The League of Nations

(pg. 52-53)
Allison Bailey

Wilson and the League of Nations
* Although there had been proposals prior to World War I to create organizations to prevent war and to resolve international disputes, the idea of the League of Nations was a direct result of the catastrophic events of World War I.
* The Hague conferences in 1899 & 1907 proposed various forms of disarmament and established the idea of an “international court.”
* The United Kingdom and France put forward ideas of an international peace organization during the war but Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points actually brought the League into being (the 14 Points were the basis of the Paris peace discussions).
* The League’s formation became the first priority of Wilson, and there was considerable support for such an organization because of World War I.
* International relations were considered to be a necessity to avoid total destruction in the future.
* Even though the League of Nations brought a new method of international cooperation and collective security to the table, chances of success were minimal because many major powers did not become members (including the U.S.).
* The idea of collective security wasn’t concrete and it was too idealistic for countries raised in a tradition of self-interest and traditional diplomacy.
* It did succeed in resolving disputes of smaller nation, but it never succeed in the intervention of major disputes because it didn’t have any power of its own and/or it didn’t have international support.
* League of Nations was the most important objective to Wilson-he was willing to compromise other principles expressed in the 14 Points
* Wilson felt that, once the league existed, it could solve other problems that arose from the errors and injustices within the Versailles Treaty

League of Nations in the Versailles Treaty

  • The Covenant of the League was written into the Versailles Treaty- any country that signed the treaty became a part of the League (except Germany)
  • The most important article was Article X- “all members undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and political independence of all members of the League”

League of Nations-Key Principles, Purpose, and Structure

  • League was to be a permanent international body in which all nations would meet, discuss, and settle disputes in a peaceful way
  • Collective security = revolutionary concept—calls upon all League members to assist in resistance to aggression without reference to whether the incident was vital to their interests or not—reversed years of international policy
  • Other than preventing international conflict, the League would also deal with a range of economic and humanitarian issues
  • League would have permanent headquarters, a secretariat, and a group of civil servants who would administer the special departments of the League—mandates commission, the drugs department to end the drug trade, the slavery commission, and a refugee department
  • International Court of Justice established in The Hague to deal with legal matters between members
  • International Labor Organization created to improve working conditions and worker’s rights in member states

The Effects of the Absence of Major Powers
(pg. 53-55)
Walker Smith

• The League of Nations was strongly weakened by the absence of Germany, the USSR and the United States of America
• The League and its decisions are seen more as the kind of victor decided peace that the Versailles Treaty and the Leagues own creation was meant to prevent.
• The absence of Germany from the League meant that one of the powers most likely to cause future conflict was now outside of a framework for peaceful reconciliation
• Russia’s non-inclusion in the League meant that one of the most powerful post war nations was viewed as an outlaw state and felt that its interests were not represented. It also lead to a large amount of turmoil over the following years, as Russia attempted to regain lost territory. The fact that the USSR was excluded at the behest of President Wilson also lead to a very strong sense that the idealistic nature of the League had been compromised, and that the League would henceforth be used as a method of reinforcing the current power balance rather than a s a way of preventing future war.
• Like Germany, The USSR had no interest in protecting the status quo as established at Versailles, and had no means to renegotiate.
• Russia forms an alliance with Germany that allowed both of them to work around any kind of League action against them, including treaties banning German rearmament and military buildup.
• The absence of the United States was a massive and possibly fatal blow to the League of Nations for the following reasons: The U.S was the only major power to come out of the war more powerful than it had been when the war began. The other nations all had been severely weakened, and only two major victor powers were lef tin the League. This meant that any move to change or challenge to the peace by a defeated power would be opposed by a very small number of very weak nations. The United States had also been the driving forces behind the League’s creation, making the League seem less legitimate and less likely to be able to resolve future conflict.

Collective Security
(pg. 55-56)
Hannah Wichmann

• Article X of the Covenant: all members agreed to protect all other members against aggression
• Old alliance systems/balance of power eliminated - collective security established instead

