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THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS

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THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS:
The Pioneer Political Universal International Organization
by:
Dr. Essien Ukpe Ukoyo Ukpe
INTRODUCTION
"International organization is the process by which states establish and develop formal,
continuing institutional structures for the conduct of certain aspects of their relationships with
each other" (Gale, 1968:211). It is an attempt to counter the extreme parochialism and
individualism of the states system. The constantly increasing complexity of the
interdependence of states requires cooperation among them. International organizations
therefore are manifestations of the organizing process at the international level to foster such
independence and enhance interchange among nations.
The membership of international organizations is made up of sovereign States or nations.
They are essentially created and sustained by the member-States collectively. Although they
are created by States, these organizations have come to co-exist with or even supersede their
creators as dominant actors in the international system. It must be emphasized that although
international organizations are essentially associations of states, they are more than a mere
aggregation of states. They represent “something greater than the sum of the members” by
assuming the status of a world property whose declarations or edicts have the semblance of
bindingness and compulsion (Hallerberg, et. al., 2001:145).
Prior to World War II, nations were the principal actors in international politics. After World
War II, international organizations came to acquire the status of actors in international
politics. But after the war, the scope of actors was expanded to cover international
organizations such as Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) now known as African Union
(AU), Organization of American States (OAS), etc; supra-national organizations or bloc
actors such as the North Atlantic Organization (NATO) and the defunct Warsaw Pact; Nongovernmental organizations such as World Council of Churches (WCC), and Organization of
Islamic Conference (OIC); Multi-national Corporations (MNCs) such as Exxon-Mobil. Subnational groups or rebel movements also acquired the status of actors in international politics.
These include organizations like the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the
National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Finally, individuals whose influence within the
nation enables such nation achieve its external goals also became actors in international
politics (Lakhany, 2006:37).
Recent articles by some scholars on international organizations collected and edited by Carol
Ann Cosgrove and Kenneth J. Twitchett and titled, appropriately enough, The New
International Actors (1970), have cited the United Nations and the EEC (now European
Union) as examples of some international organizations that have emerged on the
international scene as significant and new international actors in their own right. The Book
declares:
Since the Second World War, international organizations have become integral
features of the international scene. Only two of them, however, have emerged
as significant international actors in their own right: the United Nations and
the European Economic Community. They can and do exert influence on a
similar scale to that of many medium-sized powers and are certainly more
influential internationally than most newly independent, small, underdeveloped states (Cosgrove, et. al. 1970).
The book identifies three mutually interdependent acid tests, which determine an international
organization's capacity to act in international affairs (test of actorness) as:
(i)
(ii)
(iii)
The degree of autonomous decision-making power embodied in the central institutions
of the international organizations.
The extent to which it performs significant and continuing functions which have an
impact on inter-state relations; and most importantly.
The significance attached to it in the formulation of the foreign policies of states,
particularly those of it members.
A capacity to influence other actors (or to resist influences from other actors) is the function
of the resources, which accrue independently to the organizations - in terms of finance, expert
information, popular support/legitimacy, decision-making capacity, enforcement capabilities
and diplomatic skills. This, therefore, explains why some international organizations are
more highly developed and why they exert more forceful impact on the international system
than others.
International organizations are classified into 3 types: sub-regional, regional and universal
international organizations depending on the scope of their membership. However, the
Commonwealth, the Francophone Association and, perhaps, the Arab League suggest a fourth
type of association of sovereign States which were recently independent from colonial rule.
International organizations could also be classified as political, religious, military/security or
economic or social depending on the focus of their operations. Thus, some of the
organizations mentioned above are political in nature. These include the African Union (AU),
Organization of American States (OAS), etc; The North Atlantic Organization (NATO) and
the defunct Warsaw Pact are examples of military or security international organizations.
World Council of Churches (WCC) and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) are
religious in nature, while Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) is an
example of a social international organization.
THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
The League of Nations was the first known universal political international organization in
existence. The Covenant of the League of Nations was ratified by 42 nations in 1919 and it
came into effect on January 10, 1920. The formation of the League of Nations was an
expression of the desire of nations for the maintenance of peace and the prevention of future
wars. This was the reaction of the world to the shock and devastation which World War I,
which was regarded as the most costly war ever fought before 1914, occasioned.
The chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I was sparked off by a political
assassination in Sarajevo. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor
Franz Josef and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot to death along with his wife
by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia. This compounded the already tense political
situation in Europe and resulted in the outbreak of the First World War. The outbreak of the
war destroyed "…the old European order" (Tams, 2006:2). Due to the carnage during the
ensuing war, prominent figures "…in the United States and Britain began calling for the
establishment of a permanent international body to maintain peace in the postwar world"
(Taboola, 2016:1). Outstanding among these anti-war advocates was President Woodrow
Wilson of the United States of America. Others include Lord Phillimore, Leon Bourgeois,
Colonel House, Lord Robert Cecil and South African General Jan Smuts.
The idea of the League was first popularized by Jan Smuts in the pamphlet, "The League of
Nations: A Practical Suggestion." In 1918, Wilson presented a 14-point proposal to end the
war. This included:
"…the abolition of secret treaties, a reduction in armaments, an
adjustment in colonial claims in the interests of both native peoples and
colonists, and freedom of the seas, …, the removal of economic barriers
between nations, the promise of “self-determination” for those oppressed
minorities, a secure sovereignty for the Turkish portions of the then
Ottoman Empire, an independent Polish State for territories occupied by
Polish populations and a world organization that would provide a system
of collective security for all nations (United States Archives, 1918).
In this proposal, he presented a sketch of the envisaged international organization that would
maintain international peace and order and prevent future occurrence of war. The Paris Peace
Conference was convened by Wilson to draft "…the new organization's founding
document…" (Tams, 2016:2). This led the Central Powers to agree to an armistice to halt the
killings in World War I in November 1918. Two months later, the Allies met with conquered
Germany and Austria-Hungary at Versailles to hammer out formal peace terms. President
Wilson urged a just and lasting peace, but England and France disagreed, forcing harsh war
reparations on their former enemies (Taboola, 2016:1).
The League of Nations was approved, however, and in the summer of 1919 Wilson presented
the Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant of the League of Nations to the United States'
Senate for ratification. Unfortunately, the United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty and
the Covenant due to their belief that the treaties reduced U.S. authority. Additionally, the
Senate majority leader, Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican from Massachusetts, drafted 14
reservations to counter President Wilson's 14 Points. Lodge's 14 counter reservations were
strengthened by the opposing votes of the “irreconcilables,” led by William Borah (The
Learning Network, 2012). However, the League of Nations proceeded without the United
States. Its first meeting was held in Geneva on November 15, 1920. During its formation,
President Woodrow Wilson was careful to incorporate the collective security provision into
the Covenant of the League.
THE STRUCTURE AND GOALS OF THE LEAGUE
The principal organs of the League as provided in Article 2 of the Covenant included the
Assembly, the Council and a permanent Secretariat located at Geneva. Although the League
established a number of commissions, committees or organizations, bodies like the Permanent
Court of International Justice (PCIJ) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) should
not be regarded as organs of the League because they were not provided for in the Covenant
of the League but were "…set up independently of the League." (Tams, 2006:4). Some of the
commissions and organizations established by the League's Assembly and Council include the
Economic and Financial Organization, the Communications and Transit Organization, the
Health Organization, the Refugee Organization and the Committees on Traffic in Opium,
Traffic in Women and Children and on Intellectual Cooperation.
The establishment of these organizations expanded the scope of activities of the League
beyond the primary goal of international peace and security to includes mandates and
trusteeship of former colonies of the defeated powers, the protection of minorities and
functional cooperation, including the codification of international law. These nonetheless did
not obscure the primary goal of maintaining international peace and security. Article 10 of the
Covenant provides that “the respect for and the preservation of the territorial integrity and
political independence of each member-State shall be incumbent on all other members”
(Bennett, 1991:25). It, thus, became obligatory for all members to shun aggression while
being ready to assist victims of aggression. While Article 11 made war a general concern of
all the members, Article 16 recommends a general economic boycott and the application of
military measures upon the recommendation of the Council as the obligation of the League
members. Members were, however, free to maintain neutrality in matters pertaining to the
application of military sanctions. This has caused critics to see the Covenant of the League as
a toothless bulldog. It is self-evident that the framers of the Covenant of the League were
“unwilling to create the conditions that can realistically control aggression and the resort to
war” (Bennett, 1991:32). Apart from giving the liberty to members to back-out of military
commitments to the organization, the Covenant created loopholes on which veto was also a
great stumbling-block to the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant. The
organization, therefore, became a failure from its inception (Bennett, 1991:134).
In the words of Inis Claude:
The Covenant was far from a perfect design for collective security. It imposed
inadequate legal restrictions upon potential aggressors and exacted insufficient
commitments for enforcement action from member states. The League which it created
was deficient in legal authority and practical competence of the management of a
collective security system (Claude, 1965:240-241).
The weakness of the Covenant of the League notwithstanding, the major problem of the
organization was the power politics played by Great powers who were members of the
League. This paper will therefore adopt the Theory of Power as theoretical framework.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
International politics is generally regarded as the games the stronger and more powerful
members of the international system play. Adjectives such as “stronger” and “more powerful”
usually refer to military power or capacity as well as indicate that power is a relationship.
One, power is identified with military capacity. Power is also seen as a relationship. This
implies that power is a relational variable, not an absolute one. What matters therefore is not
a nation’s absolute power but its relative power.
Proponents of the theory of power or realism include Thucydides, Niccolo Machiavelli,
Thomas Hobbes, E. H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau. E. H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau
represent the Twentieth Century Classical Realism while Kenneth Waltz is a representative of
the Neo-realists. In his postulations, Thucydides (460–411 B.C.E.) considered the importance
of power. He saw "…politics as involving moral questions. Most importantly, he asks whether
relations among states to which power is crucial can also be guided by the norms of justice"
(Stanford, 2013:2). Machiavelli on his part presents a critique of the moral tradition while
Thomas Hobbes is concerned with the anarchic state of nature. Among the Classical Realists,
E. H. Carr challenges the utopian idealism and Hans Morgenthau presents the realist
principles that States think and act in terms of interest defined as power. In summary,
international relations realists emphasize the constraints imposed on politics by
the nature of human beings, whom they consider egoistic, and by the absence of
international government. Together these factors contribute to a conflict-based
paradigm of international relations, in which the key actors are states, in which
power and security become the main issues, and in which there is little place for
morality. The set of premises concerning state actors, egoism, anarchy, power,
security, and morality that define the realist tradition are all present in Thucydides
(Stanford, 2013:2).
