Back   The Weaknesses of the League were so great that it was bound to fail.'  Do you agree?


This document originally appeared on the website of St Mary's R.C. High School, Hereford at

This site went down in September 2010, so I have copied it here.


This document was written by and is therefore copyright Christopher Hughes (a pupil at the school, 2002).

horizontal rule

The League of Nations was formed in 1919 to encourage the member countries to co-operate in trade, improve social conditions, complete disarmament and to protect any member country that was being threatened with war. The League of Nations was the initial idea of Woodrow Wilson, the president of the USA, and was formed to make sure such world atrocities like the First World War never happened again. However, we know that a Second World War with even greater loss of life took place, and therefore most people conclude that the League of Nations failed. But why did the League fail?

The League of Nations had many 'design' weaknesses; with probably the most important and noticeable weakness was the absence of the USA. It was a great shock and disappointment for the rest of the world when the American people voted for a 'policy of isolation', and despite the campaigning of Woodrow Wilson, decided not to join the League of Nations. This can be considered a great weakness because the USA was becoming the most powerful and influential country in the world, and therefore the League would probably be unwilling to make a decision which would go against the USA, and it would also mean that a country inside the League, who had trade sanctions placed upon them would still be free to trade with the USA.

The League of Nations also seemed to have a weakness in not accepting Germany in the League when it was first formed. This gave the impression that the League was for the 'winners' of WWI, with Britain and France part of the inner council, and kept the German people bitter and still wanting revenge.

Another weakness of the League was that it did not have an army of its own, and that if it wanted an army to stand up to a troublesome country, it must raise an army from member countries. This became ineffective, as many member countries were very unwilling to raise an army and physically challenge a country, as they were afraid that it would effect their own self-interests, as we'll see later in the Manchurian and the Abyssinian crisis'.

Despite all these weaknesses, the League did have some success in the 1920's. The League had successfully sorted out a disagreement between Finland and Sweden over the Aaland Islands; between Germany and Poland over Upper Silesia, and between Greece and Bulgaria. Apart from international disputes, some of the League's greatest successes came in its work in the 'International Labour Organisation', in which they got member countries to agree to things such as the '8 hour maximum working day' and that there should be 'No-one to be in full time employment under 15 years of age'. However, the League did have failures in the 1920's, such as Vilna and Corfu, and failed in its aim to achieve disarmament.

The small holes in the League became gaping ones after its downright failure to do anything significant in the two main 'crisis'' of the early 1930's: The invasion of Manchuria by Japan in '31 and the invasion of Abysinnia by the Italians in '35.

In 1929 the world experienced the 'Wall Street collapse', a mass economic depression that effected many of the countries of the world hard, especially Japan. Therefore, Japan was in desperate need of raw materials such as coal and Iron Ore, which an area of China, named Manchuria, was rich in. Japan already had influence in Manchuria, and so decided to take it over. China appealed to the League, which decided to set up a Commission of Inquiry under Lord Lytton, who was sent to the area to make a report. During the year it took to make the report, Japan tightened its grip on the area. When the League finally 'morally condemned' Japan with the report, Japan simply ignored the report and left the League. Japan continued to make successful trade with the USA, its biggest trading partner, and then announced the intention to invade China itself. This incident showed that if an aggressive dictator wanted to invade neighbouring countries, he could.

This point was underlined 4 years later, when Abysinnia appealed for help to the League about the Italian Invasion. The League took eight months to discuss the matter, and then concluded that Italy could have some of Abyssinia (as Italy had roots in Abyssinia), but Mussolini rejected this offer. The League delayed its decision to apply trade sanctions, meaning that Italy could stockpile enough resources. Also, in self-interest, France and Britain refused to stop trading in oil with Italy as it could harm their own economies, and refused to shut the Suez Canal, the route Italy used to get things from Italy to Abyssinia, because they were afraid of war with Italy, and they also did not want to upset Mussolini, as they hoped he would be their ally with in increasing threat of Hitler. So, this meant that the League did not manage to stop Italy, and showed that the League was actually weak and quite powerless. Hitler saw this, and was able to exploit the League's weakness to rearm and march into the Rhineland.

So, in conclusion, and to directly answer the question "Was the League bound to fail?" I would say that yes, the League was bound to fail eventually, as I personally feel that the League's Physical weakness was too great in a world that was still very self-interested. For example, Britain and France were happy for Italy to invade the virtually defenceless country Abyssinia, as long as it meant that they would stay on good terms with Mussolini. To put it simply, the League's main aim above all others was to end world conflict, and it failed to do this, meaning that the League must have been a failure.