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After the signing of the Paris Peace Treaties, it was agreed - under Woodraw Wilson's 14 Point Programme, that a League of Nations would be set up to deal with any future disputes, in order to avoid another horrendous war. Unfortunately for Wilson, the US Senate rejected the idea, whilst neither Germany nor the USSR were invited to join the organisation initially.

Aims of the League

  • Avoid agression between nations
  • Facilitate disarmament
  • Improve living and working conditions globally
  • Enhance global co-operation, through trade
  • Structure of the League

  • The Assembly
  • This was the central componant of the League of Nations: it admitted new members, financed the budget and discussed main agenda ideas. Decisions had to be unanimous and they only met once a year.

  • The Council
  • This was designed to settle major disputes and had 4 permanant members (Britain, France, Italy and Japan) as well as temporary members voted in by the Assembly. Each permanant member had a veto, whilst the Council could also administer economic sanctions or muster an international force if agreed. Germany became a permanant member in 1926.

  • The League of Nations Commissions
  • These were branches of the League set up to deal with problems caused by the First World War, such as refugees, global health and working conditions. They included: The Health Committee, the Mandates Committee, and the Refugees Committee.

  • The Permanant Court of Justice
  • This was the League's court - set in the Hague, Netherlands. It was the Court which would give decisions on border disputes, and passed any laws. It also gave legal advice to the Assembly and Council. Primarily its responsibility came in upholding or ammending peace treaties.

  • International Labour Organisation
  • This brought together employees, employers and governments to try and create better working conditions. It collected information and advised governments

  • The Secretariat
  • This was the part of the League that did the office work; translating documents and keeping records

    Why did the USA not join?

  • It was seen as linked to the TOV, deemed unfair by many Americans
  • It was seen as upholding colonial interests of Britain and France, e.g. 'mandates'
  • They had no need to join; the WW1 had made them rich and powerful
  • They felt it was a European venture and preferred a policy of Isolationism
  • Points of strength and weakness in organisation

  • The Assembly
  • Only met once a year; in a fast-moving world where technology was speeding up events, this was a disaster - events were often over before they could be dealt with! Decisions had to be unanimous - this made it very difficult, as everyone had to agree. When dictatorships began taking control of Europe, they became very difficult to bargain with and could block measures easily by voting them down. Did not include major powers USA (who never joined), Germany (joined 1926) or USSR (joined 1934)

  • The Council
  • This was ultimately hampered by a lack of an army; given that the Leagues' members had such different aims, it needed its own army to ensure it had teeth. Instead, the League itself became known as the 'Toothless Tiger'. Also, the Council's work often merged with the Assembly's - there was no real way of knowing who was responsible for certain events.

  • The League of Nations Commissions
  • The Permanant Court of Justice
  • Althought it could pass laws, it could not enforce them. Acted in an advisory role, with no way of ensuring any of its laws got passed. Only dealt with cases between nations, not individuals, and could only carry weight when member countries were involved.

  • International Labour Organisation
  • Only met once a year; Relied on donations for funding, which limited how much it could achieve

  • The Secretariat
  • Documents had to be translated into numerous languages (its official languages were French, English and Spanish) and the whole department was understaffed, with fewer than 1000 workers.

    Achievements of the LON Commissions and Agencies

  • Mandates Commission – this made sure former German and Austro-Hungarian colonies were run smoothly after WW1
  • The Refugees Committee – this helped return refugees after WW1; very successful in Turkey
  • The Slavery Commission – This worked to abolish slavery around the world. Freed 200 000 slaves in Sierra Leone. Reduced death rate on Tanganyika railway from 50% to 4% for workers.
  • The Health Committee – attempted to deal with disease and health. They banned lead paint
  • Permanant Court of Justice - enforced the peace treaties effectively (e.g. ruling Treaty of Laussane was legal and Treaty of Neuilly, where it upheld the League's decisions on reperations).
  • An overview of the League of Nations

    IGCSE history League of Nations

    The League of Nations Structure

    IGCSE history League of Nations

    The League of Nations is operation, 1936; Scanned by uploader from the Bruce Collection, National Archives of Australia