It is also present in the writings of the other realist writers. The core of the realist doctrine is
therefore the acquisition, maintenance and use of power in international politics. In all of
political science and international relations, attention has been paid to all types of power,
mostly political, economic and military, and to the elements or components of national power.
Military power is usually measured by the number of men in uniform and by the number and
types of weapons a nation has. Countries with large populations tend to have large armed
forces, though not in proportion to their populations. But it must be emphasized that apart
from size, other factors such as degree of military preparedness (combat readiness) morale
and discipline are also very important. Possession of superior military power or not, soldiers
and their political superiors must know the kind of war they are entering. The commonsensical advice of Carl von Clausewitz that “No one starts a war––or rather, no one in his
senses ought to do so––without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that
war and how he intends to conduct it” is still pertinent today (Howard, et. al., 1976:223).
Apart from military might, a common standard for the comparison of national power in the
industrial age is wealth or degree of economic development. There is a relationship between
wealth or economic power and military power. The richest states can afford to purchase the
most devastating military power, and indeed power of all kinds, which is important to the
calculation of powers. The superpowers can mobilize both large nuclear and conventional
forces and other kinds of power, such as economic and technical assistance that could serve as
diplomatic tools, while weak or poor states cannot. With the possession of both credible
military and economic powers, the Great-Power members of the League felt they did not need
the organization to achieve their political and diplomatic goals in the international system.
However, due to the benefits collective security affords, which they did not want to lose, they
could not jettison collective security. But due to the cost of collective security which they
wanted to avoid, the League became stocked in-between the decision to uphold or to abandon
it. This attitude of the Great Powers is evident in the resolutions passed after the ratification of
the Covenant. These resolutions weakened the collective security provision of the instrument.
The League then had to rely on other ad hoc pronouncements like the Treaty of Mutual
Assistance of 1923 and the Geneva Protocol for strengthening obligation for the enforcement
of the peace (Claude, 1965:240-241).
These ad hoc pronouncements were responsible for it successful resolution of, at least, 30
disputes during the first decade of its existence. Some scholars show that the League
succeeded in resolving more than half of the disputes that came to its attention. These
successes were due, apart from improvisations, to the harmonious state of the international
political system of the time, the need for rapprochement with Germany and the fact that the
cases in question did not involve Great Powers (Couloumbis, et. al., 1986:286).
THE LEAGUE’S FAILURES
The 1920s was a period of optimism in international relations. From Locarno in 1925, to the
Kellogg–Briand Pact in 1928 and the commencement of the World Disarmament Conference
in 1932, there had been a sense of international cooperation and accord, which was manifest
in the new League of Nations organization.
During this period (the 1920s), the League, with its headquarters in Geneva, incorporated new
members and successfully mediated minor international disputes but was often disregarded by
the major powers. To start with, the League was not popular in the defeated allied countries,
especially Germany, because its foundation was linked to the 'unjust' post-war settlement. The
League, therefore, never really enjoyed the full support of all the great powers (Tams,
2006:2). Germany which joined the League in 1926 withdraw from the organization in 1933.
Japan also left in 1933, while Italy pulled out in 1937 (Lowe, et. al., 2008:10). Having left the
League, these nations began to challenge the authority of the League by carrying out acts of
aggression. Great Powers aggression against other nations greatly undermined the credibility
of the League and this resulted in the failure of collective security.
1. Failure of Collective Security in The League:
The League of Nations was established as a collective security system. It was therefore
principally meant to maintain international peace and security by pooling the powers and
resources of its members to corporately police aggression. The incidents listed below prove
that the League was ineffective as a collective security system. Some scholars and historians
lay the blame for the failure of the League on Adolf Hitler's ambition to control ‘race and
space" (racial purity and Lebensraum). However, the weaknesses of the League to maintain
peace by collective security had been tested and found wanting before Hitler came to power in
Germany.
Quoting Palmer and Perkings, Ebegbulem (2011:26) observed that the League of Nations was
a complete failure as an instrument for enforcement of collective security. He traced this
failure to the refusal of the USA to join the League from the onset, the rise of the Soviet
Union as a major power outside, and the the open defiance of Japan, Italy and Germany.
The international disturbances that revealed the ineffectiveness of the collective machinery of
the League began with the Japanese extension of military control over Manchuria in 1931.
This was followed by the Italian campaign in Ethiopia in 1935 and Adolf Hitler's demands
that the "fetters of Versailles" be smashed and that the German nation be allowed lebensraum
(living space) for expansion. In 1936, Germany reoccupied the Rhineland (where, by the
terms of the Versailles Treaty, it was not supposed to have armed forces) and in 1938 annexed
Austria. Czechoslovakia followed in 1939. Faced with this determined assault on the post–
World War I boundaries, diplomats in western Europe and in the Soviet Union, which joined
the League in 1934, sought to make the machinery of the League an effective tool of war
prevention by means of collective action against "aggression." The attempt was not
successful.
Although Japan received a verbal rebuke from the League in 1933 for its behavior in
Manchuria, it simply resigned from the League and did not end its forward policies in China,
which may even have been stimulated by what was construed in Japan as a hypocritical insult.
