League of Nations | World War I

League of Nations | World War I


The League of Nations was the initial worldwide organization whose principal goal was to keep the world in harmony. It began operations on 10 January 1920, following the Paris Peace Conference that concluded World War I, and closed on 20 April 1946. According to the Covenant, the organization's principal goals included preventing conflicts by collective security and disarmament and resolving international disputes through negotiation and adjudication. Labor conditions, just treatment of native populations, human and drug trafficking, the arms trade, global health, prisoners of war, and the preservation of minorities in Europe were among its other priorities. The League of Nations Covenant was signed on 28 June 1919 as Part I of the Treaty of Versailles, and it went into force on 10 January 1920, together with the rest of the Treaty. The League's Council encountered for the first time on 16 January 1920, and the League's Assembly met for the initial on 15 November 1920. The chief of the U.S Woodrow Wilson, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his role as the League's chief architect.

The League's diplomatic ideology represented a significant departure from the previous century. The League lacked its armed forces and relied on the victorious Allies in the First World War to execute its decisions, enforce its economic sanctions, and deploy an army. Often, the Great Powers were hesitant to do so. Likewise, members of the League were reluctant to comply with sanctions since they could harm them. While the League accused Italian soldiers of attacking International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement medical tents during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, Benito Mussolini retorted that the League is great when sparrows sing but terrible when eagles fall out.

It had 58 members at its peak between 28 September 1934 and 23 February 1935. Following some significant victories and early failures in the 1920s, the League was ultimately unable to halt the Axis invasion in the 1930s. The circumstance that the United States never joined the League and that the Soviet Union entered late and was quickly ejected after invading Finland harmed the League's legitimacy. Germany, along with Japan, Italy, Spain, and others, left the League. The outpouring of the World War II in 1939 demonstrated that the League had failed to achieve its principal goal; it remained dormant until its extinction in 1945. The League lasted 26 years before being replaced by the United Nations (UN) in 1946, which acquired numerous of the League's departments and organizations.



Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, published in 1795, advocated the idea of a league of countries to limit violence and create peace between states. Kant advocated for the formation of a peaceful international community, not in the sense of a global government, but rather in the hope that each state would declare itself a free state that respects its residents and welcomes foreign visitors as fellow rational creatures, encouraging global peace. The Concert of Europe, which arose during the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century to maintain the status quo amongst European powers and avoid conflict, was the forerunner of international cooperation to improve collective security.

The first Geneva Conventions established laws dealing with humanitarian relief during the conflict, and the worldwide Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 administered guidelines of war and the peaceful settlement of international disputes by 1910. In accepting his Nobel Prize in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt declared that forming a League of Peace by those big powers honestly committed to peace would be a masterstroke.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a tiny precursor of the League of Nations, was founded in 1889 by peace campaigners William Randal Cremer and Frédéric Passy and is still active as an international organization focused on the world's elected legislative bodies. The IPU was established with a global scope in mind, with a third of parliamentarians from the 24 countries serving as members by 1914. Its founding goals were to encourage nations to use peaceful measures to resolve international conflicts. Annual conferences were created to assist governments in fine-tuning the international arbitration procedure. It was organized as a council led by a president, which would subsequently be reflected in the League's organization.

Initial Proposals

At the outset of WWI, the first proposals for a worldwide organization to prevent future wars began to gather traction, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1914, British political scholar Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson created the term "League of Nations" and devised a plan for its formation. He was a crucial figure in the construction of the Bryce Group, which ultimately became the League of Nations Union, alongside Lord Bryce. The organization grew in popularity among the general public and as a lobbying force within the then-ruling Liberal Party. Dickinson described his "League of Peace" as primarily an organization for arbitration and conciliation in his 1915 pamphlet After the War. He believed that the early twentieth century's secret diplomacy had precipitated war. The Bryce Group's 'Proposals' were extensively circulated in both England and the United States, significantly impacting the nascent international movement.

Jane Addams organized a peace conference in the neutral United States in January 1915. The delegates endorsed a platform asking for establishing international organizations with administrative and legislative capabilities to establish a permanent league of neutral nations dedicated to peace and disarmament. Within months, a call was made for The Hague to host an international women's conference. The Congress, which started on 28 April 1915 and was coordinated by Mia Boissevain, Aletta Jacobs, and Rosa Manus, drew 1,136 participants from neutral countries and formed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). After the meeting, two women's delegations were sent throughout Europe to meet with heads of state over the next few months. They got reluctant foreign ministers to agree to join or not obstruct the development of a neutral mediating body if other countries consented and President Woodrow Wilson would launch it. Unfortunately, Wilson refused during the war.

In the United States, a group comparable to the Bryce group was founded in 1915, led by former president William Howard Taft. The League to enforce peace was its name. It pushed for the use of arbitration to resolve conflicts and the implementation of sanctions against hostile governments. Except for the Fabian Society in England, none of these early organizations envisioned a continuously working body; instead, they took a legalistic approach that limited the international body to a court of justice. The Fabians were the first to advocate for a Council of States, presumably comprised of the Great Powers, to establish a permanent secretariat to improve international cooperation in various areas.

Both sides had to establish their long-term war goals during the diplomatic activities surrounding World War I. Long-range thinkers in Britain, fighting on the Allies' side and in the neutral United States, had begun to construct a unified international organization to prevent future wars by 1916. Historian Peter Yearwood claims that when David Lloyd George's new coalition government seized office in December 1916, there was widespread talk among intellectuals and diplomats about the need for such an organization. When asked by Wilson to state his opinion concerning the postwar situation, Lloyd George favoured such an organization. In January 1918, Wilson included a "league of countries to ensure peace and justice" in his Fourteen Points. Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, argued that some form of international sanction should be devised as a form of durable peace behind international law and behind all treaty arrangements for preventing or limiting hostilities, as a condition of durable peace behind international law and behind all treaty arrangements for avoiding or limiting hostilities.

