Organisation of the League of Nations

The aims and organisation of the League

The League had four main aims:

  1. Stop Aggression

  2. Improve living and working conditions

  3. Disarmament

  4. Enforce the Treaty of Versailles

The League had eight important organisations/commissions/groups:

  1. Mandates Commission- made up of teams of expert advisors who report on how people in mandates are being treated and ensure that Britain and France act in the people's interests

  2. Refugees Committee- help refugees

  3. Slavery Commission- abolish slavery and help slaves and workers who are treated like slaves

  4. Court of International Justice- made up of judges from member countries who settle disputes between countries peacefully, and if asked, decide on border disputes. However, they had no way of ensuring that countries followed their rulings.

  5. Health Committee- they brought experts together to collect health statistics, spread new ideas and deal with dangerous diseases and educate people on health and sanitation.

  6. International Labour Organisation- improve the conditions of working people by speaking to employers, governments and worker's representatives

  7. Council- consists of the permanent members; UK, France, Italy and Japan who had the power of Veto and temporary members who were elected by the assembly for 3 year periods. They met about five times each year or in an emergency with the aim of resolving issues peacefully.

  8. Assembly- representatives of each country met to recommend actions for the council to take, such as admitting new members or agreeing the budget.

The League of Nations had an agreement under Article X of the League's covenant about collective security. This meant that by acting together and condemning aggression and defending the threatened country, war would be less likely.

Some ways this was done was by:

  • Moral condemnation- publicly criticising the actions of the country which was behaving aggressively towards another country

  • Economic sanctions- to stop trading with a country so that their economy suffers

The Weaknesses of the League

  1. The USA never joined the League. This was a weakness because they were the world's greatest economic and military force, so economic sanctions and the threat of military force would not work.

  2. Britain and France, who dominated the League's council, often disagreed with each other. This was a weakness as they often acted in their own interest rather than working together.

  3. The League's Assembly only met once a year and the decisions had to be unanimous, so decisions were made too slowly and it was often difficult to get all members to agree.

  4. The League had to uphold the Treaty of Versailles, but in the 1920s and 30s, many countries (including Britain) believed that the treaty was too harsh.

  5. The League lacked authority to speak to the whole world as important countries like the USA, USSR and Germany were not members, so economic sanctions would not work if these non-members continued to trade with members the league was trying to punish.

  6. The League did not have an army of its own, so there was no way of enforcing its decisions through military force. It had to rely on other countries to provide them with soldiers, but many were reluctant to.

  7. The permanent members of the League had the power of Veto, so they could use this to stop the League from taking action on the aggressor.

The successes and failures of the League

Successfully solved disputes:

  1. Weimar Germany and Poland- Both poles and Germans lived in upper silesia as it is on the border, and there were many steel factories. The League oversaw a peaceful vote and the region was divided between both countries.

  2. Sweden and Finland. - Both countries claimed that the Aaland lands were their territory. Sweden claimed it was theirs as 90% of the population was Swedish. Finland claimed it was theirs as it was geographically closer and belonged to Finland since independence in 1917. The League decided that the Aaland lands should belong to Finland and Sweden accepted the ruling.

  3. Bulgaria and Greece. - Bulgarian soldiers mistakenly killed some Greek soldiers and Greece invaded Bulgaria. The league demanded that both sides should stand down and Greek forces withdrew. Observers were sent to assess the situation and Greece was told to pay £45,000 in compensation. If the rulings were not followed, the League threatened to impose economic sanctions.

Unsuccessfully solved disputes:

  1. Poland and Lithuania.- A private Polish army took control of Vilna, the capital city of Lithuania. The League decided that Poland was the aggressor and they were told to withdraw. However, Poland refused and the British and French did not send troops to enforce the League's decision.

  2. Italy and Greece. While investigating a border dispute between Greece and Albania, an Italian General, Tellini, and his men were killed. Mussolini blamed the Greeks and ordered soldiers to occupy corfu until Greece apologised and paid compensation. The League condemned Italy as the aggressor and Mussolini refused to listen. Mussolini asked the Conference of Ambassadors to resolve the Corfu Crisis in 1923 and Britain and France gave into his demand to resolve the issue outside of the League.

Successful humanitarian work:

  1. The League improved working conditions by banning lead from paint and limiting the hours that small children were allowed to work.

  2. The League helped over 500,000 refugees and former prisoners of war to return home after the First World War by providing them with a 'Nansen Passport', which was the first internationally recognised identity card for stateless refugees. They also provided refugee camps and prevented diseases from spreading.

  3. The Health Committee funded research into developing vaccines for infectious diseases and carried out work to prevent the spread of disease.

  4. The League recommended marking international shipping lanes and produced an international highway code for road users.

  5. The League fairly governed former German territories during the 1920s.

  6. The League sent economic experts to Austria and Hungary to help them recover from the economic crisis caused by the First World War.

  7. The Slavery Commission organised raids against slave traders in Africa and Burma and around 200,000 were freed.

Unsuccessful humanitarian work:

  1. The League was unable to get members to agree to limit the sizes of their armed forces.

  2. The International Labour Organisation tried to persuade members to adopt a maximum 48 hour week, but only a few members adopted it.

  3. The League's commissions and committees lacked funds, so it was difficult for them to carry out their work.