Structure of the League

League of Nations Power Point
C. Cullen revised Aug. 2014
The League of Nations was first proposed at the Paris Peace Conference by American
president Woodrow Wilson. The other Big Three leaders were not too enthusiastic but
did finally agree to the proposal. Ironically, the American Congress voted against joining
the League as many Americans supported the idea of isolationism and didn’t want to
be drawn into future European conflicts.
Goals and Structure of the League
The League of Nations had two main goals…
a) to preserve world peace through the principle of collective security (if one member
was threatened, the other nations would intervene)
b) to improve the economic and social conditions in the world.
The League had three main tactics it could use to deal with aggressive nations…
a) apply verbal sanctions (condemn the country’s government through speeches)
b) apply economic sanctions (boycott certain goods, refuse to trade with the country
c) use military force (this didn’t happen because the League had no army and
countries were reluctant to risk military casualties so soon after the carnage of WW1
Structure of the League
The League had its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (a neutral country that hadn’t
fought in WW1). There were several different organizations within the League…
a. The Assembly which consisted of all 42 member nations and met once a year.
The Assembly controlled the budget.
b. The Council which was the most powerful group and consisted of 4 permanent members
(Britain, France, Italy and Japan) and other rotating members. This group met several times
a year and dealt with any crisis that arose.
c. The International Court of Justice at the Hague, which consisted of 15 judges who
could resolve legal disputes between nations
d. Secretariat: the civil service of the League that kept records, wrote reports etc.
e. International Labour Organization to improve working conditions
f. Mandates commission and other special agencies
League of Nations in Geneva
The League of Nations set up mandates for some of the territories formerly part of the
Ottoman and German empires. These mandates were intended to prepare the former
colonies for independence. In the Middle East, Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq all
were handed over to British control, while Syria and Lebanon were governed by France.
Former German territories in Africa and the South Pacific were given over to Britain, France,
Belgium and Australia to supervise.
African Colonization
At the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, Africa was divided up by the European powers. Britain
and France claimed the bulk of the territory. Germany had four colonies, which were
taken away from them at the Paris Peace Conference and given out as mandates.
Weaknesses of the League
The League of Nations had a number of major weaknesses including…
a. the United States didn’t join
b. Britain and France did not fully support the ideals or actions of the League and did
not always stand up to aggressor nations.
c. The lack of a military force (aggressor nations had no fear of military repercussions)
d. the Council needed unanimous approval to pass a resolution, which often didn’t occur.
If one of the four permanent members disagreed with a proposal, it would not proceed.
e. Losing nations were not invited to join at first, including Germany, Austria, Hungary,
and Turkey. Russia was not invited to join because of its new communist government
under Lenin and the fact that they were currently fighting a civil war.
Successes of the League
a. The League organized the Washington Naval Conference in 1921 where several of the
most powerful nations agreed to limit the size of their navies in the spirit of disarmament
to help prevent future war
b. Conflict between Greece and Bulgaria in 1925: The League intervened and helped
these two countries find a peaceful solution.
c. The League helped to facilitate the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, where 15 countries
(including Germany) agreed to use peaceful methods to resolve future conflicts.
d. In 1925, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Belgium signed the Locarno Treaty (Pact)
to agree to respect the border between Germany and France that had been set by the
Treaty of Versailles. Germany also promised not to seize land by force from Poland or
e. The League had a number of humanitarian successes and helped improve health and
social conditions. They launched a massive campaign to help Turkish refugees displaced by
civil war, organized campaigns against smallpox and leprosy, and tried to address issues
such as women’s rights and child labour.
The League Expands
In the years between 1919-1946, the League of Nations expanded its membership.
Austria joined in 1920, and Hungary in 1922. Germany accepted an invitation to the
League in 1926, while the USSR (Russia) joined in 1934. However, some of the
more aggressive countries such as Japan, Germany and the USSR would leave the League in
the years leading up to the outbreak of World War Two, so the numbers fluctuated.
Failures of the League
The Ruhr: In 1923, French and Belgian troops invaded the German industrial region
of the Ruhr because Germany had failed to pay a reparation installment. Britain
supported this action, despite the fact it violated League of Nations policy.
Corfu: In 1923, 5 Italian surveyors working for the League of Nations were killed in Greece
while mapping the proposed border between Greece and Albania. Mussolini demanded
compensation, and when Greece refused, Italian forces bombed and invaded the Greek
island of Corfu. Although the League ordered Italy to withdraw, Britain and France again
supported Italy and Greece was forced to pay compensation to Italy.
French and Belgian troops parade into the Ruhr.
Failures Continued: Japan’s Invasion of Manchuria
Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931 to try to gain more natural
resources and living space. The League of Nations condemned the action and ordered Japan
to withdraw, but did not impose any economic sanctions. Japan refused and the League
sent Lord Lytton to investigate, who found Japan guilty of an act of aggression and
recommended that Japan should leave and the League should govern Manchuria. Japan again
ignored the recommendation and quit the League in 1933 (they had been one of the original
four permanent members of the Council. Japan then invaded the rest of mainland China
in 1937. Once again, the League did not take military action as countries wanted to avoid war.
Failures continued: Disarmament Conference of 1932-33
Hitler being appointed Chancellor of Germany
in 1933 by President Hindenburg
Sixty countries met to discuss how to reduce the chance of future war. Hitler refused to
limit the size of Germany’s military and left the conference. Soon after, Germany
withdrew from the League of Nations (they had been invited to join in 1926). In 1935,
Hitler announced that Germany was beginning a program of rearmament, a complete
violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
Failures continued: Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia
In 1935, Italy invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), the only independent country in Africa,
as Mussolini wanted to increase Italy’s power and prestige. The League condemned the
invasion and imposed economic sanctions, but did not include oil, coal, or iron in the
sanctions, which were crucial resources to Italy’s economy. Britain and France wanted to
maintain positive relations with Mussolini as they were worried about Hitler’s growing
aggression. Germany and the USA ( not members of the League) continued to trade with Italy
as they had done before. Samual Hoare and Pierre Laval, British and French politicians,
proposed a solution whereby Italy would get over half of Abyssinia. Haile Selassie, the
Abyssinian leader firmly rejected the Hoare-Laval Pact, and appealed to the League for to
get Italian troops out of his country. Italy also did not agree to the Hoare-Laval Pact as they
wanted all of Abyssinia. The League did not intervene and Italy ended up taking over the
entire country in brutal fighting that included the use of mustard gas against Ethiopian civilians.
Germany remilitarizes the Rhineland
In 1936, Hitler instructed German troops to march into the Rhineland, the demilitarized
zone along the German-French border, in complete defiance of the Treaty of Versailles.
Once again, the League of Nations did not take action as Britain and France were both
reluctant to risk military intervention.
Spanish Civil War 1936
Civil war broke out in Spain in 1936 as Francisco Franco’s Nationalist / fascist forces tried
to overthrow the leftist government. Germany and Italy both used their air forces to
support Franco, which was clearly another major violation of League policy. Britain and
France maintained a non-intervention stance and did not get involved. Stalin sent Soviet
military aid to support the leftist fighters, and volunteers from other countries, including
Canada also sent volunteers to fight against the fascist troops.