The League of Nations was the first worldwide intergovernmental organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. Founded on 10 January 1920 following the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War, it ceased operations on 20 April 1946.
Background of The League of Nations:-
The horrors of the First World War made the leaders of the world who met at the Paris Conference create a League of Nations for promoting international harmony and for preventing the outbreak of another world war. The idea of establishing the rule of law and collective security in the world was by no means new. Centuries before the idea of the League of Nations was mooted, thinkers and philosophers had thought seriously of the problems of international peace. In the early years of the 14th century, Pierre Dubois advocated international arbitration in his book The Recovery of the Holy Land: Kant, the German philosopher, in his book On Perpetual Peace spoke in favor of something like a federation of nations to settle problems peacefully. Numerous examples in history can be cited: to show the efforts made by countries to settle inter-state questions by mediation.
In the 19th century, the world came to know what a large scale terrible tragedy war is, when it utilities all inventions of modern science for the purpose of destroying property and killing and mutilating people on a mass scale,
Nations felt the urgent need of a permanent machinery with the help of which international disputes could be settled without Resorting to war.
The holding of the Hague Conference in Holland in 1899 under the initiative of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was of great importance in international relations, as it was decided that there should be a permanent court of arbitration. A panel of jurists to which nations could submit their disputes wag formed. The First Hague Conference of f 1899 was praised as the Parliament of Mankind.
Eleven states took advantage of the Court of Arbitration and accepted its verdicts in 1899-1912. In 1907 the Second Hague Conference was held for revising the system of arbitration drawn up in 1899 and farming rules of Unfortunately the world was misled by the great optimism of the First Hague Conference. In the second decade of this century, the world suddenly realized that the Big Powers were not sincere about settling international questions peacefully and that they wanted to have an international blood bath.
Birth and Aims of the League of Nations:-
When the slaughter of man by man was going on in the various theaters of the First World War (1914-1918), great statesmen of the world were eager to have an international organization for settling disputes between nations peacefully. They had the inspiration of the Hague. Conferences of 1899 and 1907. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States of America. prepared the ground for the establishment of the League of Nations. He included it in his Fourteen Points.
Wilson’s ideas had quick response, and at the end of the First World War, 27 nations formed an association of states known as the League of Nations. This came to be regarded as the brain child of Wilson. The league took birth with the Treaty of Versailles.
Aims of the League of Nations:-
The aims of the League of Nations were set forth in the Covenant of the League, which was in Part I of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which had 15 Parts.
- Nations should not resort to war. They should take the prevention of war as an obligation.
- Nations should co-operate with one another to promote international peace and security.
- Nations should recognize international law as rule binding on their conduct.
- There should be an international organization known as the League of Nations to fulfill the provisions of the Covenant.
- Nations should uphold international justice, and honor their treaty obligations scrupulously.
- Peace treaties and supplementary agreements pertaining to the Mandate System and the protection of national minorities should be enforced.
The League of Nations came into existence in January 1920.
Status and Structure of the League of Nations:-
The League of Nations was a voluntary association of Sovereign states aiming, at outlawing war. It was neither a state nor a super state, It had no sovereignty and, it was not competent to order any state in the same manner in which a state can order an individual. It did not have any territory. There were no citizens or subjects over whom it could exercise control. Unlike a state, it had 10 armies, navies; air forces, and police fores.
The League functioned through four organs
- The League Assembly.
- The League Council.
- The Secretariat-General.
- The Permanent Court of International Justice.
The League Assembly:
The League Assembly was the biggest organ of the League of Nations. Every member state had a seat in it. Each state had the right of sending to the Assembly not more than three representatives, but it had only one vote. In the beginning membership was restricted to 32 allied and associated States, 13 neutral states and the new states created by the Peace Treaty (1919-1920).
For some time, the Central Powers were not given admission into the League. Hungary was admitted in 1922.
America Stayed Out:
Though the League was the brain child of President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, the American Senate refused to ratify the treaty by which the United States was to join the League, and thus it stayed out.
By 1932 the League, had 55 members. This number later raise to 59. Soviet Russia was not given admissions till 1934. In 1933 Germany and Japan gave notice that they would quit the League. This became effective from 1935. In December 1939, Soviet Russia was expelled from the League when it committed aggression on Finland.
The Assembly could deal with any matter coming within the jurisdiction of the League, and its decisions in non procedural matters had to be unanimous.
