Why Did the League of Nations Fail?

Table of Content

The main reasons that the League of Nations was originally set up was to prevent war, encourage disarmament and as a way to settle international disputes through negotiation and arbitration. As stated by Wilson, ‘This treaty is nothing less than an organization of liberty and mercy for the world’ (Foley 1969:129) The intentions of the League appealed to many countries, especially as they were still raw from the war and favourable towards pacifism.

With the benefit of hind-sight it is easy to criticise the actions taken which led to the eventual failure of the League, however it is of much importance to establish the significance of the concepts that they initially determined. It is also essential to understand the different ways in which the whole ideology of democratic peace is perceived by idealists and in contrast realists, in order to evaluate and grasp the fundamental organisation of the League and varying perspectives on it’s failure and on it’s formation.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Although the intentions were arguably credible to begin with, the numerous weaknesses which crippled the League from the very start were hugely detrimental to the impact and prestige of the League. The failure to join by the U. S. A, the refusal to join by communist Russia and Germany being prohibited from joining vastly undermined the authority and strength of the League. Furthermore, ‘the League of Nations was shattered by insoluble conflicts between the major imperialist powers’ (North, 2002) The inability of the main powers to come to decisions invalidated the organisation and contributed towards the deterioration of the League. It has become common to argue that the League system of collective security failed only because the powers lacked faith in the principle’ (Stromberg 1956:250-263)

However, other factors which were consequential in it’s breakdown were, the general structure of the League and poor organisation, the World Depression to a certain extent and the general lack of enthusiasm reflected by its member states. The most identifiable hinderance to the League was the failure to join by America. This was not only externally damaging to its credibility but also meant that they could not depend upon the support of the U. S. A, which was a very powerful and influential country. The exclusion of three of the most powerful nations effectively reduced the authority of the League and deminished the basic premise of ‘collective security. ‘ Additionally, ‘The United State’s failure to identify herself with the League (because it) undermined the one noteable attempt at collective action- the feeble endeavour to restrain Italy’s attack on Ethiopia’ (Twitchett 1971:34) The division of the major powers restricted the effectiveness and decreased the severity of any action that was taken by the League.

Continuously the League of Nations under the Covenant was restricted to a certain extent in the action it could take if a dispute amongst any coutries occurred. They did not have an army and therefore were limited militarily and forced to depend upon enforcing sanctions alone. The idealistic/Wilsonian view which was fiercely favourable towards pacifism and peace failed to recognise the realist perspective which acknowledges the ambition and selfishness of each state, and thus the inevitability that member states would likely be unenthusiastic about actually enforcing sanctions upon offending countries, if it would adversely effect themselves.

A prime example of the failure of imposing sanctions would be in the Manchurian crisis, where many countries placed more importance upon preserving their trading links with Japan than acting in accordance with the assembly of the League, which ruled that Japan must withdraw from China. Consequently, the fear of provoking another war and unwillingness to sacrifice trading links alluded to the League doing nothing, and substantially failing to settle the issue or gain the confidence of member nations.

The organisation of the League itself failed once again to recognise that member nations would be unwilling to a certain extent to allow their fate to be determined by other countries. The idealist view over looks the avariciousness and ambitiousness which is present in most developed countries and fails to realise that their aspiration to increase in strength would surpass the goal of collective security. Furthermore, the structure of the League was weak in that, in order for a decision to be made it had to be unanimously voted for by the entire assembly.

Thus, conclusive and effective action was slow and difficult. Continuously, ‘it is true that the Court does not have compulsory jurisdiction over all the members of the League, and that the great powers have refused to submit to such compulsory jurisdiction’ (Harriman 1927:138) The lack of authority held by the Court meant that it was of far greater difficulty to ensure fair and definite decisions. Harriman further states, ‘the duty of enforcing the Laws of the League is left to the individual members. Harriman 1927:139) This suggests that the great powers such as Great Britain and France, who recognisably dominated the council had higher positions of authority thus indicating the inequalities which existed throughout the entire organisation. Additionally, the position of neutrality often manifested itself as indecision and so the reputation of the League was damaged by it’s unwillingness to take firm action against offending countries. The apathetic attitudes demonstrated by Britain and France contributed towards the weakening of the League.

The way in which both countries prioritised their own personal interests above those of the League insinuates that they were disinterested by the whole premise of collective security, which ultimately undermines the purpose, and diminishes the whole point of the organisation. The 1923 invasion of the Ruhr by France is an example of the disregard for the League of Nations. By taking action without consulting the League suggests that France either did not trust them, or felt that they would be indifferent to her decision.

This indicates that one of the main members lacked faith in it, and thus hugely degrades the entire purpose of the League. The Abyssinian affair is possibly one of the most renowned failures of the League as the corruption and betrayal of certain countries completely disregarded the basic idea of collective security, which was the basis of the whole organisation of the League. In 1935 France, instead of acting against Italy in order to protect Abyssinia signed a treaty with Italy in exchange for protection against Germany.

With Abyssinia desperately seeking support from the League, the first feeble action they took was imposing a ban on arms sales which had a far worse effect on Abyssinia than on Italy. Although the League agreed that they should act in order to help Abyssinia, they failed to impose severe enough sanctions on Italy and furthermore the emergence of the Hoare-Laval pact showed the League to be corrupt. From this point the League’s prestige was hugely damaged, and the actions taken by Britain and France highlighted their unwillingness to sacrifice in order to achieve collective security.

The failure of Britain to close the Suez canal to Italy and the failure to impose sanctions which would have had a more severe impact correlates with the realist way of thinking which recognises the self interest of individual nations, even at the expense of others. After the Abyssinian affair, the League of Nations was largely dismissed as being ineffective. According to Dr. Peter Hough, ‘ The League was an irrelevance anyway, having failed to act against blatant acts of aggression by its member states on a number of ccaisions throughout the 1930’s (2004:32) In order to understand why the League of Nations failed it is vital to understand why it was set up to begin with, and to understand the realist and idealist ways of thinking. Although the League was, ‘established to maintain world peace, and spectacularly failed to do so’ (Pederson 2007:1-44) it did to begin with achieve some successes, for example in Upper Silesia and in Memel. However, when it was of importance the League generally failed to act efficiently.

I think it is important to recognise that the League of Nations was erected largely based on Wilsonian/idealist ideology, thus from the very beginning it failed to incorporate and predict that many of the goals of the League were too optimistic. Furthermore, the League was set up from the Treaty of Versailles and so it could be argued that the hostility and bad feelings which were felt towards the treaty were then reflected onto the League.

Thus meaning that regardless of the actions taken, the League was doomed from the very beginning as there was already a lack of faith and trust. Continuously, the Depression affected most countries and therefore had a detrimental effect on relations and so there was an increase in tension. This inevitably made the job of the League more difficult as it was a time of hardship and insecurity worldwide. I think that it has to be acknowledged that the basic premise of the League was certainly understandable, but it was far too idealistic and optimistic to succeed.

Cite this page

Why Did the League of Nations Fail?. (2017, Jan 29). Retrieved from


Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront