Essays and Notes for the league of Nations Describe the aims and work of the League of Nations

in the 1920s.

The League of Nations had four main aims. Firstly, it aimed to stop war. It aimed to discourage aggression and deal with disputes by negotiation. The League planned to provide collective security by a community of power. In Article 10 of the Covenant of the League, members promised to defend the territory and independence of League members and to take action ‘in case of danger’. The League had mixed success in doing this, but during the 1920s, it worked to stop wars – examples are: Silesia, (where the League settled a dispute between Germany and Poland in 1921 by holding a plebiscite), the Aaland Islands (where a League investigation settled a dispute between Sweden and Finland in 1921), Mosul (where the League arbitrated in favour of British Iraq and against Turkey in 1924) and Bulgaria (where Greece stopped its invasion when condemned by the League in 1925), and, even though it was unsuccessful, it also tried to stop a war in Corfu (but Italy refused a League order to leave in 1923). The second aim of the League was to improve the life and jobs of people around the world – both by direct action to improve health and welfare, and also by encouraging trade and business – and it also worked to do this during the 1920s: it repatriated 400,000 World War One prisoners of war; it helped refugees in Turkish camps (1922); it worked to prevent leprosy, and took steps to kill mosquitoes to prevent malaria; it closed down four Swiss companies which were selling illegal drugs; it attacked slave owners in Sierra Leone and Burma at set free 200,000 slaves; its economics experts helped Austria (1922) and Hungary (1923). Another League agency trying to improve people’s lives was the International Labour Organisation, but it could not persuade member countries to accept a 48-hour week. A third aim of the League was disarmament and, although it failed in this, it organised one disarmament conference in 1923 (which failed because Britain objected) and another in 1931 (which was wrecked by Germany). However, in 1928, the League did arrange the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which was an Act of the League Assembly, signed by 23 nations and supported by 65, and which outlawed war. Finally, the fourth aim of the League was to uphold and enforce the Treaty of Versailles, although it was not very successful in this. Over Vilna, the League ordered the Poles to leave in 1920, but was ignored and over Memel, the League tried unsuccessfully to make the Lithuanians leave in 1923.

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the League of Nations in the 1920s?

In some ways, the League of Nations was strong. 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 which 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. Also, the League had ‘means of influence’ to force countries to obey it. The first was moral condemnation – the League would declare in public that a country was wrong, and public opinion would force it to stop. The League called this the ‘Community of Power’ and it worked, for example, in 1925, when the Greeks stopped invading Bulgaria when the League condemned them. The second was that the League could offer arbitration – acting a referee between quarrelling nations (as, for instance, between Sweden and Finland over the Aaland Islands in 1921). Thirdly, the League could apply trading sanctions (as it was to do over Manchuria and Abyssinia in the 1930s). Finally, the League could agree to military force, although it had no army of its own – a strong member state like Britain had to send its own army. However, the League also had great weaknesses. The three most powerful countries in the world were not members. The USA did not want to join (most Americans were isolationist). The Russians refused to join (they were Communists and hated Britain and France). Germany was not allowed to join until 1925. This was not a problem in the 1920s, when the League dealt mainly with small countries like Sweden and Finland (Aaland Islands, 1921), Turkey (Mosul, 1924) and Bulgaria and Greece (1925). But, without the three world powers, the League was too weak to make a big country do as it wished (for instance, Italy over Corfu in 1923). Another weakness was that the League’s organisation was a muddle. The Assembly could only make a decision by a unanimous vote (so it never made any decisions), and on the Council, all the permanent members had a veto. The Conference of Ambassadors kept over-ruling the decisions of the Council. The Secretariat was understaffed and always in a terrible muddle. When there was a crisis, no-one could agree.

Finally, the League’s greatest weakness came from the fact that it was set up by the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty had many flaws (for example, reparations) – but the League was supposed to enforce it. Also, the Treaty was hated, especially by the Germans and the Americans, so the League was hated too. Describe Japan’s invasion of Manchuria (1931–3) and what the League of Nations did about it.

