Goals of the League of NationsWorld War I (1914-1918) had caused the deaths of at least 10 million soldiers and millions of civilians. The Allied victors of the war wanted to form an international organization that would prevent another horrific war. American President Woodrow Wilson was especially instrumental in formulating and advocating the idea of a "League of Nations". The League arbitrated disputes between member countries in order to peacefully preserve sovereignty and territorial rights. The League encouraged countries to reduce their amount of military weapons. Any country that resorted to war would be subject to economic sanctions such as a halt to trade.
Geography of the League of NationsThe League of Nations was founded in 1920 by forty-two countries. At its height in 1934 and 1935, the League had 58 member countries. The member countries of the League of Nations spanned the globe and included most of Southeast Asia, Europe, and South America. At the time of the League of Nations, nearly all of Africa consisted of colonies of Western powers. The United States never joined the League of Nations because the largely isolationist Senate refused to ratify the League's charter.
The official languages of the League were English, French, and Spanish.
Structure of the League of NaitonsThe League of Nations was administrated by three main bodies. The Assembly, composed of representatives from all member countries, met annually and discussed the priorities and budget of the organization. The Council was composed of four permanent members (Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan) and several non-permanent members who were elected by the permanent members every three years. The Secretariat, led by a Secretary-General, monitored many of the humanitarian agencies described below.
Political Success of the League of NationsThe League of Nations was successful in preventing several small wars. The League negotiated settlements to territorial disputes between Sweden and Finland, Poland and Lithuania, and Greece and Bulgaria. The League of Nations also successfully administered the former colonies of Germany and the Ottoman Empire, including Syria, Nauru, and Togoland, until they were ready for independence.
Humanitarian Success of the League of NationsThe League of Nations was one of the world's first humanitarian organizations. The League created and directed several agencies that were meant to improve the living conditions of the world's people.
- aided refugees
- tried to end slavery and the drug trade
- set standards on working conditions
- constructed better transportation and communications networks
- gave financial assistance and advice to some member countries
- administered the Permanent Court of International Justice (precursor to today's International Court of Justice)
- tried to prevent malnutrition and diseases such as leprosy and malaria (precursor to today's World Health Organization)
- promoted culture preservation and scientific advancement (precursor to today's UNESCO).
Political Failures of the League of NationsThe League of Nations was unable to enforce many of its own regulations because it did not have a military. The League did not stop several of the most significant events that led to World War II. Examples of League of Nations failures include:
- The 1935 invasion of Ethiopia by Italy
- The annexation of the Sudetenland and Austria by Germany
- The invasion of Manchuria (the northeastern Chinese province) by Japan in 1932