It voted the budget, approved of the work of the Council and other organs and drew up conventions, which Were to be approved by the member states. It was a representative and deliberative organ.
It was to meet at least once a year. It could hold special sessions. Its procedure was parliamentary, and it had several committees attached to it.
The League Council:
Most Powerful Organ:
The Council was the most powerful organ of the League of Nations, and on it almost entirely depended the success or failure of the League.
It was a small body composed of 5 permanent members and 4 non-permanent members, who were-annually elected by the Assembly. Originally it was decided that Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States were to be permanent members. But as the United States kept out of the League, only four powers became permanent members. Big powers were given permanent membership, and small powers temporary membership.
In 1922, two non-permanent members were added, and in 1926 a permanent seat was given to Germany thus increasing the permanent members to five.
The League Council could take up any matter coming within the sphere of the League of Nations or any matter concerning the peace of the world. Here again decisions had to be unanimous. The League Council could conduct any investigation, when peace was disturbed or take steps for conciliation or recommend any action according to the League Covenant.
The League held four sessions annually. If necessary it held special sessions.
The Secretariat General:
The day to day routine work was conducted by the Secretariat General, Which was a permanent organ at Geneva. It Chief officer was the Secretary-General, who was appointed by the Council with the approval of the majority of the members in the Assembly.
The Secretary-General made all appointments in his office. The Secretariat maintained all records of the League, published treaties or international agreements, and conducted all the necessary correspondence.
The Permanent Court of International Justice:
The Permanent Court of International Justice was established at the Hague to settle international disputes. It had nine Judges and four Deputy Judges, who were elected for a term of 9 years by the Assembly and the Council.
The League had Special Organizations and committees. Among them, the most important was the International Labour Office. All-members of the League were its members. It was an autonomous body aiming at maintaining fair and humane conditions of labor.
Several technical organizations or committees dealing with mandates, white slave traffic, opium, health and finance were functioning.
How the League Functioned:-
Heavy Responsibilities without Adequate Powers:
The League was not given adequate powers to shoulder the heavy burdens and to do many types of thankless tasks. It was saddled with heavy duties and responsibilities in a world in which nations were recklessly arming themselves to the teeth. It failed miserably in its main task of preventing the outbreak, of another world war and became a butt end of ridicule.
Indirect Methods of Action:
The League generally made use of indirect methods in exercising its control. It could do much through investigation, report, mediation and publicity. It may be remembered here that the League was helpless without the voluntary action of the states concerned.
The League could impose penalties on member states, if they violated the principles of the League Covenant. These included cutting off commercial and financial relations with the erring state and military action, if the other states were Willing to take such action.
Success in Small Disputes and N on-Political Work:
Tn its nineteen-year record, the League succeeded in dealing with disputes between small states and in its work in the non-political sphere.
(1) It settled the dispute between Turkey and Iraq (1924 – 1926), Greece and -Bulgaria (1925), and between Bolivia and Peru (1931-1935).
(2) The Court of International Justice settled 27 cases, and gave advisory opinions in several cases it earned & good name for its impartial and sound opinions.
(3) It did excellent work in the non-political field. The International Labour Organization did much for improving conditions of labour and collected vital statistics.
(4) Its rehabilitation work in Austria, Hungary and Greeks was commendable.
(5) It took steps to check traffic in opium.
(6) It creditably organized international regimes like that of the free city of Danzig.
(7) The Health Committee did much to control malaria.
(8) It rendered useful service in its efforts to suppress traffic in women and children in 1921. In 1988 a new convention prohibited the employment of women for immoral purposes, even if they voluntarily consented.
(9) It promoted intellectual, Cooperation among nations.
Miserable Failure in Preventing Second World War:
It failed miserably in protecting weak nations from the aggressive designs of the big nations, and it could not prevent the outbreak of the Second World War. Big powers realized that it was better to be aggressive than peace-loving. Aggressive nations received good dividends, while the peace-loving ones were left in the lurch. When the major powers took the law into their own hands and preyed upon weak nations, it revealed its utter bankruptcy and helplessness. Certain cases revealed the meaningless existence of the League.
Japanese Aggression on China:
In 1931, Japan committed naked aggression on China and seized Manchuria. The Lytton Commission (1931) appointed by the League took nearly two years for preparing its report, and by the time the League adopted the report against Japan in 1933, Japan left the League with impunity. The work of the commission was a cruel joke on China, as it could not prevent Japan from enjoying the fruits of its aggression.
