Peace: 1933

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

1) Angell, Sir Norman (1874-1967), a British publicist and economist, worked for cooperation among nations. He was awarded the 1933 Nobel Peace Prize. During most of his life, he worked as a journalist and wrote more than two dozen books. His most famous book, The Great Illusion (1910), sums up the economic disasters of war. Angell was born at Holbeach, England. He was knighted in 1930.

2) League of Nations was an international association of countries created to maintain peace among the nations of the world. The victors of World War I (1914-1918) including Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States--drew up a covenant (constitution) for the League in 1919. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States was the chief planner of the League of Nations. The League was established in January 1920, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The organization ceased to function after World War II began in 1939. It was formally dissolved in April 1946, and the United Nations took its place.

Wilson had believed that world wars would continue to occur as long as each nation was responsible for its own defense. Under this condition, nations would form competing groups, each arming against the other. Wilson wanted the nations of the world to join together in the League of Nations, and pledge to defend the territory and independence of any member attacked by another nation. He believed that even a powerful nation, knowing it would face the united opposition of all other powerful nations, would not go to war.

Wilson got other countries to agree to his plans for the League, but he and members of the U.S. Senate differed over the terms on which the United States would join. In March 1920, the U.S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles, which would have made the United States a member. Within a few years, most Americans decided there was no need to concern themselves with conflicts overseas, and the United States never did join the League of Nations.

Powers and organization

The League Covenant contained articles pledging member nations to preserve the independence and territory of all members against attack. Members agreed to submit any disputes that might lead to war either to arbitration (decision by a third party) or to an investigation by the League Council. They promised not to go to war with any member that agreed to the recommendations of a court of arbitration or the League Council. If any member went to war in violation of these articles, member nations agreed they would apply economic sanctions (penalties), such as stopping trade with the offending nation. At the League Council's request, they would also use military force against that nation.

The Council was the principal peacekeeping agency. Its size varied from 8 to 14 members during the League's history. The most powerful members of the League had permanent seats on the Council. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union held permanent seats during the years they were members of the League. The remaining seats were rotated among the small nations of the League. Recommendations of the Council had to be decided by unanimous vote.

The Assembly was composed of all member nations, and each member had one vote. The Assembly controlled the League budget, admitted new members, elected the temporary Council members, and made amendments to the Covenant. On these matters, the Assembly could decide by a two-thirds or a majority vote. The Assembly also could discuss threats to the peace. It needed a majority vote plus the votes of all Council members to recommend on such a matter.

The Secretariat provided the administrative staff of the League. A secretary-general, who was nominated by the Council and approved by the Assembly, headed a staff of about 600 officials. These officials assisted the peacekeeping work of the League and provided personnel for special study commissions on disarmament, the protection of ethnic minorities, and colonial affairs. The Secretariat also staffed the various international organizations set up by the League to promote cooperation in international trade, finance, transportation, communication, health, and science.

The League in action

Wilson and the other statesmen who designed the League hoped it would lead nations to stop seeking protection through special alliances. Instead, they favored a system of collective security, in which the security of each member would be guaranteed by the protection of all. For collective security to work, it was essential that all League members--especially the most powerful ones--come to the aid of any member attacked. Neither the Council nor the Assembly could force members to help an attacked nation. Such action had to be voluntary. Each member had to believe a threat to the peace of any nation was a threat to its own peace.

Disagreement among members. The most powerful nations did not agree that collective security was the main purpose of the League. France saw the League mainly as an instrument to maintain the territorial settlement and arms restrictions imposed on Germany after World War I. The Germans resented the League because it seemed to them, too, that this was the League's real purpose. British leaders saw it as a meeting place for powerful nations to consult in the event of a threat to peace. But they did not want to commit themselves to do anything that might have threatened their security or prosperity. The Soviet Union believed the League was an imperialist fraud because Communism taught that war was inevitable among capitalist nations. During the 1930's, Japan and Italy showed their disregard for collective security by attacking member nations.

Japan withdrew from the League in 1933 because the League refused to recognize its conquest of Manchuria. Germany, admitted to the League in 1926, withdrew in 1933 because the League would not change the arms limitations imposed on Germany after World War I. An arms build-up by Germany under dictator Adolf Hitler led the Soviet Union to join the League in 1934. Italy withdrew from the League in 1937 to join Japan and Germany in an alliance against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was expelled in 1939 for attacking Finland.

The League achieved some success in ending armed conflicts between small nations. For example, it ended fighting between Greece and Bulgaria in 1925, and between Poland and Lithuania in 1927. But when a powerful nation was involved, the League was ineffective.

Why the League failed was most dramatically illustrated when Italy attacked Ethiopia in October 1935. The Council declared that Italy had violated the Covenant. This action obligated League members to apply economic sanctions and to consider the use of force against Italy. Members agreed to stop all imports from Italy and to send no money or war material to Italy.

But the United States, Japan, and Germany were not members. Thus, the overwhelming "community of power" that Wilson originally had in mind for use against an aggressor was reduced to three nations--Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The other League members did not have enough power to affect Italian policy. Even so, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union would have been able to stop the Italian attack, if they had been united and determined to do so.

However, Britain and France were not willing to use force or to employ measures that might risk war. They failed to use strong economic measures, such as an oil embargo, which would have seriously hurt the Italian war effort. By May 1936, Italy had conquered Ethiopia. The League canceled its sanctions in July.

The French and British shared responsibility for the League's failure during the Ethiopian crisis. France feared that strong League action might lead Italy to join Germany in an anti-French alliance. The British feared that Italy might attack the British-controlled Suez Canal or even launch air strikes against English cities. Neither government was prepared to face such risks. The Ethiopian case completely discredited the League as an instrument to keep peace.

Contributor: Gary B. Ostrower, Ph.D., Professor of History, Alfred University.

The Members of League of Nations

The following nations were the original members of the League. Many other nations joined later, and many withdrew from the League before it was disbanded in April 1946.

  1. Argentina
  2. Australia
  3. Belgium
  4. Bolivia
  5. Brazil
  6. Britain
  7. Canada
  8. Chile
  9. China
  10. Colombia
  11. Cuba
  12. Czechoslovakia
  13. Denmark
  14. El Salvador
  15. France
  16. Greece
  17. Guatemala
  18. Haiti
  19. Honduras
  20. India
  21. Iran
  22. Italy
  23. Japan
  24. Liberia
  25. Netherlands
  26. New Zealand
  27. Nicaragua
  28. Norway
  29. Panama
  30. Paraguay
  31. Peru
  32. Poland
  33. Portugal
  34. Romania
  35. South Africa
  36. Spain
  37. Sweden
  38. Switzerland
  39. Thailand
  40. Uruguay
  41. Venezuela
  42. Yugoslavia


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