The war had a significant impact on Europe's social, political, and economic structures and psychological and bodily harm. The Russian Empire fell first in February 1917, followed by the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. As a result, anti-war sentiment grew worldwide, and the First World War was dubbed "the war to end all wars" as its reasons were explored thoroughly. Arms races, alliances, aggressive nationalism, covert diplomacy, and sovereign states' right to wage war for their profit were among the causes identified. One proposed remedy was the development of an international organization to prevent future wars by disarmament, open diplomacy, international cooperation, and constraints on the right to wage war, and penalties that made war unattractive.

Under the initiative of Lord Robert Cecil, Balfour commissioned the first official report into the problem in early 1918 in London. In February 1918, the British committee was eventually formed. The Phillimore Committee was directed by Walter Phillimore, although it also included Eyre Crowe, William Tyrrell, and Cecil Hurst. The formation of a "Conference of Allied States" to arbitrate conflicts and punish misbehaving states was one of the Phillimore Commission's suggestions. The British government endorsed the ideas, and much of the commission's work was ultimately incorporated into the League of Nations Covenant. In June 1918, the French proposed a far-reaching plan that included annual meetings of a council to decide all conflicts and an "international army" to enforce its judgments.

Wilson's idealistic ideas were initially articulated in the Fourteen Points of January 1918. The work of the Phillimore Commission was to be represented in a US plan drafted by Edward M. House. The result of House's work and Wilson's own first draft called for the end of "unethical" governmental behaviour, such as espionage and dishonesty. Instead, severe measures such as blockading and closing the frontiers of that power to commerce or contact with any portion of the world, as well as the use of any force required, would be used to compel recalcitrant states.

Lord Robert Cecil, a British politician, and Jan Smuts, a South African leader, were the two principal drafters and architects of the League of Nations covenant. Smuts proposed establishing a permanent Council of the Great Powers and a non-permanent selection of lesser states. He also recommended establishing a mandate system for Central Powers seized territories throughout the war. Cecil concentrated on the administrative side of things, proposing yearly Council meetings and quadrennial Assembly sessions for all members. He also called for establishing a substantial, permanent secretariat to handle the League's administrative functions. Thus, the League of Nations' membership and structure were more inclusive than earlier international organizations, but it reinforced racial hierarchy by restricting the right to self-determination and preventing decolonization.


Wilson, Cecil, and Smuts all presented draft proposals at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The Hurst–Miller proposal was finally produced as the basis for the Covenant after extensive talks between the delegates. On 25 January 1919, the delegates eventually adopted the League of Nations to form after more deliberation and compromise. A special commission produced the League of Nations' final Covenant, and the League was founded by Part I of the Treaty of Versailles. On 28 June 1919, 44 nations contracted the Agreement, including 31 governments that had fought alongside the Triple Entente or had joined it during the war.

International feminists were invited to a parallel meeting to the Paris Conference by French women's rights activists in the hopes of gaining authorization to attend the official conference. The Inter-Allied Women's Conference requested the right to contribute proposals to peace discussions and commissions, as well as the right to sit on commissions dealing exclusively with women and children, and were granted this. They demanded enfranchisement and complete legal protection under the law on an equal footing with males, but their demands were ignored. Women were given the right to serve in all positions in the League of Nations, including as employees or delegates. They also won a proclamation stating that member countries should work to combat the trafficking of women and children and support humane working conditions for children, women, and men. The women of the WILPF denounced the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles at the Zürich Peace Conference, held between May 17 and 19, 1919, for both their punitive measures and their failure to provide for the condemnation of violence and the exclusion of women from civic and political involvement. Catherine Marshall, a British suffragist, revealed that the League of Nations' Rules of Procedure were utterly undemocratic, and they were changed as a result of her recommendation.

A General Assembly in lieu of all associate states, an Executive Council with membership confined to significant powers, and a permanent secretariat would make up the League. Member states were supposed to protect and defend the territorial integrity of other members against foreign assault and disarm to the lowest level possible while maintaining internal security. Before going to war, all states were compelled to file complaints about arbitration or judicial review. To resolve the issues, the Executive Council would establish a Permanent Court of International Justice.

The United States never joined the League, despite Wilson's efforts to organize and promote it, for which he was agreed the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1919. Senate Republicans led by Henry Cabot Lodge pushed for a League with the caveat that only Congress could declare war on the United States. Wilson refused to allow a compromise after Lodge obtained a majority of Senators. On 19 March 1920, the Senate voted on ratification, but the 49-35 vote fell short of the required 2/3 majority. Six days later the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations Covenant went into effect, the League conducted its inaugural council meeting in Paris on 16 January 1920. The League's headquarters were moved from London to Geneva on 1 November 1920, and the first General Assembly was detained on 15 November 1920. The League's first permanent home was the Palais Wilson on Geneva's western lakeside, named after Woodrow Wilson.

Languages and Symbols

The League of Nations' official languages were French and English. Two five-pointed stars within a blue hexagon became a semi-official logo for the League of Nations in 1939. They represented the Earth's five continents as well as the "five races." The English word "League of Nations" was printed at the top, while the French name "Société des Nations" was featured at the bottom.

Principal Organs

The Council, the Assembly, and the Permanent Secretariat were the League's principal constitutional organs. The Permanent Court of Global Justice and the Global Labour Organization were also essential parts of it. There were also several auxiliary agencies and commissions. The Assembly set the budget for each organ. Its members financially funded the League. The relationship between the Assembly and the Council and the competencies of each remained largely undefined. Each body might deal with any topic within the League's range of competence or affecting world peace. It's possible to refer to specific questions or tasks in either case. Except in matters of procedure and a few other particular circumstances, such as the admission of new members, both the Assembly and the Council required unanimity in their decisions. This demand reflected the League's confidence in the sovereignty of its member countries; the League sought a solution through negotiation rather than dictation. In the event of a disagreement, the approval of the disputants was not required for unanimity.

