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League of Nations
The Covenant of the League was worked out at the Paris Peace Conference and included in each of the treaties that were signed after the First World War. It was largely due to the pressure from President Wilson that this task was accomplished. In drawing up the constitution of this organization, the ideas of Britain and America prevailed.
The League which was formed in 1920 consisted of five bodies: the Assembly, the Council, the Secretariat, the Permanent Court of Justice, and the International Labour Organisation. Each member-country was represented in the Assembly. The Council was the executive of the League. Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States were originally declared permanent members of the Council. Each member had one vote and since all decisions had to be unanimous, even the small nations possessed the right of veto.
The secretariat of the League of Nations was located at Geneva. Its first Secretary General was Sir Eric Drummond from Britain. The staff of the secretariat was appointed by the Secretary General in consultation with the Council. The International Court of Justice was set up in The Hague. The court was made of fifteen judges. The International Labour Organisation comprised a secretariat and general conference which included four representatives from each country.
The two-fold objective of the League of Nations was to avoid war and maintain peace in the world and to promote international cooperation in economic and social affairs. The League intended to act as conciliator and arbitrator and thereby resolve a dispute in its early stages. If wars should break out despite arbitration, the members should apply sanctions to the aggressor first economic and then military.
The difficulty in achieving the objectives was increased from the beginning by the absence of three Great Powers namely USA (did not become a member), Germany (a defeated nation) and Russia. The latter two joined in 1926 and 1934. While Germany resigned in 1933, Russia was expelled in 1939.
The League was called in to settle a number of disputes between 1920 and 1925. The League was successful in three issues. In 1920 a dispute arose between Sweden and Finland over the sovereignty of the Aaland Islands. The League ruled that the islands should go to Finland. In the following year the League was asked to settle the frontier between Poland and Germany in Upper Silesia, which was successfully resolved by the League. The third dispute was between Greece and Bulgaria in 1925. Greece invaded Bulgaria, and the League ordered a ceasefire. After investigation it blamed Greece and decided that Greece was to pay reparations. Thus the League had been successful until signing of the Locarno Treaty in 1925. By this treaty, Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain, and Italy mutually guaranteed peace in Western Europe. Thereafter Germany joined the League and was given a permanent seat on the Council.
After two years the US and Russia began to participate in the non-political activities of the League.
One of the major problems confronting the European powers was how to achieve disarmament. In 1925 the Council of the League set up a commission to hold a Disarmament Conference to sort out the problem. But the proposed conference materialised only in February 1932. In this Conference, Germany’s demand of equality of arms with France was rejected. In October Hitler withdrew Germany from the Conference and the League.
Japan attacked Manchuria in September 1931 and the League condemned Japan. So Japan also followed the example of Germany and resigned from the League. In the context of Italy’s attack on Ethiopia, the League applied sanctions. As the sanctions came into effect, Italy resigned from the League in 1937. Thereafter the League was a passive witness to events, taking no part in the crises over the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The last decisive action it took was in December 1939 when Russia was expelled for her attack on Finland. The Assembly did not meet again and the League of Nations was finally dissolved in 1946.
The League appeared to be an organisation of those who were victorious in the First World War.
Since it lacked the military power of its own, it could not enforce its decisions.
The founders of this peace organisation underestimated the power of nationalism. The principle of “collective security’ could not be applied in actual practice.
When Italy, Japan and Germany, headed by dictators, refused to be bound by the orders of the League, Britain and France were the only major powers to act decisively.
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