The Formation of The League of Nations Essay (TLON)

League of Nations Essay

The horrors and atrocities of WW1 ignited the formation of TLON (The League of Nations) in 1919 after the treaty of Versailles. Its original members were the 32 allied powers and 12 additional neutral states. It was the first international body, which endeavoured to create a forum for the resolution of international disputes. On one level it may be regarded as a failure as it failed to maintain peace due to its limited membership, its identification with the victors of WW1 and its inability to enforce its resolutions. On another level, it did institute a number of short-term initiatives, which led to improved relationships between member countries. These included encouraging countries to cooperate in trade, improving social conditions, encouraging disarmament and offering protection to any member country that was being threatened with war. To view TL as a complete failure is to disregard these significant achievements and not recognise that TL was the forerunner of future peace organisations such as the UN.

The biggest weakness of TL was due to the absence of USA. This deprived TL of a rising powerful and influential country and its key architect, Woodrow Wilson. This was considered a great weakness because TL would be unwilling to make a decision against the USA. TL’s failure to include Germany in its formation gave Germany the impression that TL was a 'victors club'. Another weakness of TL was that that it did not have an army of its own. Historian Jack Straw states that TLs main failure was that “it could not back diplomacy with the credible threat and the use of force“. This made it extremely hard to exercise power.

However, TL had mixed success as an effective peacekeeper. A strength of TL was that it had the potential to impose damaging economic sanctions on aggressive nations. This power was exercised in 1925 when Greek troops invaded Bulgaria. TL halted the Greek invasion and ruled that Greece pay an indemnity to Bulgaria.

In 1920 the health organistation of TL also organised medical assistance and the distribution of vaccines to combat epidemics, which swept Europe. Apart from international disputes, some of TL's greatest successes came in its work in the 'International Labour Organisation', where they acquired member countries to agree to things such as the '8 hour maximum working day'.

UNANIMOUS VOTING + invasion + Geneva protocol +
The L’s inherent structure contributed to its failure. Voting within TL had to be unanimous, and therefore it was very hard to pass decisions through as one nation alone could block it. Although TL had a genuine mood of cooperation amongst the members, as historian Hugh Brogan commented, “TL depended on the goodwill of the nations to work, though it was the absence of goodwill that made it necessary’. The small holes in TL became gaping ones after its failure to do anything significant in the ‘two man’ crisis in 1930 and the invasion of Abyssinia by the Italians in '35. In 1931 Japan’s dictator invaded Manchuria because of its desperate need for raw materials. China appealed to TL, which decided to set up a Commission of Inquiry. Finally after a year TL 'morally condemned' Japan with the report , Japan simply ignored it and abandoned TL. Japan continued to make successful trade with the USA, its biggest trading partner, and then announced the intention to invade China itself. An even more worrying development was the complete failure of the Geneva Protocol, which had been designed to commit all League members to engage in collective action in the event of acts of unprovoked aggression. France was a keen supported idea but was vetoed by Austin Chamberlin; the British foreign secretary who believed would turn The League into the policeman of the world.

Conversely, TL did promote a greater level of international co-operation and was a revolutionary step forwards in international relations, away from the old alliance system. Although TL was only successful in resolving issues with small nations it did encourage the signing by 15 major powers in August 1928 of the Kellogg-Briand pact, which pledged all its signatories to reject ‘war as an instrument of national policy’ and promised to settle disputes between nations by ‘pacific means’.

In retrospect TL was a failure due to its inability to deter states in the 1930’s and ultimately the outbreak of WW2. Some argue that the initial objectives of TL were too ambitious for the international system as it existed and that TL, as a result, could not possibly have been made a more robust structure. TL of Nations failed because it was based on the false notion of internationalism, on the Idea that peace between countries can be maintained simply by bringing their representatives together to debate their differences, without making fundamental changes in their relations to each other. It failed because it is impossible to organise the world on such a principle for very long, however logical and impressive it may seem in theory, it could not stand the strain of peacetime relationships. However the failure of TL should not be allowed to overshadow its substantive achievements.