The Permanent Secretariat, founded in the League's HQ in Geneva, was made up of a group of experts in several fields led by the general secretary. Political, Financial, and Economic Affairs, Transit, Minorities and Administration, Mandates, Disarmament, Health, Social, and Intellectual Cooperation and International Bureaux, Legal, and Information were the main areas. In addition, the Secretariat's personnel was in charge of creating the agendas for the Council and Assembly and publishing meeting reports and other routine tasks, effectively serving as the League's civil service. The staff numbered 707 in 1931.

The Assembly was made up of representatives from all League members, with each state having three representatives and one vote. It gathered once a year in September after its debut meetings in 1920 in Geneva. The Assembly's particular tasks were the admission of new members, the periodic election of non-permanent members to the Council, the election of judges of the Permanent Court with the Council, and budget management. In practice, the Assembly served as the League's overall directing power. The League Council served as an executive body that oversaw the Assembly's operations. It began with four permanent members: the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Japan, as well as four non-permanent members elected for three-year terms by the Assembly. Belgium, Brazil, Greece, and Spain were the first non-permanent members.

The Council's makeup has changed multiple times. On 22 September 1922, the number of non-permanent members was increased to six, and on 8 September 1926, it was expanded to nine. Germany was persuaded to join the League by Werner Dankwort, and Germany became the League's fifth permanent member in 1926. The number of non-permanent seats was expanded from nine to eleven after Germany and Japan departed the League, and the Soviet Union was made a permanent member, giving the Council a total of fifteen members. The Council met five times a year on average and in special sessions as necessary. Between 1920 and 1939, 107 sessions were held in all.

Other Bodies

The League was in charge of the Permanent Court of International Justice, and some other institutions and commissions set up to address critical international issues. The Mandates Commission, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Permanent Central Opium Board, the International Commission on Intellectual Cooperation (forerunner to UNESCO), the Commission for Refugees, and the Slavery Commission were among them. Following WWII, three of these entities were handed to the United Nations. The ILO, the Permanent Court of International Justice, and the World Health Organization are among the organizations that have been restructured. The Covenant established the Permanent Court of International Justice, but it did not set it. Instead, the Council and the Assembly adopted its constitution. The Council and the Assembly chose its judges, and the latter funded its budget. The Court was to get and agree any international issue brought before it by the parties involved. It may also provide an advisory opinion on any dispute or subject that the Council or the Assembly refers to. Under certain broad circumstances, the Court was open to all nations of the world.

Fragment XIII of the Treaty of Versailles was used to establish the International Labor Organization in 1919. Despite having the same members as the League and being subject to the Assembly's budget supervision, the ILO was a separate entity with its own Governing Body, General Conference, and Secretariat. Moreover, its constitution was different from the League's in that it gave representation to representatives of employers' and workers' organizations and governments. Its initial director was Albert Thomas.

The ILO effectively limited the use of lead in paint and persuaded numerous countries to adopt an eight-hour workday and a 48-hour workweek. It also advocated for the abolition of child labor, the expansion of women's employment rights, and the liability of ship-owners for accidents involving seafarers. In 1946, after the League's dissolution, the ILO became a United Nations body. The League's health organization consisted of three bodies: (1) the Health Bureau, which consisted of permanent League officials; (2) the General Advisory Council or Conference, which was an executive section made up of medical professionals; and (3) the Health Committee. The committee's goal was to undertake investigations, manage the League's health activities, and prepare work to be presented to the Council. This organization aimed to eradicate leprosy, malaria, and yellow fever, the latter two by launching an international mosquito-eradication effort. The WHO also collaborated successfully with the Soviet Union's government to avoid typhus epidemics, including organizing a large-scale education campaign.

Since its beginning, the League of Nations has paid close attention to the issue of international intellectual cooperation. In December 1920, the First Assembly suggested that the Council promote worldwide intelligent collaboration, which it did by adopting a report submitted by the Second Assembly's Fifth Committee and inviting a Committee on Intellectual Cooperation to convene in Geneva in August 1922. The committee's first chairman was Henri Bergson, a French philosopher. The committee's work included an investigation into the state of intellectual life, assistance to countries where academic life was threatened, the establishment of national committees for intelligent cooperation, collaboration with international philosophical organizations, intellectual property protection, inter-university collaboration, coordination of bibliographical work and international publication exchange, and international collaboration in archaeology.

The second International Opium Convention established the Permanent Central Opium Board to oversee statistical reporting on opium, morphine, cocaine, and heroin commerce. For the lawful international traffic in narcotics, the board also developed a system of import certificates and export authorizations. The Slavery Commission fought for the abolition of slavery and the dissolution of forced prostitution around the world. Its main achievement was in pressuring the governments of mandated countries to abolish slavery in those countries. In 1923, the League obtained Ethiopia's pledge to abolish slavery as a condition of membership and worked with Liberia to eliminate forced labour and intertribal slavery. The United Kingdom had opposed Ethiopian membership in the League, claiming that the country lacked the necessary civilisation and internal security to be admitted.

The League also lowered the mortality rate of Tanganyika rail workers from 55% to 4%. Slave trade, prostitution, and the trafficking of women and children were all tracked. Afghanistan eliminated captivity in 1923, Iraq in 1924, Nepal in 1926, Transjordan and Persia in 1929, Bahrain in 1937, and Ethiopia in 1942, thanks partly to pressure from the League of Nations.

The Commission for Refugees, led by Fridtjof Nansen, was founded on 27 June 1921 to protect the benefits of refugees, including overseeing their repatriation and, if required, resettlement. Two to three million ex-prisoners of combat from various nations spread throughout Russia at the end of the First World War; within two years of the commission's founding, it had assisted 425,000 of them in returning home. In 1922, it constructed camps in Turkey to help the country deal with an ongoing refugee issue, preventing the spread of cholera, smallpox, and dysentery while feeding the refugees. In addition, the Nansen passport was created as a way of identification for stateless persons.