Italian Aggression on Ethiopia:
The League could do hardly anything to save Ethiopia from the clutches of Fascist Italy, when Benito Mussolini, its dictator, attacked Ethiopia in 1934-35.
Destruction of the Spanish Republic:
When Germany and Italy destroyed the Republic of Spain, a member of the League, the big powers in the League did not take action on the ground that it was an internal affair.
The League helplessly watched, as Hitler merrily went ahead with his aggressive schemes. Hitler militarized the Rhineland, broke treaties, armed Germany heavily, annexed Austria, and dismembered Czechoslovakia in 1938. In 1939 Nazi Germany seized Albania.
The League did nothing, when Dictator Stalin’s Russia invaded Finland, and joined hands with Hitler Germany in conquering Poland. The expulsion of Russia by the League in 1939 had no effect on the aggressor:
Collapse of the League:
The League collapsed in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Nobody expected the League to be active, as it was taken for granted that it had become defunct. In 1946 (the Second World War ended in 1945). The League suspended its activities. Its property was acquired id the United Nations Organization.
Why the League Failed:-
We may briefly analyses the causes of the failure of the League.
(1) Domination of Big Powers:
The League was dominated by big powers, who were openly violating the principles of the League Covenant. No action worth the name could be taken against Japan, Italy, Germany and Soviet Russia, when they broke the League Covenant. The League was too weak as & collective body to punish them.
(2) United States Kept Out:
The United States kept out. This was a great blow to the League. Americans did not wish to get entangled more and more in European politics: The American Senate refused to ratify the Treaties of Peace including the League Covenant (1919-20). Many in America thought that membership of the League would be harmful to America’s sovereignty. Many did not like the excessive concessions given to Japan and England. Efforts were made for the United States to join the League, but again the Senate stood as an obstacle.
(3) Hypocrisy of Big Powers Including Democracies:
Big powers in the League of Nations including the democracies were hypocritical. They spoke of high principles, but were not prepared to act according to them, The necessary climate of sincerity in world polities was found wanting. When Italy attacked Ethiopia, she was criticized, but secretly she was supplied with vital war material. The big powers encouraged others to commit aggression on weak countries or themselves committed aggression.
(4) Continuation of Imperialism:
The big powers, which had an effective voice in the League, continued their imperialist policies,which were the root cause of international rivalry. England and France had democracy at home, but were engaged in imperialist domination abroad. Dictatorships in Italy, Germany and Japan followed the policy of naked aggression to feed their imperialist ambitions.
(5) Could Not Check Race for Armaments:
The League could not check the race for armaments. Germany, Italy and Japan were heavily arming themselves. The democracies in the League did not stop this stock-piling of armaments. Aggression could not be stopped unless the race for armaments was halted.
(6) Rule of Unanimity:
The rule that decisions on non procedural matters should be unanimous made it impossible to punish states, which violated the League Covenant. The League could be paralyses by a lack of unanimity at the very time when it was necessary for it to act swiftly and effectively.
(7) No Enforcement Machinery:
The League had no international enforcement machinery to deal with a member state flouting the principles of the League Covenant and going to war. Even if decisions for punitive action were taken, they could not be executed. This weakness of the League was exploited by Japan, Italy, Germany and Soviet Russia,
(8) Tied to the Treaty of Versailles:
The League Covenant was a product of the Treaty of Versailles, which was a dictated treaty. The treaty was highly vindictive, and it demanded Shylock’s pound of flesh. When the League was tied to such a treaty, it could not act justly and fairly. It was a League of victorious powers, which used it as their tool for their evil designs. The defeated countries reacted strongly against the League and heavily armed themselves with impunity.
(9) Representation of Governments:
The League represented governments and not peoples. The statesmen, who participated in the League discussions, expressed the opinions of their respective governments and did not voice the grievances of the People concerned.
The League became a laughing stock of the world. Some called it Geneva Council of Fools, some described it as a League of Robbers, and some condemned it as a League of Nations.
The League did very well in the non-political and non-military spheres. While we condemn the failure of the League prevent war, we should give due credit to it for having promoted international co-operation in the fields of education, science, Labour, culture and other matters. It should be noted that the League had to function immediately after the end of the First World War, when the big wounds had not healed, when passions had not cooled down, and when the victorious powers were living in a world of dreams. The impartial observer will not fail to note that the propaganda conducted by the League and its associations in the cause of peace and understanding strengthened the principles of the rule of law in world affairs. The failure of the League was a lesson to the world.