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Chapter: 12th Political Science : Chapter 11 : International Organisations

League of Nations

President Wilson’s Fourteen Points (1918), Causes for the failure of the league of nations

League of Nations

President Wilson’s Fourteen Points (1918)

1.   Open diplomacy

2.   Freedom of the Seas

3.   Removal of economic barriers

4.   Reduction of armaments

5.   Adjustment of colonial claims

6.   Evacatory Conquered territories in Russia

7.   Preservation of Belgian sovereignty

8.   Restoration of French territory

9.   Redrawing of Italian frontiers

10. Division of Austria- Hungary

11. Redrawing of Balkan boundaries

12. Limitations on Turkey

13. Establishment of an independent Poland

14. Creation of an Association of Nations, (League of Nations).

Amidst the carnage, President Woodrow Wilson in January 1918, outlined his idea of the League of Nations which received widespread support given the utter devastation caused by World War I. For many the idea of an international Organisation seemed to be the answer for settling disputes before they escalated into military conflicts. Although the United States failed to join the League of Nations, President Woodrow Wilson chaired the Versailles Peace Conference’s commission on the establishment of an international Organisation. Wilson declared in a joint session of the U.S. Congress that:

“It is a definite guaranty of peace. It is a definite guaranty by word against aggression. It is a definite guaranty against the things which have just come near bringing the whole structure of civilization into ruin. Its purposes do not for a moment lie vague. Its purposes are declared, and its powers are unmistakable. It is not in contemplation that this should be merely a league to secure the peace of the world. It is a league which can be used for cooperation in any international matter”.

The League after being housed temporarily in London, commenced operation in the year 1920 in Geneva, Switzerland. Initially it had some success when it settled disputes between Finland and Sweden over Aland Islands, between Germany and Poland over Upper Silesia and between Iraq and Turkey over the city of Mosul. The League with some success alleviated the refugee crisis in Russia and combatted the international opium trade. The League acted as an umbrella Organisation for agencies such as the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and the Permanent Court of International Justice and it later became a model for the future United Nations (UN).

The League of Nations was dominated by the victors of World War I that included France and Great Britain along with Japan and Italy as the other two permanent members of the League Council. There were twenty eight founding members who were represented in the General Assembly who were mostly from Europe and Latin America. The League of Nations was one that was Eurocentric. Virtually all of Africa, Asia and the Middle East were controlled by European imperial powers. The League also established the mandate system to prepare natives of different regions for self-government and independence. However, it was short sighted and the mandates exploded only after the League ceased to exist


Causes for the failure of the league of nations:

The reasons for the League of Nations to fail were multiple. The absence of the United States was a significant factor in rendering the League ineffectual. Its importance was further minimized when Germany and the Soviet Union who were briefly members had undermined the significance of the Organisation. Germany joined in 1926 and exited after the Nazis came to power in 1933. In the year 1933 Soviet Union entered the League and was expelled following their attack on Finland in 1939 which also made the USSR the only nation to be expelled from the League.

Japan left the League in 1933 following criticism by the league of its occupation of Manchuria and Italy too was equally dismissive of its membership obligations after its occupation of Ethiopia. These acts of aggression was not adequately countered by the League and the global economic crisis of 1930s certainly curbed the enthusiasm of others and more particularly France and Britain who were not willing to fight distant wars that would not have an immediate effect on their national security. Thus they turned to the policy of appeasement which also failed.

In 1938 at the Munich Conference, Britain and France agreed to the dismantling of Czechoslovakia by agreeing to the addition of Sudetenland to Hitler’s Reich. Finally, Germany attacked Poland after concluding pact with the Soviet Union in 1939 which dashed all hopes that were placed on the League of Nations. The League of Nations was not capable of applying sufficient pressure on the aggressor nations as it could only impose verbal or economic sanctions against them and these methods failed to intervene militarily.

The League of Nations did not have authority beyond its member nations and this made it possible for countries suffering from the pressure of economic sanctions to trade with non-members. Additionally, since the League did not have an army of its own, military intervention meant that member states (France and Britain) would have to supply necessary troops.

However, neither country was interested in engaging in potentially costly conflicts in Africa or Asia. The League expelled the Soviet Union in 1939, and it was known widely that the League had failed and did not become what President Woodrow Wilson had hoped as a ‘definite guarantee of Peace’. Nevertheless, the onset of the Second World War made it clear there was a definite need for an international Organisation that would safeguard the world from yet another world war in the future. It was also unanimously that agreed that that a repetition of the League of Nations could not be allowed.


Critical Debate

Topic : Why was the League of Nations unable to ensure World peace?

Following points can be discussed in the debate:

a. Dominated by European people.

b. Fails to oppose racial discrimination

c. Britain, France, Italy and Japan dominated the League.




Do you think the American decision not to join the League was a major setback to the organisation?

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