“The Committee for the Study of the Legal Status of Women” wanted to learn more about women's rights worldwide. It was founded in 1937 and eventually became the commission on the Status of Women of the United Nations. Unfortunately, the League's Covenant addressed almost nothing about economics. Despite this, the League's Council convened a financial conference in 1920. The First Assembly in Geneva established an Economic and Financial Advisory Committee to provide the discussion with information. As a result, a stable economic and financial institution was created in 1923.


Twenty-three of the League's original 42 members remained until it was disbanded in 1946. Six more states joined in the foundation year, although only two remained members during the League's existence. Germany was self-proclaimed to the League of Nations via a resolution voted on 8 September 1926, under the Weimar Republic. Later, an additional 15 countries joined. Between 28 September 1934, when Ecuador entered, and 23 February 1935, when Paraguay departed, the maximum number of nations was 58.

Egypt became the League's final member on 26 May 1937. Costa Rica was the first member to leave the League permanently on 22 January 1925; having entered on 16 December 1920, it was also the member to leave the League the quickest. On 14 June 1926, Brazil became the first founder member to depart, followed by Haiti in April 1942. Iraq was the first member to have previously been a League of Nations mandate when it joined in 1932.

The Soviet Union joined on 18 September 1934 and was kicked out on 14 December 1939 for invading Finland. The League broke its norm when it expelled the Soviet Union. Only 7 of the Council's 15 members voted for expulsion, falling short of the needed majority under the Covenant. Three of these members had just been appointed to the Council the day before the vote. This was one of the League's ultimate acts before the Second World War effectively ended its existence.


The Allied powers were faced with the problem of what to do with the ex-German groups in Africa and the Pacific and the Ottoman Empire's various Arabic-speaking provinces at the end of WWI. The Peace Conference agreed that these regions should be managed by multiple nations on behalf of the League, under a system of national responsibility supervised by the international community. The "Council of Ten" endorsed this concept, known as the mandate system, on 30 January 1919 and transmitted it to the League of Nations. As a result, the League of Nations mandates were formed under Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant. The Permanent Mandates Commission oversaw League of Nations mandates and held plebiscites in the contested territory to allow locals to choose which country they wanted to join. There were three types of mandates: A, B, and C.

Mandatory Powers

Until the territories were declared capable of self-government, they were controlled by mandated controls such as the United Kingdom in the circumstance of the Directive of Palestine and the Union of South Africa in the circumstance of South-West Africa. The Union of South Africa, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Australia, and Japan were given fourteen mandate regions to split among seven mandatory powers: the United Kingdom, the Union of South Africa, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Australia, and Japan. Except for the Kingdom of Iraq, which joined the League on 3 October 1932, these territories did not obtain independence until after WWII, which took until 1990 to complete. After the League's dissolution, the majority of the remaining mandates became UN Trust Territories. In addition to the mandates, the League controlled the Saar Basin Territory for 15 years before coming to Germany after a referendum and the Free City of Danzig from 15 November 1920 to 1 September 1939.

Resolving Territorial Disputes

Many questions remained unresolved in the aftermath of World War I, including the precise location of national frontiers and which country particular territories would join. Through entities such as the Allied Supreme Council, the victorious Allied countries dealt with the majority of these issues. Only the most challenging cases were raised to the League by the Allies. As a result, throughout the early interwar period, the League had a minor role in resolving the postwar upheaval. In its early years, the League studied issues such as those outlined in the Paris Peace Treaties. The League's position grew as it matured, and by the middle of the 1920s, it had established itself as the epicentre of international activity. The connection between the League and non-members has changed as a result of this shift. The League was increasingly collaborating with the United States and Russia, for example. France, Britain, and Germany all used the League of Nations as the focal point of their diplomatic activities in the second half of the 1920s. Each of their overseas secretaries appeared League meetings in Geneva at this time. They also tried to use the League's machinery to improve relations and settle their issues.

Aland Islands

Aland is a group of around 6,500 islands in the Baltic Sea, roughly halfway between Sweden and Finland. The islands are almost entirely Swedish-speaking, although Imperial Russia seized the islands, along with Finland, in 1809. Finland declared independence in December 1917, during the Russian October Revolution, although the majority of Finns wanted to return to Sweden. Because the Russians had included territory in the Grand Duchy of Finland, created in 1809, the Finnish government stared the islands as part of their new nation. By 1920, the conflict had deteriorated to the point where war was a distinct possibility. The British government approached the League's Council with the situation, but Finland refused to allow the League to intervene, claiming that it was an internal concern. The League convened a small panel to determine if it should investigate the situation, and if it did, a neutral commission was established. The League announced its judgment in June 1921. The islands were to stay part of Finland, but the islanders' safety was guaranteed, including demilitarization. This was the first European international agreement reached directly through the League, thanks to Sweden's reluctant agreement.

Upper Silesia

After failing to resolve the territorial issue between Poland and Germany, the Allied powers referred the Upper Silesia problem to the League. Poland claimed Upper Silesia, which had previously been part of Prussia, in 1919. The Treaty of Versailles recommended a plebiscite in Upper Silesia to determine whether the province should be part of Germany or Poland. Rioting and, finally, the first two Silesian Uprisings erupted due to dissatisfaction with the German rulers' approach. On 20 March 1921, a referendum was held, with 59.6% of the ballots cast in favor of joining Germany, roughly 500,000 votes, although Poland claimed its conditions were unfair. In 1921, the Third Silesian Uprising erupted as a result of this outcome.