Following the eloquent appeal of emperor Haile Selassie for aid during the Ethiopian incident,
the League, under British leadership, tried to organize economic sanctions against Italy in
1935, but that did not prevent the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and probably helped move
Benito Mussolini closer to Hitler's side. The embargo was not sufficiently enforced to be
effective. This fiasco, which ended in a British-French retreat from high principles to offer
Italy a compromise deal (the Hoare-Laval proposals), did much to diminish enthusiasm for
collective security through the League of Nations.
Direct negotiations between the major European powers during the tense crises of 1938 and
1939 bypassed the machinery of the League. One of such negotiations include the KelloggBriand Pact of 1928. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, also known as the General Treaty for
Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy was named after the French Foreign
Minister Aristide Briand (1862–1932) and his US counterpart, Secretary of State Frank B.
Kellogg (1856–1937), was signed at Paris on 27 August 1928. The Pact which was initially
signed and ratified by 15 States, including Germany, the United States, Belgium, France,
Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, India, Italy, Japan,
Poland, and Czechoslovakia and acceded to by an additional 48 States, bringing the total
number to 63, to include all members of the League of Nations with the exception of
Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Uruguay was another attempt at collective security and
therefore, an alternative to the League of Nations (Lesaffer, 2010:2).
But many have come to believe that a more vigorous and less selfish support of the League
might have checked the aggressions of Japan, Italy, and Germany and prevented World War
II.
2. The Corfu Case.
In August 1923 Italians forming part of an international boundary delegation were murdered
on Greek soil. This led the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini to order a naval bombardment of
Corfu. In the aftermath of the Italian bombardment and occupation, many of its buildings and
other landmarks were destroyed. In response, the Greeks appealed to the League of Nations.
The League ordered the Italians to evacuate the city, but Greece was forced to pay Italy an
indemnity (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009:1).
3. 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria, China.
The first great test to the League came on September 18, 1931 when Japan attacked
Manchuria on the pretext of “protecting their rights involved in their lease of railway
property". With this excuse, Japan conquered Manchuria and established a puppet
government there and re-named the new state “Manchukuo” (Bennett, 1991:33). By the end
of 1931 Japan had destroyed the last remaining administrative authority of the Government of
the Chinese Republic in South Manchuria, as it existed prior to September 18 of that year
(Kim, 1996:2). The League’s Council could not take effective action to stop the aggression
since that was against the interest of the major powers: Great Britain, France and the United
States. The last, as shown above, was not even a member of the League (Bennett, 1991:33).
Thompson attributes the lack of interest of the West in this case to a psychological hatred and
resentment which the West, particularly British trading communities, haboured against these
victims of Japanese aggression. They, therefore, took a vicarious pleasure in the punishment
of the Chinese by the Japanese (Thompson, 1968:567).
Japan also used its veto power to forestall an attempt to send a commission of inquiry under
Article 2 of Covenant to investigate the case. But due to China’s insistence and appeal to
Article 15, a five-man member group, the Lytton Commission was dispatched after seven
months to Manchuria. The outcome of this effort was a report which was a mere
condemnation of the Japanese Military aggression. Nothing was done by the League members
to compel Japan to comply with its recommendations. This clearly revealed the League’s
weakness as a toothless bulldog and emboldened potential aggressors in their expansionist
campaigns (Bennett, 1991:33-34). Hence, Italy under Mussolini rose up and overran Ethiopia
in 1935.
4. 1935 Italian Invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
Italian aggression against Ethiopia can be regarded as the greatest challenge to the League's
political effectiveness. "The Italian invasion of Ethiopia began on October 3rd, 1935 and
culminated in the fall of Addis Ababa on May 5th, 1936. The Emperor, Haile Selassie, had
fled abroad three days earlier. This conflict was an imperial grab for Africa and a rude
dismissal of the ambitions of the League of Nations to achieve permanent peace and justice
through collective security" (Bosworth, 2014:1). When Emperor Haile Selassie appealed to
the League’s Council, Britain and France did not only hinder speedy consideration of the case
by the Council, but also encouraged Mussolini in his “African ambitions” (Bennett, 1991:34).
This emboldened Italy to carry out a full scale attack on Ethiopia with modern mechanized
equipment, squadron bombers and mustard gas. This high-handed attack on a very weak and
poor country by a Great Power was inhumane. Due to the devastation caused by the attack,
the Council reluctantly identified Italy as an aggressor for violating the covenant and Article
16 was invoked calling on members to impose sanctions on Italy. This was the first time that
the collective security provision of the Covenant was invoked under the League.
Even though Article 16 demanded automatic application of sanctions, however, only 50 of
the 54 member merely endorsed co-operative action against Italian aggression (Bennett,
1991:34). Inis Claude unapologetically remarked that “this surprising initiative did not
represent a genuine rededication to the principles of collective security enshrined in the
Covenant (Claude, 1965:241). Not only was the action taken insufficient to stop Italian
military action against Ethiopia, but the sanctions were abandoned prematurely. League
members did not have strong national wills to see to the full implementation and/or effect of
the sanction on Italy. Diplomatic relations were never cut off from Italy and, to make matters
worse, the Hoare-Laval Accord which gave Italy control of most of Ethiopia was signed in
December 1935 to the shock of public opinion in most of the world.
Mussolini was permitted to triumph in contempt of the League. About May 1936, he
arrogantly assumed the title “Emperor of Ethiopia” after his announcement of victory. Neither
did the League members refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Italian hegemony over
Ethiopia (Bennett, 1991:35,135) Hence, he League failed and “the first great attempt to
created a collective security organization was for all practical purposes terminated. Members
of the League themselves lost faith in the collective security provision of the Covenant and so
rallied back to “the traditional devices of national policy and diplomacy for their security
(Claude, 1965:241-242).
