“The Failure of Collective Security”
The Broken Promise of the League of Nations
OVERVIEW
In these lessons, you will examine:
•The definition of “collective security”
•The creation of the League of Nations
•The structure and responsibilities of the League
•Strengths and weaknesses of the League system
•Responses to major aggression
What does “collective security” mean?
Collective security can be loosely defined as the
attempt by nations to protect each other by
punishing states which violated rules of
sovereignty agreed upon by all. These
punishments may include:
Military action
Economic sanctions
Diplomatic isolation
A difficult birth
Immediately upon its creation, the League of
Nations was struck by certain issues:
•The US Senate refused to ratify American
entry into the League of Nations
•The defeated powers, especially Germany,
were not initially admitted into the League
The League of Nations contained
several major bodies:
Secretariat
Commissions
Council
Court of Justice
General Assembly
Strengths
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The League was successful with issues not
involving conflict between major powers:
Child welfare and women’s rights
Assistance to refugees of war
Control of drug trafficking
Arms control and disarmament
Conflicts between small states
Weaknesses
Britain and France, the lead powers of the
League of Nations, avoided major conflict for
various reasons:
1. Faith in diplomatic agreements
2. Weak national economies
3. Preference for “back-door”
diplomacy
4. Domestic political pressures
1. Faith in diplomatic agreements
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The Western powers believed that
diplomacy was effective:
Washington Conference 1922
Locarno agreement 1925
Kellogg-Briand Pact 1928
Stresa Front 1935
2. Weak national economies
Britain and France had not experienced the
positive effects of the Roaring Twenties; even
after the Great War, unemployment remained
relatively high and the economies had not
recovered to pre-war levels
3. Preference for “back-door”
diplomacy
Britain and France often worked outside of the
League of Nations system, undermining the
principle of collective security:
Anglo-German Naval
Agreement
Hoare-Laval Agreement
Domestic political pressures
British and French public opinions were
strongly against war:
“Should Britain promise assistance to
Czechoslovakia if Germany acts as it did
towards Austria?" (Asked in March 1938)
Yes: 33%
No: 43%
No opinion: 24%
The first serious challenge
Japan invaded north-east China (“Manchuria”)
on Sept 18, 1931
• Japan needed manpower, resources, territory
of neighbouring countries to rebuild its
economy
• Like Britain and France, Japan wished to
establish an overseas empire – later to be
known as the “Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere”
The League responds
The League sent the Lytton commission to investigate
the invasion – the report led to various actions:
• Many League members were against sanctions
because Japan was an important trading partner
• Britain and France wanted to avoid a war which did
not threaten its immediate national security
• The League requested that Japan withdraw and that
Manchuria be administered by the League – Japan
withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933
SUMMARY QUESTIONS
• What was the League’s major problem from its
very start?
• In what areas did the League find success?
• Why was the League ineffective in dealing with
major conflict?
• What pattern of action and response emerged
when the League faced significant challenges?