Back   What were the strengths and weaknesses of the League of Nations in the 1920s?

 

 

Summary

In some ways, the League of Nations was strong.   By the 1930s about 60 countries had signed the Covenant.   The League’s main strength came from the fact that it was set up by the Treaty of Versailles.   Also, the League had ‘means of influence’:

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moral condemnation (e.g. in 1925, the Greeks stopped invading Bulgaria when the League condemned them).  

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arbitration (e.g., between Sweden and Finland over the Aaland Islands in 1921).  

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sanctions (e.g. Manchuria and Abyssinia in the 1930s).  

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the League could agree to military force, although it had no army.  

        However, the League also had three great weaknesses.   The USA, Russia and Germany were not members; without these powers, the League was too weak to make a big country do as it wished (for instance, Italy over Corfu in 1923).   Also, the League’s organisation was a muddle, so when there was a crisis, no-one could agree.

        Finally, the League’s greatest weakness was that it was set up by the Treaty of Versailles.   The Treaty was hated, especially by the Germans and Americans, so the League was hated too.

 

 

In some ways, the League of Nations was strong.  

            Forty-two countries joined the League at the start.   By the 1930s about 60 countries had signed the 26 promises of the Covenant – notably Article 10, in which nations promised to keep the peace and help nations which were attacked.   World powers such as Britain, France, Italy and Japan were on the Council, meeting 4–5 times a year to solve disputes.   The League seemed strong.

            The League’s main strength came from the fact that it was set up by the Treaty of Versailles – which had been signed and agreed by the 32 nations.

            Also, the League had ‘means of influence’ to force countries to obey it.  

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The first was moral condemnation – the League would declare in public that a country was wrong, and public opinion would force it to stop.   The League called this the ‘Community of Power’ and it worked, for example, in 1925, when the Greeks stopped invading Bulgaria when the League condemned them.  

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The second was that the League could offer arbitration – acting a referee between quarrelling nations (as, for instance, between Sweden and Finland over the Aaland Islands in 1921).  

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Thirdly, the League could apply trading sanctions (as it was to do over Manchuria and Abyssinia in the 1930s).  

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Finally, the League could agree to military force, although it had no army of its own – a strong member state like Britain had to send its own army.  

 

However, the League also had great weaknesses.

            The three most powerful countries in the world were not members.   The USA did not want to join (most Americans were isolationist).   The Russians refused to join (they were Communists and hated Britain and France).   Germany was not allowed to join until 1925.   This was not a problem in the 1920s, when the League dealt mainly with small countries like Sweden and Finland (Aaland Islands, 1921), Turkey (Mosul, 1924) and Bulgaria and Greece (1925).   But, without the three world powers, the League was too weak to make a big country do as it wished (for instance, Italy over Corfu in 1923). 

            Another weakness was that the League’s organisation was a muddle.   The Assembly could only make a decision by a unanimous vote (so it never made any decisions), and on the Council, all the permanent members had a veto.   The Conference of Ambassadors kept over-ruling the decisions of the Council.   The Secretariat was understaffed and always in a terrible muddle.   When there was a crisis, no-one could agree.

            Finally, the League’s greatest weakness came from the fact that it was set up by the Treaty of Versailles.   The Treaty had many flaws (for example, reparations) – but the League was supposed to enforce it.   Also, the Treaty was hated, especially by the Germans and the Americans, so the League was hated too.