The failure of 'Collective Security'


Structure of the League of Nations

  • The Assembly met annually and its functions included admitting new members, elections of the Council, and control of the budget.
  • The Council had permanent members and non-permanent members that made decisions.
  • The International Labour Organisation was the advisory body on social and economic justice.
  • The Permanent Course of Justice dealt with disputes among member states.
  • The Secretariat had administrative duties and prepared reports.

Collective security and the League of Nations

  • The principle of collective security was the idea that peace could be preserved by countries acting "collectively" together.
  • If a conflict could not find a resolution, moral pressure and economic sanctions were imposed on the aggressor.

The Covenant of the League of Nations

  • The Covenant aimed to promote disarmament, and supervised the mandated territories.
  • It also promoted international good will and cooperation through various organisations dedicated to social and economic development.
  • Articles 8–17 were concerned with the prevention of war and collective security.

Dealing with international disputes

  • Member states would either consult the Permanent Court of International Justice, use attribution, or request an investigation or enquiry by the Council.
  • In the aftermath of World War I, in the economic blockade of Germany had been effective, the economic weapon appeared most potent.
  • However, the League lacked military teeth that France had desired.

Problems for the League of Nations in the 1920s


Changing membership of the League

  • The constant change of membership reflected the Leagues priorities in its leading members.
  • The League became polarised following the Wall Street Crash and ensuing Great Depression.
  • When right-wing governments came to power, the League became aggressive.

Absence of major powers

  • The USA, which had conjugated the idea of the League, was missing, and sank into isolation, which would have given the League's economic sanctions real weight.
  • This removed the appearance of a 'worldwide' organisation.
  • Its permanent members, except Japan, were distinctly European.

Absence of the USSR

  • The USSR was excluded from the League as it was regarded a 'piriah state'.
  • The USSR perceived the League as a 'club for capitalists', an organisation to protect and promote their interests and empires.
  • Lenin viewed the League as "a robber's den to safeguard the unjust spoils of Versailles".

Absence of Germany

  • Germany's exclusion undermined the idea of the League, and suggested that it was a 'victors' club for permanent members.
  • Germany had been militarily defeated in the west, but not the west, and it was until 1926 still a powerful and strong nation.
  • Its inclusion was actually vital as it could be used to rework the Treaty of Versailles within the League.
  • Only 1926, following the wave of optimism in the Locarno Spring, did Germany have an opportunity to begin reversing the Treaty.

Weakness of Central European states

  • The smaller states that replace the Austro-Hungarian empire would require far more nurture than larger states that would be able to supply tangible support when required.

How successful was the League of Nations in the 1920s?


Peacemaking 1920–25

  • Aaland, 1920 was a success as the decisions made by the League were adopted by the Swedes and Finland.
  • Vilna, 1920–23 was a partial success as, though the Conference of Ambassadors awarded Vilna to Poland, the League was unable to prevent Poles from seizing and retaining it by force.
  • Upper Silesia, 1921 was a success as the League was able to divide Upper Silesia between Germany and Poland.
  • Corfu, 1932 was a failure as Mussolini blamed Greece initially, ordered compensation and occupied Cofru, and ignored orders to lay back by the League.
  • Mosul, 1924 was a success as the Leagues consideration of the claimed land by Turkey and Iraq to award the land to Iraq was accepted.
  • Following the Corfu Incident, Bulgaria, 1925 was a success as an investigation by the League blamed Greece for starting a dispute and ordered to pay damages, which was accepted.
  • P. M. H. Bell argues that though the League was not able to solve all disputes successfully, what was important was that the League offered a forum for the conduct of international affairs.
  • Bell goes on to say that once Germany was admitted in 1926, the League was no longer a 'League of victors'.

Attempts to strengthen the League

  • Initiated by France, a Draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance suggested the assistance of a victim of aggression - member states would provide their army.
  • Again, France suggested in the Geneva Protocol, 1924 that arbitration was compulsory in all disputes.
  • All attempts were nullified by Britain, its Dominions, and the Scandinavian powers who indicated it required a lot of commitment.
  • The League was divided by those who wanted a strong League and those who wanted to be more selective.
  • These differences are highlighted in the Ruhr Crisis.

