The League of Nations was not right for the economic and political environment of the 1920s because it lacked the power to assert itself in the extremely competitive geopolitical climate of the times. The League of Nations was an entirely unheard of institution.1 Never before had nations been subjected to review by a higher power. Even those in favor of the league did not truly believe themselves subject to it’s rules. When Italy invaded Abyssinia in violation of the League they simply withdrew from the covenant and faced no chastisement. The League was a highly idealistic endeavor, one that required sacrifices that most countries where not prepared to make, especially given the devastation and ill wills that existed following World War One. During the 1920s the international climate was in turmoil. Almost every major country in the world suffered economically during World War One.2 None of them wanted anything more to do with war.3 A radical change was needed, when Woodrow Wilson proposed the League of Nations most countries in Europe, even those who would eventually be excluded from the League, jumped on board. The radical institution promised an expedient solution to the problem of world peace.4 But, most countries did not grasp the sacrifices that would be necessary to make the League a success.5 Europe exited World War One a shattered continent, no nation had escaped the horrors of war.5 From those horrors grew resentment towards their old enemies, Germans resented the English, the French resented the Germans.6 This resentment led to Germany and several other countries being excluded from the league of nations.7 From this original resentment sprung the eventual decline of the League. International institutions are delicate establishments, require a careful balance of altruism and political gains for all parties involved to function. Without the altruism and motivation towards certain members benefit the League was not a neutral ground for all nations, even those involved, supposedly on the same side.8 The League of Nations’ purpose, as defined by Wilson at the outset of the Versailles conference, included more than creating a forum to resolve dispute without war. Wilson intended the League to ‘fix’ Europe, helping to rein in the monarchial empires that had dominated Europe for a thousand years prior to World War One, and to prevent the paranoia inducing secret diplomacy that put the entire continent on edge.9 10 Wilson’s and the League of Nations’ efforts at breaking up the monarchial and imperial system of European politics was largely a success. But the League’s efforts to make diplomacy and open process met with much less success.11 Not all diplomacy was conducted within the League’s halls, partly due to the fact that the member nations convened only four times during the year,12 but also the League was slow and ponderous.13 Direct, and often closed negotiations where more expedient and more effective. Although during the 1920s international discussion became more open, the process of diplomacy quickly became a furtive endeavor. The League of Nations had one final purpose. To encourage self determination in the newly created successor states as well as in many relinquished colonies of Europe.14 This was one of the main ways the League succeeded in breaking up the European empires. In this aspect the League succeeded at promoting democracy and restoring sovereignty around the world.15 Even regarding the limited success the League met, one critical error lead to it being unable to survive the political environment of the 1920s. It lacked the strength of three key nations. Germany, the USSR and the USA. The reasons for their exclusion were different, the USA voted to not be part of the League, Germany was purposefully excluded because of bad feelings over World War One, and at the time of the Leagues creation the USSR was excluded over fear of communism and socialism.16 When these three nations where excluded from the league they left the whole institution weakened, not to mention Wilson’s own country not joining the League. Without the military power and comparative disentanglement in world affairs of the United States the League could do next to nothing to enforce decisions regarding world peace, and the exclusion of Germany and the USSR based on political prejudices undermines the entire idea of the League of Nations as a neutral fair entity.17 The League of Nations was a good idea, even a great idea. But without the backing of key nations the fragile, idealistic League could not survive the political and economic realities of the 1920s. The League succeeded in a few key areas such as breaking down monarchial empires, and setting important precedents for international cooperation. But the League did little to stop the expansion of violent fascism or to bring diplomacy out of cloak and dagger negotiations. These failures where direct causes of World War Two and also direct causes of the League of Nations becoming the doddering ineffectual entity it was by the time war broke out.


1. Marburg, Theodore. League of Nations: It’s Principles Examined. New York: Macmillan Company, 1919. Google Books. Web. 9 Dec. 2009. This source was a firsthand account of the founding of the League from a man who was there, and enthusiastically supports the League. It helps detail why the League is necessary for the well being of the world. And also warns how the League could be made to fail.2. DeLong, J. Bradford. Slouching Towards Utopia?: The Economic History of the Twentieth Century. Diss. University of California at Berkely, 1997. N.p.: n.p., n.d. University of California. Web. 9 Dec. 2009. This immensely long doctoral thesis, contains a reasonably complete history of the League and it’s economic impact, it also includes the economic state of the world both before and after world war one.3. Townshend, Charles. “League of Nations and the United Nations.” BBC. BBC, n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/>.4. Ibid5. DeLong6. Broadberry, S. N., and Mark Harrison. The Economics of World War I. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Google Books. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.7. Strollo, Phillip J. “League of Nations Timeline.” The World at War. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2009. <http://www.worldatwar.net>.8. Delong9. Sked, Alan. “German History.” Okey. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Excerpt from The Decline and Fall of the Hapsburg Empire 1815-1918. London: Longman, 1989. Oxford Journals. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.10. Reinsch, Paul S. “Secret Diplomacy.” 1922. Google Scholar. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.11. Townshend12. Strickland, Dorothy M. “League of Nations.” Editorial. Women’s Lawyers Journal 1938: n. pag. Web. 9 Dec. 2009. <http://www.google.com/‌scholar/>. This source could be considered the opposite opinion of Marburg, saying how the League is fairly ineffectual and unnecessary but could be made to be better.13. Ibid14. Townshend15. Ibid16. Pollock, Frederick. The League of Nations. London: Stevens and Sons, 1920. Google Books. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.17. Townshend