The League of Nations


Views from the web


A Cause for War,   A Cause for Joining the International Criminal Court,   

A Reason to Follow Muslim Teachings,   Views from Abroad,   Academics,   Views from the web


A trawl of the web reveals any number of people prepared to go on record with their idea(s) about why the League failed.


What you have to understand about most of the following people who have made comments about why the League failed, however, is that they really don’t care much about why the League failed!   In almost ALL the following suggestions, they do not seem to be trying to illuminate the truth about the League.   They are making some other point (e.g. that America was right to invade Iraq in 2003) and they are delving back into history to find a ‘fact’ which substantiates their point.


This is a mis-use of evidence:


They are seeking facts to prove a point, not looking at the facts and using them to form a balanced conclusion;


It is likely that their view of the League is shallow and trite;


It is likely that their view of the League is highly selective, and that they are moulding the League to fit the ‘fact’ that they need.

[It does help us as historians to remember that our opinions of the past are – even subconsciously – moulded by our beliefs at the present.]



A Cause for War


Here is an example.   Jack Straw is the British Foreign Minister.   Many Labour MPs did not support aggression against Iraq .   The first quote is from a speech he gave to the Labour Party Conference.   The second is from a speech he gave in the House of Commons, when the government was trying to get Parliament to support a declaration of war, and when it looked as though many Labour MPs would vote against it.   Jack Straw’s ‘reason’ for the failure of the League is that it did not use force to enforce its principles – but the real point is that Britain ought to go to war against Iraq in 2003.


Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary

Conference, military action should only ever be used as a last resort, and only in a way which is consistent with international law.   But, Conference, as Ernie Bevin knew, sometimes the threat and even the use of force is necessary to ensure a greater peace.   The League of Nations failed because it lacked the means to enforce its principles and decisions against the aggression of dictatorships and totalitarianism

Speech by Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, Labour Party Conference, Blackpool, 30 September, 2002


The League (of Nations) failed because it could not create actions from its words.   It could not back diplomacy with the credible threat and, where necessary, the use of force.   So small evils went unchecked, tyrants became emboldened, then greater evils were unleashed. At each stage good men and women said 'not now - wait, the evil is not big enough to challenge'.   Then, before their eyes, the evil became too big to challenge.

During debate on whether Britain should go to war with Iraq (Labour revolt) February, 2003



The following writer also ‘used’ the League as an argument for the war with Iraq :


Jeffrey Herf (University of Maryland )

Law among nations requires credible mechanisms of enforcement and adequate amounts of power to punish those who break international norms.   The League of Nations failed because it failed to punish or deter Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as they repeatedly flouted international law in the 1930s.

Jeffrey Herf (Professor of Modern European History at the University of Maryland )

This is an article which criticised the German government’s refusal to support the declaration of war on Iraq .   The writer admits: ‘There is a special disappointment which this historian feels about the [German] government's unequivocal "no" to any military campaign against the Hussein regime.   For the government in Baghdad … has some of its roots in European fascism, of the 1930s.’


This comment – written in an article Why the US should go to war with Iraq – says exactly the same thing, but I include it because I think it is particularly pithy!


The View from Australia

The League of Nations failed because it did not have the means or mandate to enforce its will.

Bill Ludthug (ALP Queensland heavyweight), Why the US should go to war on Iraq



A Cause for War

A Cause for Joining the International Criminal Court


Here is another suggestion, offered by another politician – a German Euro-MP.   The International Criminal Court was set up to try to bring war-criminals, and those who commit crimes against humanity or peace, to justice.   The United States has refused to join the ICC, because its soldiers are involved all over the world, and it fears that charges will be brought against Americans and tried by people other than Americans (so, for example, the American accused of torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners was tried in an American court-martial, not in the ICC).   MEP Posselt is appealing to America to join the ICC – and he therefore dips into history for a fact to support his argument – THAT is why he lays emphasis upon the ‘fact’ that the League failed because America refused to join:


Bernd Posselt, Euro-MP

History teaches us that for example the League of Nations failed because this splendid idea emanated from the USA but the USA itself did not participate in it.   We call on our American partners and friends to work together with Europe to strengthen international law and the Criminal Court, because otherwise we are providing states in the Arab world, but also China and Russia with a pretext for ignoring international law on their territory.