The League was requested to settle the dispute on 12 August 1921, and the Council formed a commission with representatives from Brazil, Belgium, China, and Spain to investigate the situation. Due to the financial and industrial interdependency of the two areas, the commission suggested that Upper Silesia be separated among Poland and Germany conferring to the preferences expressed in the referendum and that the two sides decide the details of the interaction between the two areas, such as whether goods should be allowed to cross the border freely. Accordingly, a conference was organized in Geneva in November 1921 to discuss a convention between Germany and Poland. After five meetings, a final agreement was made in which the bulk of the region was granted to Germany. At the same time, the Polish half contained the majority of the region's mineral riches and much of its industry. Although Germany reacted to intense dissatisfaction when the arrangement was made public in May 1922, both countries ratified the pact. The agreement brought calm to the region until the outbreak of World War II.


The Principality of Albania's borders were left up to the League of Nations to define during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. By September 1921, they had not been determined, resulting in an unstable situation. Greek troops carried out military activities in Albania's south. After skirmishes with Albanian tribe members, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes became involved in the northern section of the nation. The League dispatched a commission to the region, consisting of members from several countries. The League determined in November 1921 that Albania's borders should be the same as they were in 1913, with three minor alterations in favor of Yugoslavia. A few weeks later, Yugoslav forces withdrew, albeit in protest.

When Italian General Enrico Tellini and 4 of his subordinates were ambushed and killed while marking out the newly established border between Greece and Albania on 24 August 1923, the frontiers of Albania once again became a source of international warfare. Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, was furious and asked that a panel investigate the occurrence within five days. Mussolini asserted that the Greek government pay Italy fifty million lire in reparations, regardless of the outcome of the investigation. The Greeks stated that they would not pay unless Greeks had committed the crime. Mussolini dispatched a cruiser to bombard the Greek island of Corfu, which Italian forces took on 31 August 1923. As a result of this defilement of the League's commitment, Greece requested that the League intervene. Because the Conference of Ambassadors had nominated General Tellini, the Allies agreed to Mussolini's demand that the Conference of Ambassadors resolves the disagreement. The League Council investigated the matter before referring it to the Conference of Ambassadors for a final determination. Even though the perpetrators of the crime were never found, the conference adopted most of the League's recommendations, requiring Greece to pay Italy fifty million lire. After that, the Italian troops departed from Corfu.


Conferring to Article 99 of the Treaty of Versailles, the port city of Memel and its surrounding area, which had a large German population, were under interim Entente rule. The governments of France and Poland sought to convert Memel into an international city, while Lithuania desired to acquire the region. The area's fate was still unknown in 1923, forcing Lithuanian forces to assault and take the port in January of that year. After failing to negotiate an agreement with Lithuania, the Allies turned to the League of Nations for help. The League Council constituted a Commission of Inquiry in December 1923. The commission decided to hand over Memel to Lithuania and grant it autonomy. The League Council ratified the Klaipda Convention on 14 March 1924, followed by the Allied countries and Lithuania. Following the advent of the Nazis and an ultimatum to Lithuania demanding the restoration of the territory under threat of war, Germany retook the region in 1939. The League of Nations was incapable to stop the Memel area from seceding from Germany.


In 1937, the Sanjak of Alexandretta in the French Mandate of Syria was granted autonomy under League supervision. Following elections the previous month, the parliament renamed the city Hatay and declared independence as the Republic of Hatay in September 1938. In mid-1939, Turkey annexed it with the French agreement.


In 1926, the League settled a dispute over control of the former Ottoman province of Mosul between the Kingdom of Iraq and the Republic of Turkey. Mosul belonged to Iraq, according to the British, who had been granted a League of Nations mandate over Iraq in 1920 and so represented Iraq in its foreign affairs; nevertheless, the nascent Turkish republic appealed the area as part of its traditional heartland. In 1924, a League of Nations Commission of Inquiry was dispatched to the region, including Belgian, Hungarian, and Swedish members. Mosul residents did not want to be a part of either Turkey or Iraq, but if forced to choose, they would choose Iraq. In 1925, the group advised that the region remain part of Iraq because the British retained control of Iraq for another 25 years to safeguard the Kurdish population's autonomy. On 16 December 1925, the League Council accepted the recommendation and agreed to grant Mosul to Iraq. Despite taking the arbitration of the League of Nations in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), Turkey disputed the verdict, disputing the Council's jurisdiction. The circumstance was taken to the Permanent Court of International Justice, which determined that a unanimous decision by the Council must be accepted. Nonetheless, on 5 June 1926, Britain, Iraq, and Turkey took a separate treaty that mirrored the League Council's decision and gave Mosul to Iraq. Iraq may still apply for League membership within the next 25 years, and the mandate would terminate once it was accepted.


Poland and Lithuania both regained their independence after WWI but immediately became embroiled in territorial disputes. During the Polish-Soviet War, Lithuania and the Soviet Union signed the Moscow Peace Treaty, establishing Lithuania's borders. This deal handed Lithuanians control of Vilnius, the former Lithuanian capital but now home to most Poles. This heightened tensions between Lithuania and Poland, raising worries about the Polish–Lithuanian War resumption, so the League negotiated the Suwaki Agreement, which established a cease-fire and a demarcation line between the two nations on 7 October 1920. However, General Lucjan eligowski, heading a Polish armed force, conquered the city on 9 October 1920, violating the Suwaki Agreement, and created the Republic of Central Lithuania.

The League Council demanded Poland's removal from the area in response to a plea for aid from Lithuania. The Polish authorities stated that they would comply but instead sent more Polish troops to the city. This prompted the League to conclude that its citizens should decide the future of Vilnius in a referendum and that Polish forces should withdraw and be replaced by a League-organized international party. Lithuania, Poland, and the Soviet Union, which opposed any global power in Lithuania, opposed the idea. As a result, the League dropped plans for a referendum in March 1921. Vilnius and the nearby zone were lawfully annexed by Poland in March 1922, following unsuccessful proposals by Paul Hymans to form a federation between Poland and Lithuania, which was intended as a reincarnation of the former union that both Poland and Lithuania had shared before losing their independence. On 14 March 1923, after Lithuania took control of the Klaipda Region, the Allied Conference established the border between Lithuania and Poland, leaving Vilnius within Poland. Lithuanian authorities refused to recognize the judgment, and the two countries remained at war until 1927. Lithuania did not resume diplomatic relations with Poland until the 1938 Polish request, so de facto accepted the borders.

