The League of Nations

The League of Nations was set up by the Treaty of Versailles.

The League was Wilson's dream for a new world order - a new way of conducting foreign affairs that would abolish war and keep the world safe, but less than a quarter of a century later Wilson's dream lay in ruins.

Its aims

  • to stop wars
  • to encourage disarmament
  • to make the world a better place by improving people's working conditions and by tackling disease

Its organisation

  • an assembly, which met once a year
  • a council, which met more regularly to consider crises
  • a small secretariat to handle the paperwork
  • a Court of International Justice
  • a number of committees such as the International Labour Organisation and the Health Committee to carry out its humanitarian work

Its main strengths

  • set up by the Treaty of Versailles, which every nation had signed.
  • 58 nations as members by the 1930s.
  • to enforce its will, it could offer arbitration through the Court of International Justice, or apply trade sanctions against countries that went to war.

Its main weaknesses

  • set up by the Treaty of Versailles (which every nation hated)
  • aims were too ambitious
  • Germany, Russia and the USA were not members
  • no army
  • organisation was cumbersome
  • decisions had to be unanimous

The Covenant of the League of Nations

The League of Nations was set up by the first 26 clauses of the Treaty of Versailles - called 'The Covenant of the League of Nations'. The table below is a summary.

3. Set up the assembly - a meeting of all members of the League.42 countries were members (rising to 58 in 1934). The USA, USSR and Germany - the three greatest powers in the world - were not members.
4. Set up the council (Britain, France, Italy and Japan, plus four other countries elected by the assembly) which met four to five times a year and in times of crisis.Allowed the League to respond quickly to crises. However, the council members were not the most powerful countries in the world, and were not prepared to use their armies. Also sometimes council members were involved in the trouble.
5. Said that agreements of the assembly and council had to be unanimous.Made it very hard to get anything done.
6. Set up the Secretariat.Too small to handle the vast work of the League.
8. Promised to seek disarmament.Conferences in 1923 and 1932-33 failed.
11. "The League shall... safeguard the peace of nations."Over-ambitious?
13. Planned for the arbitration of disputes.Only worked if both sides agreed.
14. Set up the Court of International Justice.Could advise on international law and arbitrate in disputes, but had no power to enforce its decisions.
15. Planned for trade sanctions against any country that went to war.Trade sanctions damaged the countries of the League as well as the country that had gone to war.
22. Set up the Mandates Commission to look after the former colonies of Germany and Turkey.The mandates were administered by France and Britain, two council members.
23. The League promised to improve conditions for workers, stop drug trafficking, help trade and control disease.Over-ambitious?