  • Traditional alliances
    • between nations with mutual interests
    • designed to protect or defend against specific threats of specific nations
    • contained clear terms under which it was to operate and what the obligations of all the parties were
    • nations enter into treaties or alliance with a clear idea of what they obligations are and because they perceive it to be in their national interest to do so
    • *basis of traditional diplomacy: nations take action to defend or advance their own vital interests
  • Collective security= more abstract than the traditional alliance system
    • does not specify where threats may come from or what the response should be under certain circumstances
    • assumes that all nations are equally prepared to act - under principle that aggression is wrong and must be resisted
    • assumes that all nations will see each challenge to peace in the same light and will act accordingly regardless of the cost or how their own interests will be affected (which is un-realistic)
  • Collective security failed
    • ignored reality and required a level of altruism that humans have not yet been capable of
    • asked nations to 1) surrender their freedom of action, 2) their sovereignty and 3) enforce policies with which they disagreed/intervene against countries that were either friends or who had the potential to harm them
    • too idealistic: assumed that the force of world opinion and the threat of world action would deter aggression
    • collective security bore not relationship to the world of the 1920s
    • not really collective → three of the largest nations were not even members of the League: USSR, Germany, USA
    • even Britain ad France (who had been founding members of the League) had grown apart in their attitude towards the enforcement of the treaty and the status of Germany → in the event of a dispute involving Germany, there was the very real possibility that they would not agree on how to react

A. Lack of Enforcement:
(pg. 56-57)
Rebecca Purser

• Collective security’s weakness against repelling aggression is highlighted by the fact that the members of the League of Nations needed to continually reinforce the obligation of the fellow nations to resist aggression.
• The Draft of Mutual Assistance (1923) stated this reinforcement and was presented to the League of Nations’ council. This agreement required all members to immediately come to the aid of any fellow member country that fell victim to aggression (which would be determined by the League Council).
• Supported by: France (who feared German aggression).
• Rejected by: United Kingdom and Dominions (who wished to keep their freedom of actions).
• The Geneva Protocol for the Pacific settlement of International Disputes mandated that mediation MUST be made between all disputes, and anyone who refused to cooperate with this would be labeled as an aggressor. (This, too, was rejected by the British and Dominions)
• Vey few members were willing to accept these vague commitments that the League of Nations’ collective security entailed, but this was not due to selfishness or unwillingness.
• Instead, reasons were mainly: After WWI, the proposal of armed intervention wouldn’t be supported by many nations because their armed forces had been drastically weakened, and not many people favored the idea of using their own armed forces to solve other nations’ disputes. ** Particularly true if the “aggressor” was a large, powerful country.
• Corfu Dispute (1923) was led by Mussolini, and the League of Nations’ participants took no action to stop these forces, which proved the lack of commitment to collective security.
• Also, unstable economic conditions made many countries hold back from agreeing to these terms if it meant they could potentially lose trading partners, go into debt, or lose money.
• Collective security, in conclusion, was far too idealistic. Many countries were attracted to the idea of collective security on an emotional level, and yet failed to commit in any concrete manner. It instead was an image of hope for desperate nations in the aftermath of WWI.

Early Attempts at Peacekeeping 1920-5
(pg. 57)
Hannah Wichmann

• League had mandate to resolve disputes between nations in order to preserve peace and prevent a resort to war between nations
• Record of success is mixed
Successes: Aeland Islands, Upper Silesia, the Greco-Bulgarian War of 1925
Failures: Seizure of Fiume, Vilna, the Russo-Polish War, Corfu incident, Ruhr invasion
In all successful cases:
- antagonists were small or medium powers who were unwilling to resort to violence
- allowed League to negotiate and enforce a settlement which both parties would accept
In all unsuccessful cases:
- involved a major power that refused to submit to the League
- or countries determined to resort to violence who were not willing to seek a peaceful solution
• Corfu incident (1923)
- ominous warning of the potential weakness of the League and the enforcement of collective security
- involved a major participant → when she resorted to violence, League did not have the power to compel her to stop or submit to arbitration (this was the case on every occasion when a major power decided to pursue a policy against the League)
- *Peacekeeping would succeed in the disputes of small countries, provided that the stronger members (UK and France) could decide on a course of action → which was not always the case

Early Problems for the League
(pg. 58-59)
Deja A. Moss


Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty -March 1920
• Increased reluctance of Britain
• Increased Canadian reluctance

Reluctant to commit to intervene in Europe (specifically on behalf of the French against Germany) w/o American support
o This was due to suspicion of French ambition
• The French were aiming at suppressing German aggression
• Which differed with the British plan to:
• Rebuild the German economy in order to improve British trade
• And as a counter weight to the French
Reluctant because of disputes over territorial settlement
o Turkey and Greece -1920 to 1923
• Greece invaded Turkey because it appeared weak and wanted to extend its hemisphere of influence to Asia minor
o Ireland and the Empire
• National concerns were at risk during this dispute and Britain would not help the league

Willing to enforce Versailles Treaty
o Wanted to ensure that Germany would never be a threat again
• Reparations
o Wanted to give Poland the territory it wanted in Russia and Silesia
• Britain would not back the French decision to condole Polish actions

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