Colombia and Peru

In the early twentieth century, there were multiple border problems between Colombia and Peru, and their governments signed the Salomón-Lozano Treaty in 1922 to resolve them. The border city of Leticia and its nearby land were transferred to Colombia as part of this deal, giving Colombia access to the Amazon River. Business executives from Peru's rubber and sugar industries, who had lost land, organized an armed invasion of Leticia on 1 September 1932. The Peruvian government first refused to acknowledge the military seizure, but President Luis Sánchez Cerro of Peru resisted a Colombian re-occupation. The Peruvian Army captured Leticia, sparking a war between the two countries. After months of consular discussions, the governments accepted the League of Nations' mediation, and their delegates submitted their cases before the Council. The League was to administer the disputed territory while bilateral negotiations took place, according to a preliminary peace agreement agreed by both parties in May 1933. A definitive peace deal was made in May 1934, ensuing in the reappearance of Leticia to Colombia, a formal regret from Peru for the 1932 attack, demilitarization of the area surrounding Leticia, free passage on the Amazon and Putumayo Rivers, and a non-aggression vow.


The Treaty of Versailles placed Saar under League rule after Prussia and the Rhenish Palatinate founded it. After fifteen years of League control, a vote was held to determine whether the province should belong to Germany or France. When the referendum was born in 1935, 90.3 percent of voters favoured joining Germany, which the League Council swiftly accepted.

Other Conflicts

In addition to territorial issues, the League attempted to intervene in other inter-and intra-national conflicts. Its efforts to combat the international trade in opium and sexual slavery and its endeavor to ease the condition of refugees, particularly in Turkey, from 1926 to 1932, were among its accomplishments. The development of the Nansen passport, the first globally recognized identity card for stateless migrants, in 1922 was one of its accomplishments in this area.

Greece and Bulgaria

Fighting broke out between the two countries after a sentry incident on the Greek-Bulgarian borders in October 1925. Greek troops invaded Bulgaria three days after the initial incident. The Bulgarian authorities instructed its forces to offer only limited protection and withdrew between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians from the border region, believing the League to resolve the conflict. The League denounced the Greek invasion and demanded that Greece withdraw as well as compensate Bulgaria.


The Liberian government urged the League to investigate allegations of forced labour on the massive American-owned Firestone rubber plantation, as well as American claims of slave trading. The League, the United States, and Liberia appointed the commission that resulted. Slavery and forced labour were substantiated by a League report in 1930. The study accused numerous government officials of selling contract labour and advised that they be replaced by Europeans or Americans, causing outrage in Liberia and forcing President Charles D. B. King and his vice-president to quit. As a result, Liberia's government prohibited forced labour and slavery and sought American assistance with social improvements.

Mukden Incident

The Mukden Occurrence, also known as the "Manchurian Incident," was a severe setback for The League, damaged by its prominent members' refusal to confront Japanese aggression. Japan withdrew from the alliance. The Japanese government had the authority to station troops in the area around the South Manchurian Railway, an important commercial route between the two countries, in the Chinese territory of Manchuria, under the conditions of the Twenty-One Demands with China. The Japanese Kwantung Army lightly damaged a portion of the railway in September 1931 as a excuse for an attack of Manchuria. The Japanese Military appealed that Chinese soldiers had destroyed the railway and invaded all of Manchuria in response. They renamed the region Manchukuo and established a puppet government on 9 March 1932, with Pu Yi, China's former emperor, as its executive head. Only the governments of Italy, Spain, and Nazi Germany recognized this new nation; the rest of the world still considered Manchuria part of China.

Observers from the League of Nations were dispatched. A year later, the Lytton Report was published. It proclaimed Japan the aggressor and requested the return of Manchuria to China. In 1933, the Assembly passed the report 42–1, but Japan withdrew from the League instead of removing its soldiers from China. Thus, collective security, as British historian Charles Mowat contended, was doomed in the end. The League and the principles of collective security and the rule of law were destroyed, partially due to indifference and sympathy for the aggressor, but also because the League powers were unprepared, concerned with other things, and too slow to see the scope of Japanese ambitions.

Chaco War

The League could not prevent the arid Gran Chaco war between Bolivia and Paraguay in 1932. Despite its small population, the Chaco had the Paraguay River, which would have provided access to the Atlantic Ocean for either landlocked country. There was also conjecture, which was later proven erroneous, that the Chaco would be a rich source of petroleum. Border skirmishes erupted into all-out war in 1932, when the Bolivian Army attacked the Paraguayans at Fort Carlos Antonio López on Lake Pitiantuta. When the Pan-American Conference volunteered to mediate instead, Paraguay appealed to the League of Nations, but the League did not act. The combat was a tragedy for both sides, with 57,000 deaths in Bolivia, which has over three million people, and 36,000 deaths in Paraguay, which has a population of around one million people. Both countries were likewise on the verge of economic collapse as a result of it. Paraguay had acquired control of most of the region by the time a cease-fire was arranged on 12 June 1935, as the 1938 truce recognized.

The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia

Benito Mussolini, the Italian autocrat, dispatched 400,000 armies to invade Abyssinia in October 1935. From November 1935 to November 1936, Marshal Pietro Badoglio oversaw the operation, authorizing bombings, chemical warfare such as poison gas, and the poisoning of water sources over unprotected communities and medical centers. Finally, in May 1936, the contemporary Italian Military beat the weakly armed Abyssinians and took Addis Ababa, causing Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to flee.