The last straw that completely revealed the League's ineffectiveness was Hitler’s abrogation
of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact through the remilitarization of Rhineland. His
invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia and Japanese second invasion of China in 1937 did
not meet with enough opposition from the League. This culminated in World War II (Bennett,
1991:35). In 1946, the League of Nations was officially dissolved with the establishment of
the United Nations. The United Nations was modeled after the former but with increased
international support and extensive machinery to help the new body avoid repeating the
League’s failures.
5. The Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles which was signed on November 11, 1918, after four years of war,
was facilitated by the United States’ President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points”.
Wilson's proposal was accepted by Germany. Unfortunately, the Treaty of Versailles sharply
differed from Wilson’s points, and Germany, which felt betrayed, denounced the treaty as
morally unjust (Atkinson, 2002:1). Some scholars believe that the treaty gave Europe and
Western cooperation a bad start. The reparation provisions, the territorial arrangements and
the military clauses provided the worst possible basis for cooperation and reconciliation with
Germany. Apart from the unjust terms of the treaty, the political environment also contributed
to the impossibility of attaining the post war peace settlement. Quoting Henig, Atkinson
(2002:2) argues that “'the peace conference was held at a time of unprecedented political,
social, economic and ideological upheaval. Any peace settlement would have to operate
within highly unstable international and domestic environments… (and) this international
instability made the attainment of a lasting peace so difficult.'”
The goal following World War I was to restore European stability and maintain everlasting
peace. However, these goals were recognized by all of the leaders as not easily achievable.
French Prime Minister Clemenceau commented on the day the Versailles treaty was signed,
“We have won the war: now we have to win the peace, and it may be more difficult”
(Atkinson, 2002:2). The French politician Marshal Foch, as the Versailles Treaty was being
signed, stated rather prophetically, “This is not peace; it is an armistice for 20 years.” Exactly
20 years after, World War II broke out. Indeed, Foch was absolutely correct. The Versailles
Treaty did little to shape any sort of long-term peace from the results of World War I. Instead,
the treaty which was hastily put together and vague, exposed the Allies’ inability to cooperate
toward an agreement, and fueled German nationalism from resentment over her treatment by
the Allies in the treaty. Hobsbawm argues that “the Versailles settlement could not possibly
be the basis of a stable peace. It was doomed from the start, and another war was practically
certain” (Atkinson, 2002:3).
The principal reasons for the failure of the Treaty of Versailles to establish a long-term peace
include the following: (1) the Allies did not agree on how best to treat Germany; (2) Germany
refused to accept the terms of reparations; and (3) Germany’s refusal to accept the “war-guilt”
clause, Article 231, led to growing German resentment and nationalism. The Versailles Peace
Conference exposed the ideological rift growing between the Allies. Throughout Versailles
and after, Henig argues that Britain and France had “contradictory viewpoints” regarding the
treatment of Germany. While public opinions of both nations were strongly in favor of seeing
Germany pay to the fullest extent, only France saw Germany as a potential threat to the future
security of European stability. Thus, while Britain saw Germany as a “barrier-fortress against
the Russians” and an economically strong nation with which to engage in international trade,
the French viewed Germany as a threat to French security. France feared that not levying
harsh enough penalties upon Germany would only make her stronger and she would
eventually rise up against France in revenge. So while the British felt that the Treaty of
Versailles was too harsh on Germany, France felt as though it were not harsh enough.
On their part, the perceived severity of the treaty meant that Germans, even democratic ones,
wanted to reverse the settlement. Most Germans could not accept the severe losses,
particularly of territory to Poland. In addition, German commitment to making reparation
payments was limited. Between 1933 and 1935, Hitler therefore set about revising the Treaty
of Versailles, a process that led to tension in Europe and placed pressure on the League of
Nations. Most of Hitler’s demands, at least initially, were seen in the context of ‘revising the
Treaty of Versailles’, a treaty that many British saw as being too harsh anyway. It was
believed that once the unfairness of the treaty had been redressed, Hitler might be content. His
attack on the Treaty of Versailles and those who had signed it meant that many Germans
believed he and the Nazis would restore Germany’s international prestige through crushing
the treaty. Hitler began by attacking reparations. Although repayment of reparations had been
suspended before Hitler came to power, in 1933 he announced that the Nazis would not
resume payments. The declaration was good propaganda, but was not a major cause of
international friction, as most powers had already accepted this. What did increase tension
was Hitler’s intention to rearm Germany (Gakurin, 2007:114).
6. Failure of the Disarmament Conferences
A major contributor to the First World War was arms race. There was therefore need for the
reduction in arms if international peace and security was to be secured. Disarmament
therefore featured prominently in Wilson's Fourteen Points and it was an important goal of the
League of Nations. This was intended to reduce the threat of a future war. A permanent
advisory Commission on armaments was appointed by the League. This resulted in three
disarmament conferences in the 1920s and early 1930s. The first was the Washington Naval
Conference of November 1921 to February 1922.
The Washington Naval Conference was convened at the instance of President Warren G.
Harding of the United States. There where two reasons for which the conference was called.