    IGCSE history League of Nations decision making

    How the League enforced global peace

    IGCSE History League of Nations Commissions

    The League of Nations malaria commission in Palestine, 1925 (Courtesy of Zalman Greenberg CCASA3.0)

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  • Aaland Islands, 1921 Sweden invaded this tiny collection of Scandinavian islands. Finland appealed to the LON. They discussed the situation with both countries, before deciding it should remain with Finland.
  • Upper Silesia, 1921 This Polish-dominated part of Germany was allowed to hold a plebiscite on who to belong to. The vote was close, so it was divided along regional lines. Everyone was happy.
  • Bulgaria, 1925 Fighting broke out between Greece and Bulgaria at the border. Bulgaria evacuated its troops and complained to the LON. Greece was forced to pay compensation and left Bulgaria.
  • Failures

  • Liberia Complained of slave labour on American Firestone plantation. LON agreed but claimed govt was corrupt. President resigned. LON did nothing more
  • Vilna, 1920 Poland and Lithuania both wanted the city of Vilna. Poland then marched their troops in. LON called for a plebiscite. Poland disagreed and it didn’t happen. Lithuania remained in a state of war with Poland until 1927!
  • Corfu, 1923 Italy and Greece came close to war over Corfu. Albania and Greece were having a border dispute. Italian LON representatives were sent out. When one –Tellini—was murdered in Greek territory, Italy retaliated by bombing Corfu! They demanded compensation. LON agreed and Greece had to pay it
  • Geneva Protocol, 1924 This was an agreement which all countries would sign, promising to take any international dispute to the LON. Br and Fr created it but a general election in Britain meant there was a govt change and it was never passed!
  • Agreements that helped the League

  • The Washington Conference 1921: Britain, France and the USA agreed to limit their naval sizes relative to each other
  • The Dawes Plan 1924: Put American loans into Germany. Boosted jobs and industry. The basis for Golden Era
  • Locarno Treaties 1925: 7 nations agreed on borders, including Germany: LON was ratified
  • The Kellog-Briand Pact 1925: 65 nations agreed that peaceful negotiations would settle disputes. Led by British and French foreign ministers
  • IGCSE history reasons for success of LON

    A cartoon showing the LON as a success in Bulgaria, 1925 (Source:

    IGCSE history reasons for success of LON

    A cartoon showing the Polish perception of events in Vilna. It shows Polish marshal Józef Piłsudski and Lithuania, criticizing Lithuanian unwillingness to compromise over the Vilna region. Marshal Piłsudski offers the meat labeled "agreement" to the dog (with the collar labelled Lithuania); the dog barking "Vilna, Vilna, Vilna" replies: "Even if you were to give me Vilna, I would bark for Grodno and Białystok, because this is who I am" (Source: Mucha (Warsaw) 66 (1934), Number 50, p.4.)

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    How did the Depression hurt the LON?

    What was the Great Depression?

  • After the First World War, the USA was in a good financial state compared to the old colonial powers. Europe owed them a lot of money in loan repayments, and the US public had helped fund the war by buying 'war bonds' - which were essentially certificates you could buy from the government, that would be repaid with interest at a later date.
  • After the success of war bonds, share purchasing became very fashionable; people began to do what they had done with the government, with private companies. They would check the New York stock exchange, on Wall Street (where companies put their shares for sale) and purchase shares (which is a % of a company) in the hope that they would rise in value
  • During the 1920s they did rise in value - a lot. Consumer spending was at an all time high as peoples' incomes grew, and they bought new products like washing machines and hoovers or cars. The value of shares went up, and the 'Roaring Twenties' was a time of boom.
  • Then, suddenly, on October 30 1929, Wall Street Crashed. Investors stopped buying, and began trying to sell. The selling spread as people panicked, fearing they better sell quickly or face having to sell later, when share prices were even lower. Companies' values tumbled as investment dried up and people sought to get rid of their shares
  • With no investment, companies ran out of cash and began to close or lay off workers. Businessmen lost their fortunes and the unemployment rate soared - in 1933 it stood at 25%
  • Effects of the Depression