In the 1930s, the Japanese were determined to extend their empire. They ruled in Korea, but they also controlled the Manchurian railway. In September 1931, they claimed that Chinese soldiers had sabotaged the railway, and attacked the Chinese army (which had just executed a Japanese spy). The Chinese army did not fight back because it knew that the Japanese were just wanting an excuse to invade Manchuria. The Japanese army invaded anyway – even though the civilian government of Japan told it to withdraw! For a while, in January – May 1932, they attacked and captured the city of Shanghai in China itself. By February 1932, the Japanese had conquered the whole of Manchuria, and set up a Japanese-controlled state called Manchukuo, run by the former Emperor of China. Thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians had been killed by the modern but ruthless Japanese army. China appealed to the League of Nations. The League sent a delegation to Manchuria to see what was happening. It did not report back until September 1932, when it said the Japanese were completely in the wrong. It recommended that Manchuria be returned to China. A Special Assembly of the League was held in February 1933 (17 months after the Japanese invasion). 40 nations voted that Japan was to blame for the war and should withdraw. Siam abstained. Only Japan voted against it – Mr Matsuoka, the Japanese delegate, argued that China was not really a country (China had just had a revolution, and its government was fighting a civil war). Instead of pulling out of Manchuria, Japan walked out of the League. In 1933, Japan invaded Jehol, the Chinese province next to Manchuria. The League could do nothing. A David Low cartoon of 1933 showed a Japanese soldier using the League of Nations and its Covenant as a doormat, while the members of the League did nothing – just powdered the League’s face . . . and bowed down to Japan. The League suggested economic sanctions, but nothing was done because America (Japan’s main trading partner) was not a member of the League, and because Britain wanted to keep trading with Japan. The League did not even stop arms sales, because it feared that this would make Japan declare war. The League was powerless to stop a powerful, determined country.

Describe Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia (1935–6) and what the League of Nations did about it. In the 1930s, the Italian dictator Mussolini wanted to build an Italian empire. The African country of Abyssinia was next to the Italian colony of Somalia. The area was desert. In December 1934, Italian soldiers attacked a party of British and Abyssinian investigators at the oasis at Wal-Wal, in Abyssinia. In January 1935 Abyssinia asked the League of Nations to arbitrate. Mussolini refused League of Nations arbitration. Instead, four days later, he made a treaty with France – France would let Italy conquer Abyssinia if Italy would support France against Germany. The Italians army got ready to invade. Haile Selassie, the emperor of Abyssinia, asked for a meeting of the League. In July, the League banned arms sales to either side (this hurt the tiny Abyssinian army much more than the Italians, who had tanks and bombers, and were ready to attack). At the League, Britain talked about ‘collective security’ and said the League should defend Abyssinia. In September, the League appointed a five-power committee to arbitrate in Abyssinia. It suggested that Italy should have some land and power in Abyssinia. Both Haile Selassie and Mussolini refused to accept the League’s plan. In October 1935, Italy’s 100,000 strong army invaded Abyssinia. The Italians used tanks and flame-throwers. The Abyssinians had camels, war drums and 12 planes. They were massacred. A British cartoon of the time showed a happy African village with the word ‘Barbarism’ under it. Next to it was a destroyed and burned village, with the word ‘Civilisation’ underneath. The British delegate to the League, Mr Hoare, said that the world would face ‘danger and gloom’ if the League failed to act. But the French refused to do anything, because of their treaty with Italy. And Britain refused to do anything without France. In December 1935, news leaked out of the Hoare-Laval Pact, a secret plan made by Britain and France to give two-thirds of Abyssinia to Italy, without telling the League. The League did agree to some sanctions (on rubber and metals), but it did not stop oil sales. Most importantly, Britain did not close the Suez canal to Italy, fearing that Italy might declare war on Britain – so Mussolini sent men and supplies to Abyssinia through the (British) Suez canal! Italian troops used poison gas and attacked Red Cross hospitals. This broke the Geneva Convention, but even then the League could not agree on what to do. By May 1936, it was too late. Italy had conquered Abyssinia.

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