First, Japan and the UK could not afford the costs of the arms race and the United States
wanted to reduce its own costs. Secondly there was growing tension between Japan and the
United States in Asia and the United States wanted to avoid conflict which could involve
many countries. The primary objective of this conference was to inhibit Japanese naval
expansion in the waters of the west Pacific. Three major treaties emerged out of the
Washington Conference: the Five-Power Treaty, the Four-Power Treaty, and the Nine-Power
Treaty.
The Four-Power Treaty which was reached on December 13, 1921 between Britain, France,
Japan and the United States contained an agreement to recognize each other’s possessions in
the Pacific and if problems arose there was an agreement to reach a diplomatic solution. The
Five-Power Treaty was between the US, Britain, Japan, France and Italy. The five powers
agreed to maintain a fixed constant ratio of naval armaments. The US
was to maintain 5
(Based on 525,000 tons), Britain 5, Japan 3, France 1.67, and Italy 1.67. Limits were placed
on tonnage, gun size and number of battleships and aircraft carriers. No new naval armaments
where to be constructed for the next ten years. The United States and Britain were not allowed
to build new naval bases in the western Pacific.
The Nine-Power Treaty was signed on February 6, 1922. The signatories included the Big
Four, plus Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and China. The treaty endorsed the Open
Door Policy – a concept in foreign affairs, which usually refers to the policy around 1900
allowing multiple Imperial powers access to China, with none of them in control of that
country. By this policy, the major powers pledged mutual respect for Chinese territorial
integrity and independence.
The Washington Naval Treat was the most successful of the disarmament conferences. It led
to an effective end to building new battleship fleets and those few ships that were built were
limited in size and armament. Numbers of existing capital ships were scrapped. Some ships
under construction were turned into aircraft carriers instead.
The Geneva Disarmament Conference of February 1927 was a conference held to discuss
naval arms limitation, in Geneva, Switzerland. The conference had delegates from sixty
countries. The conference was to consider reductions in armaments, with particular emphasis
on offensive weapons. Germany, whose army and navy already were limited by the Treaty of
Versailles, demanded that other states disarm to German levels and, in the event that they
refused to do so, claimed a right to build up its armed forces. France, which feared the revival
of German power, argued that security must precede disarmament and called for security
guarantees and the establishment of an international police force before it would reduce its
own forces. Talks dragged on for nearly six weeks while tensions rose among the former
Allies. In early August, the delegates adjourned without reaching any significant agreement.
This brought a deadlock of the conference. The conference was therefore adjourned. Before
the conference reconvened in February 1933, Adolf Hitler had assumed power in Germany
(World Digital Library).
The London Naval Treaty was an agreement between the United Kingdom, Japan, France,
Italy and the United States, signed on April 22, 1930, which regulated submarine warfare and
limited naval shipbuilding. It was a revision and an extension of the Washington treaty. The
five powers; US, Japan, Britain, Italy and France met in London to review the ratio of capital
ships. The ratio was increased from 5:5:3 for the US, Britain and Japan respectively to
10:10:7. France and Italy did not take part in this agreement however they did agree to
continue to not build new naval armaments for the next five years. Agreements on the
numbers of submarines, cruisers and destroyers that each country could have were made more
strict. The Treaty was to remain valid until 1936.
Apart from the Washington Naval Treaty that was successful, the last three were not so
successful. France refusal to accept general disarmament emboldened Hitler who was already
determined to rearm Germany to accord it immediate military parity with other Western
powers. Hitler manipulated the reluctance of France towards embracing general disarmament
to justify Germany’s withdrawal from the Disarmament Conference in 1933. German military
spending in the year 1934–35 increased fivefold when compared to that of 1933–34 (Gakurin
2007:114).
In 1935, after the Saar plebiscite, Hitler announced he would introduce compulsory military
service in Germany. This step, again, was a violation of the Treaty of Versailles. At the same
time he announced the increase of his armaments programme. Hitler then declared the
existence of an army of more than 500,000 men, and had admitted the existence of an air
force. The other powers were deeply concerned, but continued to hope that a revision of
Versailles would satisfy the more moderate elements of German society (Gakurin 2007:116).
7. The Effect of the Great Depression:
The Great Depression undermined both the League’s ability to resist aggressor states, and the
willingness of member states to work together. For instance, the reality of the British
economy at the time made rearmament an unattractive policy and the cost of then waging a
drawn-out war with Germany very difficult. Moreover, the general political atmosphere at the
time did not also support the declaration of war. In order to get the necessary material and
human resources to fight a general war, Britain needed to convince its imperial domains of the
‘just’ and inescapable nature of war with Germany. But due to the memory of the horrors of
World War I which still haunted most Europeans, it was difficult to receive popular support to
engage in another conflict of this scale.
The impact of the global economic crisis was particularly dramatic in Weimar Germany. The
mass unemployment and despair that followed assisted Hitler’s rise to power. Indeed, the
Nazi Party’s success at the polls directly correlated with the degree of unemployment in
Germany; the more unemployed there were, the more successful the Nazis were in elections.
8. Weaknesses in the Covenant of the League:
The League Covenant was written into the controversial Treaty of Versailles. This was to
ensure that all those who signed the treaty would become members of the League. The
Covenant was made up of 26 articles. The most important one was Article X which stated that
"all members undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial
integrity and political independence of all members of the League" (IB Guides, 2013:1). This
was the idea of collective security enshrined in the Covenant. It means that if one nation was
under threat, the others would have to defend it even if it was of no interest to themselves and
regardless of the outcome. Member nations were expected to sacrifice money, material and
men (military staff) if ever one nation was under threat. Unfortunately, this has not been the
case.