The Ruhr Crisis (1923)

  • France began to feel as though the Treaty of Versailles was being undermined and so the France, who desperately required the reparation payments, sought to secure the payments with the Wiesbaden Accords in October 1921, whereby they took a proportion of raw materials from the Ruhr.
  • When payments had fallen into arrears, with support from Belgium and Italy, France sent troops to the Ruhr to take the materials owed by force.
  • The German government still had to pay its striking workers, and so printed more money, thereby causing hyperinflation.
  • The French retaliated the 'passive resistance' and in 1924, Gustav Stresemann called an end to it, and initiated the Dawes Plan.
  • The plan mortgaged its main railway and various German industries in order to receive a load from the US to pay France.
  • Repayments were reduced.
  • Though it was not in France's best interest, it accepted as it brought the US into the picture; and this age became the 'golden age of reparations'.
  • This is an example of a failure of the League, as France had acted on its own initiative and interest, forcing payments and undermining the League's credibility.
  • France had alarmed its allies, and heightened the sense of patriotism within Germany.

The Rapallo Treaty

  • April 1922, Germany and Russia signed the Rapallo Treaty that pledged future cooperation.
  • Germany recognised the Soviet government.
  • The military cooperation would now take place secretly, and Germany was to rearm and train soldiers in Russia.
  • Britain wanted to win over Germany rather than alienate her.

The Locarno era

  • The political situation improved after the following plans.
  • It should be noted that these agreements took place outside of the League of Nations.

The Locarno Conference and the 'Locarno spirit' (1925)

  • 'Stresemann wanted to rid Germany of the 'occupying forces' in the Rhineland dictated by the Treaty of Versailles; he did so by proposed a voluntary German guarantee of its western borders.
  • This resolved claims over Alsace-Lorraine and reassured France would not be invaded again.
  • Germany signed treaties with Czechoslovakia and Poland to guarantee its eastern borders by arbitration.
  • The Locarno Pact seemed to bod well for the future of collective security, and the new mood was dubbed "the Locarno spirit".
  • Italy was unable to get similar guarantees over its southern border.
  • France had changed its strategy for containing Germany.
  • Locarno had undermined both the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations.

The Young Plan (1929)

  • Further reduced the total sum to be repaid by Germany.
  • Set a date for completion of repayments, 1988.
  • Continued US involvement in reparation payments.
  • John Maynard Keynes noted in 1926 that the foundations of both the Dawes and Young Plan was foreign money recovering European countries; "in the hands of American capitalists."

Kellogg–Briand Pact (1928)

  • The pact renounced 'war as an instrument of national policy'.
  • Its declaration, seen as important, would pursue objectives through peaceful means.
  • Considered the high of 'Locarno Spirit'.
  • It can be argued that there was no major conflict in the 1920s because the main revisions power, Germany, was still recovering.
  • P. M. H. Bell wrote that "Europe had survived, but it was still on the sick list".

Why did collective security fail in the 1930s


The Depression

  • The worldwide economic depression followed the Wall Street Crash in October 1929.
  • The USA had become a globally dominant power, and thus the world was ominously linked to its fortunes.
  • The impact of the crash had economic, social and ultimately political consequences, that returned the world's nations to self-interest dominated states.
  • The stability in Europe nurtured by capitalist American resources had collapsed.
  • Poverty and despair was abundant, governments became fragile and extreme political groups emerged.
  • The depression heightened fears of the USSR's communist revolution into impoverished working class European cities.
  • The League's weapon of economic sanctions was now useless as nations would now only want to protect their own interest.
  • Alliances and secret agreements outside of the League reemerged; old-style diplomacy was back.

The Manchurian Crisis

  • Japan, Asia's greatest industrial and trading power, was greatly affected by the world depression.
  • The USA was attempting to increase its influence in the Pacific, and would be concerned with any 'aggressive' expansionism there.
  • In September 1931, the Kwantung Army claimed a bomb explosion near the town of Mukdem, a Chinese province, was evidence of growing disorder. Japan invaded.
  • China appealed to the League, and this incident was exactly the type that 'collective security' was to contain.
  • The League condemned Japan's actions and ordered a withdrawal of Japanese troops. The Japanese government agreed, however, its army refused (This exposed Japan's control over its military).
  • The League commission took more than a year to report, by which time the invasion and occupation was complete.
  • The League asked Japan to return the land to China, and in response, Japan left the League, and claimed that the condemnation of their actions in China was hypocrisy by powers such as Britain, which had a long legacy of using force to achieve its objectives in China.

