Weaknesses and Failure of the League of the Nations

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Weaknesses and Failure of the League of the Nations
The onset of the Second World War demonstrated that the League had failed in its primary purpose, which was to avoid any future world war. There were a variety of reasons for this failure, many connected to general weaknesses within the organization.


Origins and structure

The origins of the League as an organization created by the Allied Powers as part of the peace settlement to end the First World War led to it being viewed as a "League of Victors".[1]*[2] It also tied the League to the Treaty of Versailles, so that when the Treaty became discredited and unpopular, this reflected on the League of Nations. The League's supposed neutrality tended to manifest itself as indecision. It required a unanimous vote of its nine-, later fifteen-, member Council to enact a resolution; hence, conclusive and effective action was difficult, if not impossible. It was also slow in coming to its decisions as certain decisions required the unanimous consent of the entire Assembly. This problem mainly stemmed from the fact that the main members of the League of Nations were not willing to accept the possibility that their fate would be decided by other countries and had therefore, in effect, by enforcing unanimous voting given themselves the power of veto. Any member of the league assembly whose interest was concerned in the decisions out come also had the right to veto league action.[3]


The Covenant of the League of Nations did not outlaw war as such. The members of the League were not allowed to go to war under certain conditions. By the same token, they were not allowed to go to war in the absence of those conditions. Thus the preamble to the covenant stipulated “the acceptance of obligations not to resort to war until three months after the award by the arbitrators”. By virtue of Article 13, paragraph 4, the members agreed “that they will not resort to war against a member of the League which complies” with the judicial decision of a dispute. Finally, according to Article 15, paragraph 6, “If a report by the council is unanimously agreed to by the members there of other than the representatives of one or more of the parties to the dispute, the Members of the League agree that they will not go to war with any party to the dispute which complies with the recommendations of the report”. Only the two latter provisions contain an out right prohibition to go to war. As Jean Ray put it: we are convinced that this timidity of the authors of the covenant has serious consequence’s and put in jeopardy the news system which they tried to erect, as a matter of fact, since the contrary opinion was not clearly expressed, it remained tacitly admitted that war is a solution, the normal solution, of international conflicts. These obligations, as a matter of law, are presented only as exceptions; the implicate rule is the recourse to war. Even if the members had lived up to the provisions of the covenant, they would have found in the fundamental law of the League an instrument for the prevention of some wars and for the legalization of others.[4]

Global representation

Representation at the League was often a problem. Though it was intended to encompass all nations, many never joined, or their time as part of the League was short. Most notably missing was the position that the United States was supposed to play in the League, not only in terms of helping to ensure world peace and security but also in financing the League. The U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had been a driving force behind the League's formation and strongly influenced the form it took but the United States Senate voted not to join on 19 November 1919.[5] Ruth Henig has suggested that, had the United States been a member of the League, it would have also provided backup to France and Britain, possibly making France feel more secure and so encouraging France and Britain to co-operate more...
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