9. Effect of the Absence of Major Powers
The non membership of major powers greatly undermined the effectiveness of the League.
The United States of America never joined, and USSR and Germany were excluded from
being members of the League. As a result of their exclusion, USSR and Germany did not
support the Versailles Treaty nor the League and Germany was consistently blamed for
starting the war. This created tension instead of a reconciliation that Wilson had proposed.
The USSR was weak after the war but once it regained its strength it potentially became a
major threat due to its exclusion from the League and wanting to recover the territory it had
lost during the War.
Because the League excluded the defeated nations it angered the USSR and Germany and
both of these saw the League as an enemy which undermined the goal of peace keeping. The
exclusion of Germany and the USSR and their desire to recover their lost territory once they
regained strength made it impossible to discuss the terms of the settlement and negotiate a
compromise with these major powers, instead it led to an inevitable conflict. As soon as the
USSR and Germany regained their strength, the new small states in Europe came under threat.
The exclusion of these two countries emboldened them to sign the Treaty of Rapallo. The
Treaty of Rapallo was a fallout of the Genoa Conference in 1922 where France and Britain
tried to trade tsarist debts for German reparations. Worried that such a scheme was meant
only to pit the two powers against each other, the Soviet delegation invited their German
counterparts for a secret meeting at Rapallo. On 16 April 1922, the two foreign ministers
concluded an agreement in which Soviet-Russia and Germany established diplomatic and
consular relations, renounced claims against each other and granted each other most favoured
nations status. The Rapallo Treaty together with the opening speech of Russian foreign
minister Georgi Chicerin at the Genoa Conference was an important step towards the
rapprochement between the two states, which both had a major interest in revising the
territorial arrangements of the peace treaties in East and Central Europe. The Treaty of
Rapallo therefore was a major threat for the League as these two countries were both major
powers that now were co-operating economically and militarily. It also undermined the terms
of the Treaty of Versailles as Germany could increase its armament and train military staff in
the USSR without the League knowing. Since Germany was now producing arms in the
USSR, the effectiveness of the disarmament process that the League had worked on was
greatly reduced.
The absence of the USA however had the most devastating effect on the League. It was the
only country which had emerged stronger after the end of the war. All other countries where
in debt while the USA was still economically strong. It had the greatest power to intervene in
case of tension between countries which could lead to possible conflicts. Its absence in the
League therefore affected the purpose and power of the organization. The refusal of the USA
refused to be part of the League and provide guaranteed military support also led France and
Britain to also withdraw from the military guarantee. The USA and Britain went back into
isolationism. This greatly diminished the effectiveness of the League.
France and Britain had very different mind sets about the treaty and Germany. Britain wanted
Germany to rebuild its economy for the purpose of trade and France wanted to make it as hard
as possible for Germany to recover economically as it was worried about a German attack in
the future. This created conflict within the League. More important countries dropped out of
the League between 1919 and 1939, this included Italy and Japan. This weakened the League
even further
Political and Humanitarian Successes of The League
Although the League failed, it nonetheless made some modest achievements. At the onset, the
League showed clear initiatives for the peaceful settlement of disputes between smaller states.
The League, in conjunction with the Supreme War Council of the victorious powers, was also
able to mediate in disputes concerning the delineation of borders between some states. These
include settlement of the Swedish-Finnish dispute over the Åland Islands (1920–21),
guaranteeing the security of Albania (1921), rescuing Austria from economic disaster, settling
the division of Upper Silesia (1922), and preventing the outbreak of war in the Balkans
between Greece and Bulgaria (1925). In addition, the League extended considerable aid to
refugees; it helped to suppress white slave and opium traffic; it did pioneering work in
surveys of health; it extended financial aid to needy states; and it furthered international
cooperation in labor relations and many other fields (Infoplease, 2012:1).
In 1940, the League took positive action against Soviet Union's aggression on Finland by
expelling Soviet Union. Politically, it was able to establish "a forum for the exchange of
views, for informing the official agencies and for maintaining private contacts in Geneva"
(Lowe, et. al., 2008:478). The League made significant achievement in the "financial and
economic issues connected with the founding of new nations states, health and industrial
safety regulations, anti-slavery, refugees, minorities, the protection of intellectual work,
women's rights, as well as drug traffic" (Lowe, et. al., 2008:478-479).
Other achievements of the League include its successful completion of the 15-year
administration of the Saar territory by conducting a plebiscite under the supervision of an
international military force in 1935, the establishment of institutions for multilateral
cooperation, facilitation of transnational relations within the League's framework which
encouraged the founding of several Non-Governmental International Organizations (NGOs)
in Geneva. Under the Paris Peace Treaties, the German city of Danzig and the Saarland were
administered by international governmental commission accountable to the League. Under
Article 22 of the Covenant, mandated former colonies of the defeated powers were
successfully prepared for independence. The League also served as a forum for public debate
and diplomacy, and a forum for seeking global solutions for common problems of nations in
issues like the preservation of educational and ecological standards, scientific discourse,
humanitarian cooperation, protection of minorities rights, establishment of norms for the
treatment of indigenous populations in the colonies as well as norms in humanitarian aid and
disaster relief. Finally, the Economic and Financial Organization (EFO) established under the
framework of the League laid the foundation for a European Economic system (Lowe, et. al.,
2008:479).
