Reviewing Organization of The League of Nations in The 1920s

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Words: 1626 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 1626|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Following the end of the Great War, the peace conference that met in Paris from January 1919 to January 1920 and which produced the Treaty of Versailles was both vengeful and idealistic. Germany was stripped of its colonies and had severe restrictions on the rebuilding of its army and fleet imposed. In these ways, the peace settlement could be seen as punishing the defeated enemy, as well as reducing its status and strength. At the same time, Woodrow Wilson's vision of a general association of nations took shape in the League of Nations, which was founded in 1920. Its basic constitution was the Covenant, which was embodied in the Versailles and other peace treaties. The basic principle of the League was collective security, whereby its signatories were pledged to seek peaceful solutions to disputes and to assist each aggression. In other words, its main aim was to prevent the outbreak of war by protecting member states from invasion, settling disputes over borders and encouraging countries to reduce their arms. As such, it was novel and potentially far-reaching; it could have developed into a powerful instrument for peace. It did indeed settle a number of practical disputes--between Finland and Sweden, Albania and Yugoslavia, Poland and Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It also set up subordinate bodies to deal with particular problems, among them the status of Danzig and the Saar, narcotics, refugees, and leprosy. It was complemented by a Permanent Court of International Justice and by the International Labour Organisation. Yet the League of Nations disappointed its founders' hopes. From the start it lacked teeth, and most of its members were unwilling to see it develop. It thus became little more than a permanent version of the congresses (of Vienna, etc.) that had founded the old-style Concert of Europe. There was danger of a conflict between Finland and Sweden over which state owned the Aaland Islands in 1920. The League decided that the islanders should remain under Finnish control. However, the rights of the Swedish minority in the islands were to be protected. Thus the dispute was settled peacefully and a military conflict was avoided. Upper Silesia was on the border between Germany and Poland and contained both Germans and Poles. When conflict seemed imminent in 1920, the League organised a plebiscite on whether they should become part of Poland or part of Germany. Based on the results, the League decided to divide the area up. One third went to Poland and two thirds to Germany in a peaceful settlement. The Austrian government faced economic disaster after losses in the war and as a result of the Treaty of Versailles which followed. The League sent a team of financial experts to help the Austrian government in 1922. As a result, they managed to rescue Austria from imminent bankruptcy and political collapse. This was followed in the next year by a similar rescue act for Hungary. In October 1925 Greek troops invaded Bulgaria. The League appealed to both countries to stop fighting, which they did. The League s commission of enquiry found in favour of the Bulgarians and the Greeks had to pay compensation. One of the League s greatest successes was its efforts in improving the lives of people around Europe and the world, through the setting up of many humanitarian agencies to deal with social and economic problems. The International Labour Organisation made several important contributions to improving people s working conditions. It got its member countries to agree to principles which included a target working day of a maximum of eight hours and a working week of 48 hours. All workers had the right to join a trade union and have annual paid holidays. Also, no one under fifteen years old was to work full time. Poisonous white lead was banned from paint, removing health threats. The organisation regularly published its findings and recommendations in order to increase pressure on governments throughout the world. The World Health Organisation enjoyed some measure of success in helping countries to control outbreaks of life-threatening diseases. It started a global campaign to exterminate mosquitoes, which greatly reduced cases of malaria and yellow fever in later decades. Even Russia, which was opposed to the League, used the WHO to advise it on preventing plague in Siberia. When a refugee crisis hit Turkey in 1922, hundreds of thousands of people had to be housed in refugee camps. The League took quick action to stamp out cholera, smallpox and dysentery in the camps. The League also helped to repatriate approximately 400,000 prisoners held as a result of the First World War. The League also had its success in other areas of work. It successfully dealt with slavery, gun-running and drug trafficking. It also made recommendations on marking shipping lanes and produced an international highway code for road users. The League s Minorities Commission put pressure on governments which did not respect the rights of minority groups. Even in areas where it could not alleviate social injustice, the League kept careful records of what was going on and provided information on problems such as drug trafficking, prostitution and slavery.

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However given these successes, the League also experienced failures, which tended to be more high-profile and of greater gravity than its successes. There were many instances where international disputes were sources of conflicts for the League, putting it in a bad light. The former capital of Lithuania, Vilna, contained many Poles. It was seized by the Polish army in 1919, prompting the new government of Lithuania to appeal to the League of Nations for help. The League protested against the Polish action but Vilna remained under Polish rule. France, a key member of the League, supported Poland s claim to Vilna in return for Polish support in the event of a future attack by Germany. In 1923 an Italian general named Tellini who was working for the League of Nations boundary Commission was murdered in Greece. Mussolini, the leader of Italy, demanded 50 million lira compensation from the Greek government, ordered his guns to bombard the Greek island of Corfu and demanded that the killers be handed over. The Greek government did not know who the killers were and appealed to the League. The League s Council suggested that the Greeks pay compensation to the League which would in turn hand the money back once the murderers had been found. However, Mussolini had other plans. He wanted the Conference of Ambassadors wanted to judge the case rather than the League. He got his way and the Conference decided that Greece should pay Italy what it demanded. These instances were indications that while the League had established itself as an international organisation capable of resolving disputes between minor powers and promoting a wide range of humanitarian and economic activities, it was not able to deal with the aggressive actions of its leading members. It was very limited in power when dealing with powerful countries like Italy. The authority of the League was undermined by its own permanent members, making its job even more difficult. By the mid-1920s, it was accepted that an arms race had helped cause the First World War. The major powers (UK, France, Italy, Japan and the USA) had met at the Washington Conference in 1922 and agreed on some limits to naval power. Later in 1925, plans for the League to organise a world disarmament conference surfaced. However, its members failed to agree on this as most were worried that disarmament would leave them vulnerable. This proved that the members were more interested in looking after themselves rather than being members of the League. Often, these cases served as sources of conflict when self-interests and the aims of the League clashed. The failures of the League can be attributed to its weaknesses. All its decisions had to be unanimous, or at least unopposed and this was often difficult when so many powerful nations did not come to a consensus when such decisions were made. A lack of its own armed forces also meant that it relied entirely on the cooperation of member states to carry out any of its decisions. If it was not in their interests to act, then no action would be taken. This was aggravated by the absence of the USA, the most powerful nation in the world at the time, from the League. In March 1920 the U.S. Congress failed to ratify the Versailles treaty by the necessary two-thirds majority, the United States was debarred from joining the League. Also not in the league at that time were Russia and Germany, who belonged only from 1926 to 1933. As all countries were eager to rebuild their economies after the devastation of the war, military force only served as a last resort due to the cost involved and also because it was hard to convince states to send in troops to settle disputes. Economic sanctions were also difficult to enforce since member countries were unwilling to stop trading with an aggressor because it would harm their own trade as much as an aggressor s. The League did manage to fulfill the main aims for which it was created, to prevent the outbreak of war by settling disputes through peaceful means. However, the League will be remembered more for its failures than its successes in the 1920s because the latter were relatively minor and on a smaller scale compared with the failures, which were more high-profile. This, coupled with greater inaction as the world would see with Japan s invasion of Manchuria and Italy s attack of Ethiopia in the 1930s, would obscure all successes it might have had. The League would become obsolete with the advent of the Second World War, the ultimate proof of its failure.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Reviewing Organization of the League of Nations in the 1920s. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
“Reviewing Organization of the League of Nations in the 1920s.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
Reviewing Organization of the League of Nations in the 1920s. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2024].
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