The Impact of the Global Economic Crisis on the League of Nations

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Assess the impact of the global economic crisis on the League of Nations.

The League of Nations was created in January 10th 1920. It worked by the principle of collective security, in which all disputes threatening war would be submitted to the League and any member resorting to war would have broken the Covenant, and would face collective action by other members. However, permanent members such as Britain and France, had veto powers to reject decisions to safeguard their own national interests. Thus, unanimity was never achieved. However the league was not initially as powerful as it seemed as it lacked basic requirements such as a police force and authority overall. Therefore the great depression was not the only factor which had an impact on the league as there remained many faults in the way the league was run.

The global economic crisis of 1929 affected nearly all great powers. It led to countries who owed money to each other drowning in huge debt e.g. Austria’s bank, which went bust. During the economic crisis, every country imposed high duties on imports in an effort to protect its own industries. This increased tensions between countries as they were all trying to reproduce their own economy and secure themselves as the most powerful country, but revealed the Leagues weaknesses. This is supported by a historian who states, “The situation really began to drift out of control with the onset of the great depression, it brought unemployment and living standards to most countries causing extreme right wing governments to come into power in Japan and Germany together with Mussolini, they refused to keep with the rules and took a series of actions which revealed the Leagues weakness.”

Japan was affected by the economic crisis of 1929, so aimed to rebuild its economy. However they did this by acquiring the south Manchurian Railway, while completely ignoring the League’s aim of avoiding aggression. China was angered by this and considered the League for help and support, so the League decided to set up an enquiry headed by Lord Lytton, who rejected Japanese claims and called for a withdrawal of Japanese forces as they refused to recognise Manchukuo as a separate state. However little did China know that the Leagues minor efforts would go to waste once Japan withdraws from the League in 1933 because without its own armed forces the League could not compel Japan to comply with the commissions demands. This shows the Leagues major weakness as it freely allowed countries to leave whenever the conditions didn’t suit them, indicating no clear system and a sense of being powerless. Robert Wolfson and John Laver share the same view as they state “this was in a sense, the moment of truth for the League – how would it deal with a member who rejected its decisions? ”, he later indicates “if collective security is not used effectively in Manchuria there may be a European war in 10 years’ time. ” Furthermore, distracted by the great depression, the European powers and U.S lacked the will and resources to oppose Japanese militarism. The League therefore failed to live up to its ‘collective security’ and exposed how weak they were, this is backed up by Tony Howarth who states, “The invasion of Manchuria had two important side effects – putting aside for a moment its dreadful revelation that the League was powerless in the face a determined aggressor. First it raised the prestige of the Japanese army. Second, it made it possible for the army to pressurise the Japanese government to undertake a policy of armed expansion.” Here we can clearly see that the League was unable to deal with the more powerful and larger states as they were lacking power and authority, this is perfectly linked to the cartoon David Low drew in 1933 where it shows Japan getting away with trampling over the League and a League official freely allowing them to get away with the aggression (giving flowers) . This shows the League being humiliated and...
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