THE EVALUATION OF THE LEAGUE
The League of Nations had more chances of succeeding as a collective security system than
the United Nations because the international system at the time was characterized by a
considerable diffusion of power than today. States of great power rank were numerous, and in
that case aggressors were more vulnerable to economic sanctions. This power configuration
would have made the League more successful, but it failed.
Couloumbis and Wolfe do not, however, believe that the League was such a dismal failure as
it is painted today. According to them, its present evaluation is due to the magnitude of the
cases which it failed to resolve relative to the ones it successfully resolved. Moreover, the
League’s failure was due to the fact that it did not meet the objective requirement of
universality which would have added to the favourable distribution of power to make it more
successful. Crucial to this limitation was the United States’ abstention from the League’s
membership. This destroyed the League’s security base envisaged when it was planned and
weakened the hands of the other powers who were the pillars of the League. Ultimately, it
weakened the foundation of the organization (Claude, 1965:249). A Leroy Bennett has argued
that the organization was ill-equipped to accomplish its goals. The principles upon which it
was based could not assure peace and co-operation (Bennett, 1991:38).
THE LEAGUE AND AFRICA
One of the major factors that contributed to the failure of the League is that the victorious
powers of World War 1 used the League to maintain their hegemony by arrogating to
themselves the colonies of the defeated Axis powers. The territories that hitherto belonged to
imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire that were considered unable to function as
independent states were placed under the Trusteeship of the League of Nations and supervised
by some Allied powers. This arrangement was incorporated into the Covenant of the League.
Three types of mandates were created by the League's Covenant (Boddy-Evans, 2009).
Article 22 of the Covenant delineated Class A mandates to covered territories that were
considered to be ready to receive independence within a relatively short period of time. These
territories were all in the Middle East: Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan, administered by the
UK; and Lebanon and Syria, administered by France. Class B mandates covered territories for
which the granting of independence was a distant prospect. These territories were all in
Africa: the Cameroons and Togoland, each of which was divided between British and French
administration; Tanganyika, under British administration; and Ruanda-Urundi, under Belgian
administration. To the territories classified under Class C mandates virtually no prospect of
self-government, let alone independence, was held out. These territories included South West
Africa, administered by the Union of South Africa; New Guinea, administered by Australia;
Western Samoa, administered by New Zealand; Nauru, administered by Australia under
mandate of the British Empire; and certain Pacific islands, administered by Japan (Nations
Encyclopedia).
This clearly shows that the Allied powers did not consider any African colony advanced
enough to be given independence in the foreseeable future. All Class A mandates gained full
independence by 1949 (Boddy-Evans, 2009). No country in Africa was or hoped to be a
member of the League in the foreseeable future. The League was dominated by European
States and was conceive to preserve European peace and security interpreted as international
peace and security at the time. Unfortunately, World War I did not only shatter the balance of
power in Europe, it also destroyed the Russian, German, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian
empires (Encyclopedia of the New American Nation).
This unsatisfactory status quo that the founders of the League established in Europe blocked
all avenues for peaceful change. Added to this, the unfavourbale changes in the international
environment like the Great American Depression and the spread of Fascism in Europe
contributed to the failure of the League. Moreover, mistrust between some of the victorious
powers like France and Britain and the underestimation of Germany’s geometrical growth in
power (Couloumbis, 1986:287) also acted as catalyst to the fall of League.
The League “never achieved a comprehensive control of international co-operative activities
which was envisaged in Article 24 of the Covenant”. However, Claude has argued that “the
League did serve generally to covert international organizations into organs of an
organization”. It also provided what has been referred to as a ‘hub’ or a “roof’ element, giving
the modern world its first taste of institutional centralization” (Claude, 1965:39). Tams
(2006:2) argues that the League should not be pushed aside as a complete failure because, at
its foundation, the organization "…generated an unprecedented level of hope and faith in
international progress, … became the first international organization with general competence
and, for at least 15 years, functioned as a permanent forum of international cooperation."
Moreover, the League's recognition of "the importance of economic and social questions"
influenced "modern forms of international cooperation." Tams (2006:2) therefore conclude
that the League can justly be described as "a forward leap of unprecedented extent and speed,
accompanied by extraordinary changes in the conduct of international relations." It formed the
foundation for the foundation of the United Nations.
LESSONS DERIVED FROM THE FAILURE OF THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
As mentioned above, the League provided a foundation upon which the United Nations was
formed as an improved international cooperation. An interpretation of the strengths of the UN
in international peace security is that it had a predecessor that it was modeled after. The UN
Security Council is comparatively stronger than the League's Council because the founders of
the UN were able to avoid some of the flaws contained in the Covenant that established the
Council. Some of these flaws that have been corrected following lessons learned from the
League include drawing up a Charter that was more attractive to major powers to join and
remain in the organization, ensuring the compatibility of the UN with the cause of
decolonization by emphasizing equal rights and self-determination of peoples, inclusion of all
the major powers in the Security Council, limiting veto power only to the permanent members
of the Security Council, clear definition of aggression and consequent enforcement action,
empowering the Security Council to use force where necessary and not merely recommending
enforcement action to member-States, making the contribution of armed personnel and
equipment to the command of the Security Council when necessary peremptory on memberStates, and finally, cautiously dealing with Disarmament (Lowe, et. al., 2008:10-12).
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