Posselt (PPE-DE), Debates of the European Parliament, Sitting Of Wednesday, 25 September 2002 : International Criminal Court

Posselt is a supporter of European unity, and of minority ethnic rights.



A Cause for Joining the International Criminal Court

A Reason to Follow Muslim Teachings


The next two comments are from Muslim writers, who both believe that the answer to the world’s problems is Islam.   They therefore both see the failure of the League in terms of a moral and religious failure.   Notice how the second comment is more academically balanced than the first:


The View of Islam 

If two parties among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make ye peace between them: but if one of them transgresses

4927. Individual quarrels are easier to compose than group quarrels, or, in the modem world, national quarrels…   The essential condition of course is that there should be perfect fairness and justice and respect for the highest principles; for Islam takes account of every just and legitimate interest without separating spiritual from temporal matters.   The League of Nations failed because these essentials were absent and today the United Nations fails for the same reason.

SURE GUIDANCE - The Meaning of the Holy Qur·ān


The View of Islam

The League had some success in the non-political fields.   It did some excellent research work, and even settled from minor political clashes between smaller nations. But never in its entire history was the League able to settle a conflict in which one of the major powers was involved.   After a few short years the construction began to totter and crack.   The historical fact remains that never on any occasion was the League of Nations capable of acting when action would have involved the use of force against any of the leading military powers.   The League of Nations failed because it was based on the false notion of internationalism, on the Idea that peace between national units, between sovereign nation-states, can be maintained simply by bringing their representatives together to debate their differences, without making fundamental changes in their relations to each other.   One of the main reasons for League’s failure was the international disequilibrium brought about by economic, political and social forces in the post war period. 

Basm-e-Tolu-e-Islam (a site to apply Muslim principles to world politics)



A Reason to Follow Muslim Teachings

Views from Abroad


There is a chance that views from countries not, say, involved in the Iraq war, would have the opportunity to be fairer – more objective and dispassionate.   Here is a very balanced and measured view from Canada :


A View from Canada

The most vital lesson to be learned, in my view, is that the League of Nations failed because members and non-members alike – the international community at large – allowed it to fail.   Undoubtedly, there were flaws in the Covenant of the League of Nations , but those alone cannot account for the demise of the institution.   From the beginning, the League was undermined by a dangerous combination of unrealistic expectations and insufficient commitments.   Those difficulties were compounded by a perception that the lofty rhetoric of the Covenant did not correspond sufficiently with the actual values, interests and experience of those members and non-members upon whom its success depended.

Some great powers – including the United States , which had played an important role in promoting the creation of the organization – chose to stay on the outside for all or part of its history.   Those empty chairs certainly eroded the credibility of the League.   But even those states which participated in the debates cannot escape blame.

Yves Fortier, Canada and the United Nations: A Half Century Partnership (March 6, 1996)

Yves Fortier is a Canadian lawyer who from July 1988 to January 1992, was Canada's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. For 1989 and 1990, he also served as Canada's Representative to the Security Council of the United Nations, and in October 1989, he was the President of the Security Council.


But distance can also lead to ignorance.   This Asian newspaper over-simplifies the failure, presenting it in terms only of Manchuria and Abyssinia:


A View from Asia

The League of Nations failed because of the manipulation and territorial designs of Japan and Italy .

Asia Times Online


and this American newspaper, intriguingly, and without ANY explanation, blames France !


An American News View

League of Nations failed because of the greed of France and a few other nations.

