An Attempt at World Peace: The League of Nations
By Julia Melvin
Period 8
December 10, 2009


The League of Nations was an important part of the history of the interwar years and symbolized the desire for world peace. Its intentions were meant to be beneficial, but in the end it failed in its true purpose. An international peacekeeping committee could not function without the participation of the three dominant world powers. Also, countries who were members of the League found it difficult to commit to defending each country that was attacked by a successor state. The League of Nations failed on its intention of world peace because of the absence of world powers and lack of enforcement from collective security.
At the time of The League of Nations establishment, it had several different intentions. The League was mainly inspired by the drastic events that led to WWI, and Woodrow Wilson [i] suggested the organization in his Fourteen Points document. During the Paris Peace Conferences the League was greatly discussed because of its presence in the Fourteen Points and “other countries also believed that a new approach in international relations was necessary if the world were to avoid total destruction in the future.”[ii] The League’s main purposes were to “promote international cooperation and achieve international peace and security.”[iii] “The League was to be a structure and organization that provided not only to ensure that peace would be kept, but also that glaring denials of human rights should be eradicated”[iv]. Another founding principle of the League of Nations was the principle of collective security. Article X stated that all members will undertake “to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and political independence of all Members.”[v] This meant that countries would have to sacrifice money and manpower in defense of a principle and not of vital national interest, as had been the case in the past. With these ideals, the League was established in 1919 as part of the Versailles settlement at the end of the First World War, and had forty-two initial members.
Although the League seemed to have a strong foundation, it quickly was revealed that there were some major flaws. First, the refusal of three Great powers to join the League, the United States, Germany and Russia, limited the effectiveness of the League’s reaction in a crisis. These three countries had no stake in supporting the actions and decisions that the League made, greatly decreasing the power of the League. Another major flaw was the League’s main idea of collective security. Although the concept of collective security aimed at protecting all countries who were attacked, “it [did not] specify where threats may come from or what the response should be under certain circumstances.”[vi] It assumed that all nations were equally prepared and “[would] be willing, regardless of the cost or how their own interests [would] be affected, to defend the principle.”[vii] Therefore, this concept failed because it asked nations to surrender their freedom of action and intervene in countries which whom they had no desire to do so, or in situations where the countries had relationships with that they wish to preserve. Most members of the League weren’t “willing to take on the open-ended commitments that collective security entailed [viii] After World War I, most countries were in severe debt and their armies were reduced, so they didn’t want to spend money on unnecessary feuds. The League did not have any military forces of its own, so there was no way to enforce collective security, without member participation.
Despite the League of Nation’s problems, it did succeed in solving some of the issues in the world. There were several smaller disputes between countries that the League was able to solve. In one case, “the disputed ownership of the Aaland islands between Sweden and Finland was resolved when the islands were given to Finland on condition that the Finns established an independent government.”[ix] Others included removal of the Yugoslav troops from Albania in 1921, the ownership of Upper Silesia, and the Greco-Bulgarian War of 1925. However, all “the antagonists in these disputes were small or medium powers who were unwilling to resort to violence.”[x] So, the League was able to successfully negotiate with the countries to come up with a settlement that both countries agreed on. Another thing that the League was successful in was helping the problems of society. It dealt with issues such as mandates, refugees, health, drugs, and child welfare. Also, organizations within the League, such as the International Labor Organization, “worked hard to persuade governments to fix minimum wages and maximum working hours.”[xi] Although the League’s successes were limited, it did help the greater good of human society. However, it did not succeed in the primary reason for the creation of the League, international peace.
The League of Nation’s failures in several large international disputes led to its ultimate downfall. The League was unsuccessful when “the dispute involved major powers that refused to submit to the League, or countries determined to resort to violence who were not willing to seek peaceful solutions.”[xii] In the Corfu incident of 1923, the League did not have the sufficient amount of power to compel Italy to stop invading Greece. Mussolini threatened to withdraw from the League when Greece appealed to it, so the League could do nothing about it. Another significant event was the dispute in Manchuria in 1931. In this case, Japan invaded China and China appealed to the League for help, but nothing was done. Members of the League were unwilling to become involved since Japan was not in Europe, and countries weren’t willing to risk their resources for this dispute. The United Kingdom and France were the only members of the League with substantial military force and “neither power had the bases in the Far East to support an effective challenge.”[xiii] Nations usually engage in these disputes only when it is beneficial for their particular country and in this case, there were no benefits. The League’s only response to this invasion was to send a reporter to the scene of the crisis, but by the time the report was published, the dispute was forgotten about. Instead, Japan refused to accept the criticism made by the League, and withdrew from the League entirely. The Abyssinia crisis was the final and ultimate event that led to the complete failure of the League in 1931. Italy played a significant role in the League and it attacked Abyssinia in Africa for its natural resources. Once, again nothing was done by the League, because Italy was a member of the League and the rest of the members lacked the power or the desire to stop Italy. The League “did not prevent their actions or protect the victims, only serving to annoy those responsible and reveal the weakness of the powers defending Versailles and the League.”[xiv] In the end, these examples show the lack of enforcement of collective security and the failure to prevent future wars without the help of the three major world powers.
The foundation of the League of Nations was meant to promote world peace and to resolve disputes between countries to prevent future wars. However, the League could not come to a decision on how best to do this, especially when three major powers were absent from this organization. The League did have some early successes in the 1920s with smaller disputes between weaker countries. It also provided help in the issues of society, but that was not the League’s primary purpose. Overall, the League failed in its intended purpose of world peace and the prevention of war between 1920 and 1935.





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[i] Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States from 1913-1921.
[ii] Cannon. "Peacemaking, Peacekeeping,- International Relations." 20th Century
World History: Course Campanion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
52-74. Print.

[iii] “League of Nations.” The New Penguin Dictionary of Modern History 1789-1945, 1995 ed.
[iv] Wolfson, Robert, and John Laver. "International Relations and Crises 1919-39."
Years of Change European History 1890-1990. 3rd ed. N.p.: Hodder Murray,
n.d. 279-296. Print. (285).

[v] M. R. D. Foot "League of Nations" The Oxford Companion to World War II. Ed. I. C. B. Dear and M. R. D. Foot. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. MEC. 7 December 2009 http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t129.e951
[vi] Cannon 56
[vii] ibid
[viii] ibid
[ix] Wolfson and Layer (286).
[x] Cannon 57
[xi] The New Penguin Dictionary of Modern History
[xii] Cannon 57
[xiii] Cannon 69
[xiv] Cannon 73








List of Sources:
Cannon. "Peacemaking, Peacekeeping,- International Relations." 20th Century World History: Course Campanion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.


“League of Nations.” The New Penguin Dictionary of Modern History 1789-1945, 1995 ed. 52- 74. Print.


M. R. D. Foot “League of Nations” The Oxford Companion to World War II. Ed. I. C. B. Dear and M. R. D. Foot> Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Infohio- NOACSC. 13 November 2009 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t129.e951

Nations, League of.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica Online School Edition. 13 Nov. 2009 <http://www.school.eb.com/eb/article-9055027>
“The League of Nations 1920-1935.” Spark Notes of the Interwar Years. <http://www.sparknotes.com/history/european/interwaryears/section2.rhtml>
Wolfson, Robert, and John Laver. "International Relations and Crises 1919-39." Years of Change European History 1890-1990. 3rd ed. N.p.: Hodder Murray, n.d. 279-296. Print. (285).