04 united nations the league of nations


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04 united nations the league of nations

  1. 1. Lecture 04: Origins of the United Nations: the League of Nations
  2. 2. A new beginning? • The League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations, was the first permanent international forum for cooperation and the resolution of conflict • Founded in 1919, after the disastrous world war, it aimed to ensure that another world war would not be possible
  3. 3. The lessons of World War I • The outbreak of war in 1914 was a failure of diplomacy and communication • Competing European alliances drifted into a war that lasted four years and left 10 million dead
  4. 4. Applying the lessons • World War I made it clear that the previous system of power blocks and alliances had failed • The League sought to establish “collective security” as an alternative • According to its Preamble, its aim was “to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security”
  5. 5. Origins of the League • Several proposals for such a body were expressed during the war, mostly in Britain or the United States • The main input came from US President Woodrow Wilson and his advisors, during the final period of the war and the subsequent Peace Conference
  6. 6. The structure of the League • The Council – the highest authority • The Assembly – containing representatives of every member state • Specialist agencies and other bodies
  7. 7. The formal structure of the League
  8. 8. The Council • The Council, which met several times each year, was the League’s supreme decision-making body • It had 4 permanent members and 4 (later 6, and finally 9) rotating members chosen by the Assembly
  9. 9. The permanent members • The permanent seats on the Council were reserved for the “Principal Allied and Associated Powers” – the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Japan • The assumption was that the countries that had made the biggest contribution to winning the war would also work hardest to preserve the peace
  10. 10. The permanent members • Britain • France • Italy (left 1937) • Japan (left 1933) • United States (never joined) • Germany from 1926 (left 1933)
  11. 11. The Assembly • The Assembly provided a forum for all member countries, but lacked real power • It met every year in the autumn in Geneva
  12. 12. Weapons of the League • Moral sanctions – condemnation of aggression • Economic sanctions – halting of trade, blockades • Military sanctions – armed intervention
  13. 13. Successful interventions Compromises in minor conflicts: • Åland Islands and Upper Silesia (1921) • Memel (1923) • Greece and Bulgaria (1925) • Humanitarian aid after Greek-Turkish war (1923)
  14. 14. Successful agencies of the League • International Labour Organisation (campaign for a shorter working week) • Health Organisation (leprosy campaign) • Slavery Commission • Commission for Refugees (Nansen passports) • These all enjoyed greater success and cooperation than the League’s Council
  15. 15. Problems • The League was seen as a “victors’ club” associated with the Versailles Treaty • Countries that had lost territory (Germany, Austria, Hungary) – or felt they had not gained enough (Italy, Japan) – were not enthusiastic about the new world order • The League needed to be particularly strong to deal with the aftermath of the war
  16. 16. The missing keystone
  17. 17. The empty seats • The United States, the world’s major economic power, did not want to commit itself to foreign affairs • The defeated countries were not asked to join - Germany joined in 1926 after many changes of government • The Soviet Union did not join until 1934
  18. 18. An early American view
  19. 19. Consequences • Over-reliance on Britain and France – the countries most interested in preserving the status quo • Both had been weakened by the war • With powerful countries outside the League, economic sanctions were easier to avoid and therefore much less of a deterrent • Military sanctions even less likely to be applied
  20. 20. Further problems - inflexibility • Any agreement required unanimous approval of the Council – extremely difficult • The Council was not in permanent session, and thus could not respond quickly
  21. 21. The ultimate deterrent • The British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin warned that collective security required a willingness to go to war to ensure peace • In Britain and France, there was little appetite for war, and a genuine belief that matters could be resolved peacefully
  22. 22. An early view of the dilemma Cartoon title: "Moral Suasion" Caption: "The Rabbit. 'My offensive equipment being practically nil, it remains for me to fascinate him with the power of my eye.'" Punch, July 28th, 1920.
  23. 23. Another view
  24. 24. Earlier failures • Failure to resolve Fiume crisis (1919- 20) • Failure to intervene in Polish Soviet War (1919-20) • Failure to punish Italian action against Greece (1923)
  25. 25. Terminal failures: Manchuria • Japan – a member of the Council – seized the province of Manchuria from China in 1931 • The League criticised Japan, but took no concrete measures • Japan withdrew from the League in protest
  26. 26. Terminal failures: Abyssinia • In 1935 Italy – another member of the Council – invaded Abyssinia • Britain and France protested, but took no serious action • Italy withdrew from the League after its actions were criticised
  27. 27. Terminal failures: World War II • The League was also unable to stop the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and German expansion in Europe from 1938 • The outbreak of World War II in September 1939, following the German invasion of Poland, showed the League had become completely irrelevant