Why did the League fail to resolve the Manchurian Crisis?

  • Member states were unwilling to apply economic sanctions, however, it was the USA which had the strongest trading links with Japan.
  • Imposing a military solution was problematic in that Manchuria was geographically remote, and only Britain and the USA could access it.
  • France and Italy were too occupied by the events in Europe.
  • Japan was openly condemned, however privately, a sympathetic view was taken as Japan was struggling economically.

What was the impact of the Manchurian Crisis on the League of Nations?

  • China had appealed to the League for help in the face of an aggressor, however, they received no support, neither militarily or economically (sanctions on Japan).
  • Richard Overy points out that by leaving the League, Japan had 'effectively removed the Fear East from the system of collective security'.

What was the impact of the Manchurian Crisis on the growth of Japanese militarism?

  • Historians, such as Richard Overy, saw the Manchurian Crisis as the start of militarism within Japan.
  • Others, such as Sandra Wilson argue otherwise, and that Japan could have continued to work cooperatively and diplomatically with Britain and the USA.

The Abyssinian Crisis (1935)

  • Mussolini had a long-term ambition of securing a North-African empire, but also needed to distract his people from the impact of the Depression.
  • Conquering Abyssinia would link two Italian African territories, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland.
  • A full scale invasion occurred on October 1935, and Mussolini thought that the League would not respond and that Britain and France would protest.
  • Italy's invasion was condemned and the League decided to employ an escalating program of sanctions.
  • In fear of losing Italy to Nazi Germany, French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval and British Foreign Minister Samueal Hoare secretly rekindled a plan, known as the Hoare-Laval Pact, to allow Italy to control trwo-thirds of Abyssinia.
  • The pro-League British public heard news of the pact and both Hoare lost his job.
  • The League's sanctions were so diluted that they had little impact on the Italian war effort, and no embargo on oil was place.
  • Britain refused to close the Suez Canal to Italian shipping.

What were the effects of the Abyssinian Crisis on the League of Nations?

  • The crisis had revealed (much like the Manchurian Crisis) that the League's powers were not prepared to stand up to other major members if their interests were not threatened.
  • Italy was isolated from its former allies, and moved closer to Nazi Germany.
  • The League's ultimate weakness was ready for Hitler to exploit.
  • The League could not longer exert any authority.
  • The Abyssinian Crisis was the 'final nail in the coffin' for the League, it was simply symbolic of an idea that had failed.
  • The idea was clearly incompatible with the old-style militaristic alliances and modern expansionist ideologies.

The failure of disarmament


The Washington Conference (1921–22)

  • After World War I, Britain, the USA, and Japan continued to build up their navies.
  • The Five Power Treaty, including France and Italy, set a naval tonnage limit of around 500 thousand tonnes.
  • The agreement would involve destroying battleships and preventing construction of new ones.
  • The conference was successful in limiting naval armament and was seen as an example of how moves could be made towards disarmament.

The London Naval Conference (1930)

  • Revised the agreements made at the Washington Conference.
  • With the Great Depression taking hold, the major powers began further limiting their defenses.

The London Naval Treaty (1936)

  • Japan no longer wished to limit its naval tonnage and be inferior to USA and Britain, and left the conference.
  • All disarmament became meaningless given the rearmament of both Germany and Japan.

The Geneva Disarmament Conference (1932–34)

  • Organised by the League of Nations.
  • Upon the preparations of this conference, disagreements still occurred regarding the armament limitations.
  • If the League members failed to bring about a substantial disarmament, Germany would demand the right to rearm.
  • Germany demanded 'equality of status', but this aspiration clashed with French security; if Germany was equal, France would not be secure, and if France was secure, Germany could not be equal.

Why did the League fail to achieve disarmament?

  • The economic instablity of the 1930s following the Depression caused nations to concentrate on their own problems first rather than work for collective security.
  • Some countries used rearmament as a way of providing employment and thus helping their economies.
  • The new communist regime in Russia, the fragility of new states in Central Europe, and a discontented Germany made many states reluctant to limit their arms.
  • Japan's invasion of Manchuria undermined the idea of collective security and meant that nations with interests in Asia-Pacific region were unlikely to welcome disarmament suggestions.

Hitler's War