Vox Carolina Carolina Morning News on the web



Views from Abroad



Here is an opinion from a respected web-site:


A Historian’s View

The League of Nations failed because it was weak from the start

Richard Fuller has a degree in Computer Science at Cambridge University , and works at the Department of Computer Science at the University of York .


and here is a quote from a Cambridge University exam paper:


Cambridge University

The League [of Nations] failed because it lacked the support of power

Quote in 2004 Cambridge University Social and Political Sciences TRIPOS Part IIB exam


This University source – from a course on the theory of law – sees the failure in terms of a failure of the League’s legal process:


David Anderson, University of Warwick

The League of Nations failed because of the procedural complications attached to these procedural questions of which nation(s) has the right to bring someone to trial.    (Something similar applies to the UN Security Council’s difficulties in getting its permanent members to unanimously agree on the terms of Iraq weapons inspections.)


Lecture notes from the University of Warwick, 2002


Finally, two comments from students who genuinely seem to have been trying to answer the question.   The first one is particularly interesting:


Adam Moshe, History Network News

Morals and ethics and laws are designed, not to eradicate conflict, but to regulate it.    The League of Nations failed because it outlawed war.   The UN has succeeded thus far (arguably) precisely because it has regulated conflict into some kind of workable framework.

'Here's the answer' by Adam Moshe on May 19, 2004 on a site called History News Network


Spykman’s theory

Territorial security is critical in establishing an independent state. According to Spykman's definitions, the League of Nations failed because it allowed the German's encroachment into member nations: "The inability of the League of Nations to provide territorial security for member states, and the desire of those states for certain geographical objectives."   The League of Nations did not stop German expansion into neighboring states.

From an assignment by a student named ‘Jonathan’

(Nicholas Spykman was the Professor of International relations at Yale University , America , who created the ‘Rimland Theory’ of world power, which stated that the power which controlled the coastal areas of Europe and Asia would dominate the world.   This idea becameparticularly  important during the Cold War.)





Views from the web


And of course, on the web, there are any number of people prepared to share their opinion with the world – usually dropping in their opinion on the League to support some other argument.   The key phrase is ihmo (‘in my humble opinion).   Here are a few:


A Web-forum Comment

The League of Nations failed because it was weak, and the USA , btw, never joined. To put it another way, it failed (in part), because the US (and other nations) demanded the right to act with absolute sovereignty.



A Web-forum Comment

The isolationist conservative parts of American society who didnt give a damn about the rest of the world went to great effort to demonize the League, and to falsly claim that it was an attempt to form a world government.   As a result, the US , although we originated the idea, did not become a member.   The League of nations failed because of our non-participation.

Posted by Trevor at January 30, 2003 09:04 AM


A Web-forum Comment The fact of the matter is that the UN has succeeded where the League of Nations failed because the UN was structured to reflect the fact that the so-called Great Powers are different from the rest of the states.

Posted by 'dandle' Friday, April 16, 2004 - 11:20 am


A Web-forum Comment

I cannot help but see history repeating itself again at the genesis of the twenty first century.   The League of Nations failed because it could not come to terms with the malefic Adolph Hitler.   It folded with Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

Presently in 2003 we have another anti-Semitic megalomaniac, this time in the Middle East , who wants to terrorize neighbors with brand new weapons…     The United Nations appears to be failing with the biggest international crisis in its history just as the League of Nations failed in its most important hour.   The French are just as resolute at sitting and waiting as they were in the 1930’s when faced with the looming German threat.

Posted by Kevin Brehmer on March 11, 2003 on a forum called Dean’s World


A Web-forum Comment

The League of Nations failed because its membership included nations whose imperialist governments did not respect individual liberty and rule of law; you can't build peace with countries that don't want it. (Alliances with evil empires had been tested in the past, and they failed every time.)

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson on April 2, 2004

on a forum topic entitled: The Nobel Peace Prize Isn't Worth A Warm Saucer Of Spit


Views from the web