  • USA —Wall Street Crash made USA unwilling to give loans and refused to support sanctions as this would harm their economy.
  • Germany now had to pay reparations alone, without US support – no money was coming in, which led to unemployment, which led to increased protectionist policies, which led to less trade, and more unemployment. People started voting for radical parties e.g. Nazis. The stab-in-the-back myth and the November criminals ideas resurface
  • France becomes worried about Germany’s actions and began building a defence line called ‘The Maginot Line’ along its border with Germany
  • Italy tries to combat economic problems by going to war; Mussolini therefore invades Abyssinia. War economy is initiated.
  • Japan’s economy was weakened by the economic collapse, and it therefore went in search of raw materials in Manchuria, China. Aggressive government becomes more and more militant
  • Britain worries about domestic problems, like unemployment and therefore is unwilling to get involved in international disputes (seen later through appeasement)
  • Above: A video explaining how the Depression occured
    A video showing how the Depression harmed the League

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    This was the biggest test - and failure -for the League. It all started in 1931 when the Japanese government claimed that the South Manchurian Railway (a Japanese used railway in semi-independent Manchuria) had been sabotaged by the Chinese.

    Stage 1: Action

    The Japanese sent in ground and air troops and soldiers used brutal tactics - such as at the infamous 'rape of Nan King'. They quickly set up a puppet government and claimed they were 'restoring order' to a chaotic region. But the Japanese generals pressed on, seeing an advantage, despite their government's instructions to stop. They bombed Shanghai and when China appealed to the League, told the League it was simply a local dispute. The League had to act. Unfortunately, they sent Lord Lytton as their reporter.... on a boat. It took him a year to get to Manchuria; September 1932.

    Stage 2: Reaction

    Lord Lytton quickly concluded that Japan had been in the wrong and that Manchuria was rightfully Japanese. The League decided to take it to a vote, whilst Japane just pressed on deeper into China. The vote came out in favour of China. Disgusted, the Japanese government - ruled by the Divine Emperor - just stormed out of the League. The League had to plan action; sanctions were discussed, but this was a time of hardship and no one wanted to lose valuable markets after the Great Depression. Everyone volunteered each other for sanctions, no one did it. Military action was also not taken up; it would take a whole year just to get near Japan, by which time they would be ready, whilst only the USA and USSR had the might to take on Japan... and they weren't in the League. Instead, the LON decided to argue it was a 'special' case, that Japan deserved differential treatment as it was bringing civilisation to a chaotic region. Mussolini and Hitler watched on with glee.

    Why did the Japenese invade Manchuria?

  • Official Reason. Chinese soldiers had sabotaged the South Manchurian railway, which was owned by the Japanese.
  • Resources and Land.
  • To combat the Depression 1930s. (before 1929 Japan exported to the US and China and had a growing empire, including Korea. The collapse of the US market meant that trade was no longer an option: they had to fight their way out of trouble. Japan had no raw materials of its own – they were imported from China. Most of Japan is covered in mountains; they needed land for farming)
  • To prepare for imperialist expansion It had already flexed its muscles with victory over Russia in 1905 and was now hoping to enter the imperialist elite club.
  • To provide for its growing population – Manchuria was 200 000 square miles – enough to provide land for Japans population
  • Click on the video to see an overview of the invasion of Manchuria

    IGCSE history invasion of Manchuria;Information |Description=1937 December, Nanking Massacre, Body everywhere, unmilitary people killed by Japanese invaders |Source=Scanned from Book |Date=1937 |Author=Murase Moriyasu, died in 1937 |Permission=Author died more than 70 years

    Invasion of Nanking, Manchuria



    If the Japanese got away with murder (literally) in Manchuria, the Italians went one better (or worse) in Abyssinia. Abyssinia - modern day Ethiopia - was a country with a rich cultural heritage, dating back to BC and the Queen of Sheeba. In the twentieth century it was ruled by Haile Selassie.


    Over in Italy, Mussolini was building a 'New Rome', and needed raw materials and an empire to fund his ever-growing military. But he knew he couldn't just invade any old country: he needed an excuse. This was when he remembered that Abyssinia had 'humiliated' Italy in 1896 when the Italians had tried to conquer the country. Here was a perfect opportunity to avenge that defeate.

