Q: Discuss the organizational weaknesses of the League of Nations. How did such weaknesses limit its peace-keeping roles? Illustrate your answer with relevant facts. (1996)
In 1920, the League of Nations was found for the main purpose of keeping peace. It also aimed at a concept of collective security for the great and small nations. However, because of its defects and weaknesses, it couldn’t carry out its function properly. Thus such weaknesses limited its peace-keeping roles and met more failure than successes which finally paved the way for the outbreak of the Second World War.
Since the League of Nations was a pioneering attempt to move away from the anarchy of Powers politics, it suffered from many inadequacies and weaknesses. After 1931, it was confronted with a major international crisis. So, it was unable to solve the disputes among the countries any more and a great challenge they faced.
First, the League began its work with heavy handicap. It lacked supports of the Powers. As a matter of fact, not all the great Powers were the members through out the 20 years of its existence. The USA had never been a member of the League because the Americans maintained an isolationist policy in European Affairs. Germany joined the League in 1926 but withdrew in 1933. Japan withdrew from the League in 1933 and Italy withdrew in 1936. Russia didn’t join the League until 1934 but she was expelled from it in 1939 when she attacked Poland. So, the lack of constitutional means to commit the members to stay in the League only resulted in organizational instability and lack of power.
Moreover, enforcing decision was difficult in the League of Nations because the League had no military or institutional means to force its members to carry out the terms. The military forces of the League depended mainly on the voluntary contribution of the member states, but there was no statement of punishment in the government in case a member refused to contribute its armed force. This matter and solving disputes. And this made it unable to solve the greater disputes which came after 1930.
For instance, in 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria. The Nanjing government appealed to the League of Nations for help. The League warned no effective action to punish Japan for this breach of international agreement. It merely issued a non-recognition note concerning Manzhowguo, the Puppet State created by Japan out of Manchuria and condemned Japan as an aggressor. Japan then withdrew from the League. No further action would be taken to check Japan. So, Japan was encouraged to openly invade China in 1937. This was the first important test of the Leagues ability of prevent aggression, but it failed. Therefore, its weakness and inefficiency was completely revealed.
The weakness of the League not only encouraged Japan. It was encouraged the aggression by Italy, too. In 1935, Italy invaded the Abyssinia. The League at first declared that it was an act of aggression. And it could do nothing except by imposing an ineffective economic sanction against Italy. Moreover, the economic sanction was soon lifted owing to Britain’s advocacy of the appeasement policy towards aggressors. The success of Italy encouraged Hitler a lot.
The above matter was also an example for the failure of the League to keep peace and protect the small nations. This further weakened the League’s credibility as a world peace-keeping force. It showed that the means of economic sanction was useless because the United State, who was the greatest economic power in the world, remained outside the League. Therefore, she wasn’t bound by the measure adopted by the League. Furthermore, the great powers simply ignored the League and acted according to their own interests. Therefore, in 1935, Britain and France refused to support the economic sanction against Italy for their own interest against aggression because of her policy of appeasement and pacifism. This further encouraged the aggressors.
On the other hand, since the power at the League only acted according to their own interests as well as their feeling of collective insecurity such as France lacked confidence in Britain, for several times in the 1920s, Britain showed an unwillingness to take on further obligations in Europe, the British withdrew most of their occupation forces from Germany in 1926. This made the failure of the disarmament conferences which was held by the League in order to keep peace in 1932. As they were worked with their own interest and suspicious of the others, there was no agreement could be reached. For example, France wanted to be superior than Germany in army, but Germany demanded for equality armed with France, therefore, no compromise can be made between them. There, there was general agreement that disarmament was desirable but no state wished to be the first to reduce its own security.
In the failure of the Disarmament Conference also showed that making decision in the League was difficult because it was not reduced the effectiveness of the League and it was a waste of time.
The weakness for the League was partly due to the Great Depression which discouraged the power to cooperate against aggression. As Britain and France were busy in dealing with their economic problems, they refused to go into wars against Hitler. Instead, they close to adopt the appeasement policy as a means of avoiding wars.
Therefore, the rise of Hitler and Nazis in the 1930s meant peace was impossible and the League was seriously challenged. Germany planned to repudiate the Versailles Treaty. So, Hitler invaded the Rhineland in the Hope of recovering the lost territories. Later, he invaded Czechoslovakia, thus violating the Munich agreement by which Hitler made a promise to Britain and France that he would claim no further territories. The formation of the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis posed a real threat to the international security and made war inevitably. The German invasion of Poland in 1939 sparked off the outbreak of the Second World War. To all these, the League could do nothing. It showed dramatically for the League had failed its roles in keeping world peace. And the outbreak of the Second World War marked the complete failure and the end of the League.
In conclusion, it seems that the League was quite successful to keep world peace. However, due to its enormous shortcomings and weakness as well as the coming international crisis they faced, it couldn’t manage to carry out its function. It couldn’t fit fulfill its aims, that is a collective security to keep peace and avoid war. The outbreak of the Second World War proved that the League was totally failure and couldn’t reach their aims.