In November 1935, the League of Nations denounced Italy's invasion and issued economic sanctions. Still, the measures were mainly unsuccessful because they did not prohibit the sale of oil or prevent Britain from controlling the Suez Canal. This was because no one had the military resources to repel an Italian attack, as British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin later stated. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in October 1935, used the recently enacted Neutrality Acts to impose an embargo on both sides' weaponry and munitions and a "moral embargo" on the belligerent Italians, which included other trade commodities. The US attempted, with limited success, to limit its oil and other material exports to normal peacetime levels on 5 October and later on 29 February 1936. On 4 July 1936, the League sanctions were withdrawn, but Italy had already taken control of Abyssinia's metropolitan centers.

The Hoare–Laval Pact, signed in December 1935, was an endeavor by Minister Of Foreign affairs French Prime Minister Pierre Laval and Samuel Hoare to settle the Abyssinian crisis by offering to divide the country into an Italian and an Abyssinian section. Mussolini was willing to sign the agreement, but the word of it got out. The public in both the United Kingdom and France was outraged, calling it a sell-out of Abyssinia. Hoare and Laval were compelled to resign, and the British and French governments cut ties with them. Even though there was no precedent for a head of state speaking to the League of Nations Assembly in person, Haile Selassie did so in June 1936, pleading for the League's assistance in safeguarding his country. The Abyssinian crisis demonstrated how its members' self-interest might influence the League; one of the reasons for the mild sanctions was that Britain and France dreaded pushing Mussolini and Adolf Hitler into an association.

Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Army staged a coup on 17 July 1936, sparking a long-running violent confrontation between Spanish Republicans and Nationalists. In September 1936, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julio Álvarez del Vayo, requested arms from the League to safeguard Spain's geographical integrity and political independence. However, the League's founders would neither engage in nor prohibit external action in the Spanish Civil War. As a result, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini kept supporting General Francisco Franco's Nationalists, while the Soviet Union aided the Spanish Republic to a smaller extent. The League did prohibit foreign fighters in February 1937, but this was largely symbolic.

Second Sino-Japanese War

On 7 July 1937, Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China, following a long history of provoking localized wars throughout the 1930s. Wellington Koo, the Chinese envoy, asked the League for international intervention on 12 September. Western countries sympathized with the Chinese in their struggle, especially in their tenacious defense of Shanghai, a large, foreign metropolis. However, the League could not propose any practical solutions. Thus it referred the case to the Nine Power Treaty Conference on 4 October.

Soviet invasion of Finland

Secret protocols describing regions of interest were included in the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 23 August 1939. Finland, the Baltic republics, and eastern Poland all fell under Soviet control. After conquering Poland on 17 September 1939, the Soviets attacked Finland on 30 November 1939. The League of Nations then evicted for the first time a member who had broken the Covenant. 14 December 1939 League activity stung. The Soviet Union was the only member of the League ever to face such humiliation.

Failure of Disarmament

Article 8 of the Covenant tasked the League with lowering weapons to the minor level possible while maintaining national security and enforcing international responsibilities by collective action. Because many League members doubted that genuine disarmament could be achieved or was even desired in the 1920s, slight of the League's time and attention was committed to this goal. The 1925 Meeting for the Supervision of the International Trade in Weapons, Ammunition and War Implements was one of the League's triumphs. It began collecting international data on arms. The Geneva Protocol, which bans the usage of poison gas in conflict, was signed in 1925. Although the U.S did not endorse it until 1975, it mirrored widespread popular opinion worldwide.

There were various failures and inadequacies in the League. It established the Temporary Mixed Commission on Armaments in 1921 to investigate disarmament options. It was made up of celebrities rather than government representatives. They didn't always agree. Chemical warfare and strategic bombardment were proposed to be phased out, as were more conventional weaponry like tanks. In 1923, a draft treaty was drafted that deemed aggressive war unlawful and obligated member governments to use force to defend victims of aggression. Because the onus of duty would fall, in effect, on the League's great powers, it was vetoed by the United Kingdom, which believed that it would jeopardize its commitment to police the British Empire.

The Treaty of Versailles required the Allied powers to make every effort to disarm, and the armament constraints imposed on the defeated countries had been considered as the first step toward global disarmament. The League Covenant tasked the League with developing a disarmament strategy for each member state. Still, the Council delegated this work to a special commission established in 1926 to prepare for the World Disarmament Conference of 1932–1934. Members of the League had differing opinions on the subject. The French were hesitant to lower their weaponry without assurances of military assistance if they were attacked; Poland and Czechoslovakia, fearful of western assault, wanted the League's response to aggression against its members to be enhanced before disarming. They would not lower weaponry without this commitment because they believed the risk of attack from Germany was too significant. As Germany regained strength following World War I, fear of attack grew, notably after Adolf Hitler rose to power and became German Chancellor in 1933. Germany's ambitions to repeal the Treaty of Versailles and rebuild the German Military, in particular, made France increasingly hesitant to disarm.

The League of Nations called the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1932, bringing together representatives from 60 countries. It was a colossal flop. At the commencement of the meeting, a one-year moratorium on weapons buildup was proposed, which was eventually extended by a few months. The Disarmament Commission received early agreement to limit the size of their navies from France, Italy, Spain, Japan, and the United Kingdom, but no final agreement was reached. In the end, the commission could not prevent Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan from building up their militaries throughout the 1930s.

The League remained relatively muted in the aftermath of significant events leading up to WWII, such as Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland, occupation of the Sudetenland, and Anschluss of Austria, all of which were illegal by the Treaty of Versailles. In reality, League members re-armed themselves. Japan withdrew from the League in 1933 rather than submit to its judgment, as did Germany the following year, citing the failure of the World Disarmament Conference to agree on armaments equality among France and Germany as a pretext, and Italy and Spain in 1937. The League's final big move was to expel the Soviet Union from the League in December 1939, following its invasion of Finland.

