League of Nations Reading

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/u-n-united-nations-geneva-3362464/
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/u-n-united-nations-geneva-3362464/

Following the horror of the First World War, the leading countries of the world wanted to find a way to avoid another global conflict. Prior to WWI, the way that countries negotiated and communicated was all done in secret, which left a constant atmosphere of paranoia among competing countries.


It was argued that a better way for countries to resolve conflicts is to set up an organsiation that existed for the sole purpose of negotiating conflicts and disagreements between countries. It was hoped that such an organisation would remove the need for nations to go to war to resolve disagreements.


This new organisation was called the 'League of Nations' and was made up of 42 nations. Great Britain and France were the most powerful countries involved, while Germany and Russia were not allowed to join due to their actions in WWI. The United States chose to not join and preferred to remain as an isolationist state.


The League had a special building constructed in the neutral country of Switzerland, in the city of Geneva.

How the League of Nations worked

As the League was conceived of as a place for negotiation, it was considered to be a political entity, not a military one. As a result, the League of Nations did not have its own army. Any rules that the League created to stop countries doing the wrong thigs had to be enforced by other means.


Instead of using military threats to enforce its well, the League had 'sanctions'. Here are how the sanctions were supposed to work:


  1. The League would encourage disagreeing nations to meet to resolve their conflicts peacefully.
  2. If one country would not negotiate with the other, the League would impose 'economic sanctions'. This meant that the countries who were members of the League would stop buying or selling goods with the offending nation. This would mean that the country would become poorer and would have to cooperate in order to survive.

Ultimately, this was the extent of the League's powers. If the offending nation still refused to obey the League's will, the League could not stop them. The lack of a military arm was intentional. The League's purpose was to create global peace. By having its own army and attacking countries who didn't listen, would be the opposite of creating world peace.

When sanctions worked

Despite the League's limited power, there were times when its sanctions did avoid major wars:


Aaland Islands

Finland and Sweden argued about who controlled these islands between them. The League intervened, and after negotiations, it was decided that Finland would control the islands. The League’s decision was accepted by both sides.


Upper Silesia

One of the clauses in the Treaty of Versailles allowed the people of Upper Silesia to choose whether they wanted to join Germany or Poland. A vote showed that it was almost 50/50, so there was civil unrest and riots between angry groups. The League of Nations stepped in and, after six weeks of negotiations, Upper Silesia was split between Germany and Poland. All countries agreed to the decision.



The sea port of Memel in Lithuania was under the control of the League of Nations until Lithuania marched on it and captured it. The League declared that the area around the port could remain with Lithuania, but the port itself was an international zone. Lithuania agreed.



Tukey was suffering from an epidemic outbreak of typhoid and cholera. The League arranged teams of doctors as well as supplies, medicine, and food.

When sanctions failed

Unfortunately, despite its best efforts, the League of Nations could not stop countries from entering into wars. Here are some of the most famous conflicts the League could not stop:


The Second Italo-Ethiopian War

When Italy invaded the African country of Ethiopia in 1935, the League of Nations was called upon to punish Italy. However, despite attempted sanctions, it had no impact on the war and Italy continued its war until 1937.


The Japanese invasion of Manchuria

When Japan invaded the region of Manchuria, and later attacked China, the League was called upon to punish Japan. However, despite more attempted sanctions, Japan simply chose to leave the League and continue with its war. As reports came to light about the atrocities committed by Japan against civilians, there was nothing the League could do to stop them, as it had no army to call upon.


Ultimately, people supported the idea of the League of Nations: an organisation designed to help avoid global conflict.


However, the fact that the League had no way of realistically stopping nations from starting wars undermined its effectiveness. By the middle of the 1930s, the League ceased to be an effective organisation and, by the time World War II began, it had disappeared.


The overall concept, though, would survive. At the end of World War Two, a new group was founded, called the United Nations, which would be far more effective in this role.