    The excuse came with a dispute at Wal-Wal when some Ethiopian and Italian forces clashed. Mussolini readied his army, Selassie went straight to the League of Nations. The League of Nations called Mussolini in, and he played their game... all the meanwhile dispatching his forces to Africa. Britain and France pretended not to notice... after all they wanted an ally against the increasingly militaristic Hitler. In fact, they even signed the Stressa Pact between them all promising to stand up to German agression. Abyssinia was not mentioned.

    When the British and French public found out, there was a great outcry for Selassie. Pressurized, Britain and France offer Mussolini part of Abyssinia. He rejects it and launches a full scale invasion.

    The League discusses sanctions and bans all arms sales to Italy. But this is far, far too late. They also failed to close the Suez Canal which would have forced Italy right round Africa. Without sanctions from the USA - where Italy got most of their supplies - these were all useless though. Meanwhile, Hoare and Laval (the British and French foreign ministers) plead with Mussolini behind the scenes, promising to give him 2/3rds of it in exchange for calling off the invasion. The Plan is leaked, the governments are disgraced and poor Selassie could do nothing but watch as he became the last living Emperor of his country.

    Since no action is taken, the US increased oil sales to Italy. The League just resigns itself to defeat. On 2 May 1936 Selassi was forced into exile

    Why were the British and French reluctant to take action over Abyssinia?

  • They wanted to have Mussolini as an ally against Hitler
  • They feared job losses if they imposed sanctions
  • They did not want to risk another war
  • Russia was a growing problem
  • Click on the video to see an overview of the invasion of Abyssinia

    IGCSE invasion of Abyssinia

    The court of Emperor Haile Selaisse, Source:

    IGCSE invasion of Abyssinia

    Ethiopia prior to invasion; [ Library of Congres, Country Study: Ethiopia] |Author=Harri

    IGCSE History; CIE revision notes; league of nations;


    IGCSE history reasons for success of LON

    The League of Nations logo (adopted in the 1930s)

  • Commissions work
  • Small disputes
  • Global Trade
  • Failures

    reasons for failure of the League of Nations

    A cartoon depicting the League of NationsS (Source=Truth |Author=Jack Gilmour |Date=1937)

  • Disarmament
  • Agression
  • Self-interest
  • Why did the LON fail?

  • Self Interest of Leading Members Hoare-Laval Pact of Dec 1935 showed how Br and Fr were more willing to appease Mussolini (by giving him a portion of Abyssinia in exchange for ceasefire) than in real peace. France built the Maginot Line.
  • Decisions were slow It was slow – the Council met only once a year, the Assembly 5 times. Lack of speed shown in Manchuria with Lord Lytton’s report.
  • Ineffective Sanctions After the devastation of WW1 (and then the Depression) no country wished to impose sanctions or have them imposed! Without the US they were useless
  • Structural weaknesses Decisions also had to be unanimous; Power of the veto – the Permanent members had too much power and it was seen as an ‘old boys club’ as the imperial powers all had the right to overrule action. Also had no army - commonly known as the ‘toothless tiger.’ Had no overseeing figurehead to direct troops in any crisis — countries knew this and pushed it further and further.
  • Lack of New Superpowers USA not a member, USSR, Germany, not invited – these were the main powers that could make sanctions effective. Without these they would be useless (e.g. Abyssinia – USA continued trade) Without their troops, intervention was unlikely.
  • Treaty of Versailles was seen as unfair; why uphold a Treaty that was seen as over-harsh? It was a League built on sandy foundations.
  • The Great Depression This made it fail - good work was being done until the Depression; this changed countries’ attitudes and had disastrous effects, as discussed previously
  • Why did disarmament fail?

  • Effect of the Depression (see qs 6)
  • TOV was seen as harsh – British public began to change their stance on TOV; in 1935 Br allowed Germany to build ships up to 35% of Br fleet
  • Rise of extremist parties – NSDAP, Mussolini in Italy, Japanese war generals
  • Failure of LON—no enforcer meant no one was interested in disarmament
  • IGCSE failure of the League of Nations

    A cartoon depicting the failure of the League of Nations, Punch Magazine 1919 (artist: Leonard Raven-Hill, pubic domain)

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