General Weaknesses

The outbreak of World War II proved that the League had failed to achieve its principal goal of preventing another world war. This failure had several causes, many of which were related to the organization's general flaws. In addition, the League's influence was hampered by the United States refusing to join.

Origins and Structure

The League was dubbed a "League of Victors" because of its origins as an organization founded by the Allies as part of the peace treaty that ended World War I. The League's indecisiveness was a result of its neutrality. To enact a resolution, nine, later fifteen, Council members had to vote unanimously; as a result, convincing and effective action was difficult, if not impossible. Moreover, it took a long time to make choices because some of them required the unanimous approval of the entire Assembly. This issue arose primarily because the League of Nations' founding members were unwilling to accept the prospect that other countries would decide their fate. By imposing a unanimous vote, they had essentially given themselves veto power.

Global Representation

Representation in the League was frequently an issue. Even though it was designed to include all nations, many never joined or stayed for a short time. The United States was the most conspicuous absentee. Although President Woodrow Wilson was a significant force behind the League's founding and substantially affected its structure, the US Senate decided against joining on 19 November 1919. Ruth Henig claims that if the United States had entered, it would have supplied support to France and Britain, possibly making France feel safer and urging France and Britain to cooperate more entirely with Germany, making the Nazi Party's ascension powerless likely. On the other hand, Henig agrees that if the United Powers had been a member, the League's ability to deal with international occurrences would have been impeded by its unwillingness to go to war with European states or impose economic penalties. In addition, the League's membership may have been complicated by the structure of the US federal government, as its representatives could not make decisions on behalf of the executive branch without first obtaining official recognition.

Germany was not legalized to join the League when it was founded in January 1920 because it was considered the aggressor in the First World War. Because Communist governments were not welcomed, Soviet Russia was immediately barred, and admittance would have been problematic due to the Russian Civil War. Both sides claimed to be the official government of the country. When key powers left in the 1930s, the League was further weakened. Since Japan was an Allied Power in World War I, it was a permanent member of the Council. Still, it departed in 1933 after the League expressed objection to its colonization of Manchuria. Italy was a permanent member of the Council for a year after the Second Italo-Ethiopian War but left in 1937. Spain was a permanent member of the Council but departed in 1939 when the Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War. The League had welcomed Germany as a permanent member of the Council in 1926, describing it as a "peace-loving country," but when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, he pulled Germany out.

Collective Security

Another significant flaw arose from the conflict between the League's founding principle of collective security and international interactions between individual states. The League's collaborative security concept compelled nations to intervene, if necessary, against governments they deemed friendly in a way that could jeopardize their national interests to support those with which they had no natural affinity. This disadvantage was confronted during the Abyssinia Conflict when Britain and France had to weigh their responsibilities to Abyssinia as a Member of the League with the protection they had tried to create for themselves after Europe to protect against the adversaries of internal order, in which Italy's support played a pivotal role. However, in the face of escalating German militarism under Hitler, Britain and France eventually abandoned the idea of communal security in favor of appeasement. In this sense, the League of Nations was also the venue for the first international debate on terrorism after the assassination of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia in Marseille, France, in 1934, revealing its conspiratorial features, many of which can be found in the post-September 11th terrorism discourse among states.

Pacifism and Disarmament

The League of Nations didn't have its armed forces and had to rely on the Great Powers to implement its purposes, which they were unwilling to do. Britain and France, the League's two most powerful members, were hesitant to use sanctions and even more so to resort to military action on the League's behalf. As a result, pacifism became a significant force among the people and governments of the two countries shortly after the First World War. The League was particularly unpopular with the British Conservatives, who preferred to negotiate treaties without it when they were in power. Furthermore, by proposing disarmament for Britain, France, and the League's other members while also advocating collective security, the League was depriving itself of the only robust method by which it could maintain its rule. During the First World War, as the British cabinet debated the League's proposal, Cabinet Secretary Maurice Hankey circulated a note.

Demise and Legacy

As the condition in Europe worsened into war, the Assembly delegated enough authority to the Secretary-General to permit the League to remain operating legally and with fewer resources. Till the finish of World War II, the League's headquarters, the Palace of Nations, sat vacant for over six years. The Allies agreed to form a new entity to replace the League at the Tehran Conference in 1943, dubbed "the United Nations." Many League organizations, such as the International Labor Organization, continued to exist and later merged into the United Nations. The United Nations' institutions were designed to make it more effective than the League of Nations.

The League of Nations held its final Assembly in Geneva on 18 April 1946. The Assembly included delegates from 34 countries. This session focused on liquidating the League, transferring assets worth around $22,000,000 to the United Nations in 1946, including the Palace of Nations and the League's archives, returning reserve funds to the nations who provided them and settling the League's debts.

The Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the League of Nations will cease to exist on the day after the conclusion of the current session of the Assembly, except for the sole purpose of liquidating its business as stated in the present resolution. A Board of Liquidation, made up of nine people from various countries, spent the next 15 months monitoring the transfer of the League's assets and powers to the UN or specialized agencies before dissolving on 31 July 1947. The League of Nations archive was moved to the United Nations Office in Geneva and is now part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

League of Nations Archives

The records and documents of the League of Nations are housed in the League of Nations archives. It contains around 15 million pages of literature ranging from the League of Nations' founding in 1919 through its collapse in 1946. It is housed at the Geneva Office of the United Nations.

Total Digital Entree to the League of Nations Archives Project (LONTAD)

The Total Digital Access to the League of Nations Archives Project (LONTAD) was initiated in 2017 by the UN Library & Archives Geneva to preserve, digitize, and enable online access to the League of Nations archives. It is predictable to be finished in 2022.

Last updated: 2021-December-23
Tags: History World War I
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