident of 1925. London: Oxford University Press * Bennett, L. & Oliver, J.K. (2002). International Organizations: Principles and Issues. New Jersey: Pearson education * Walters, F.P. (1969). A History of: The League of Nations. London: Oxford University Press
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