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Why did the League of Nations fail?

The League of Nations was set up following the treaty of Versailles. It was a conglomerate of international governments which set its primary
goal as preventing war via means such as collective security, disarmament and negotiation.

In 1931, soldiers of the Japanese army stationed on the South Manchurian Railway lightly damaged the rails, but accused the Chinese of
sabotaging it; the Japanese military retaliated by occupying the entire region of Manchuria. Japan was at that time led by a militaristic
dictatorship, which sought to create a Japanese empire. The world was also suffering a depression at the time, so another motive would have
been to seize any resources in the province.

The government of China appealed to the League. The team which the League sent to assess the situation was delayed by the long voyage. This
time allowed the Japanese to assert their foothold in the region. Nearly a year later, the compiled Lytton report claimed that that Japanese were
the aggressors and had unlawfully invaded Chinese territory. The League demanded that the Japanese return Manchuria over to the Chinese.
Instead of withdrawing its troops, the Japanese withdrew its membership from the league.

According to the League’s covenant, economic sanctions should have been imposed on Japan and, if they persisted, an army raised to reclaim
the territory. Economic sanctions would have been ineffective as Japan could have simply turned their trading focus to the United States, which
was not a member of the League. Major powers such as Britain and France were too preoccupied with their own interests to afford raising an
army and sending it across the ocean to fight a war they were not directly involved with. This demonstrates two key factors in the failure of the
League. Firstly, if the USA was a member of the league, trading sanctions would have been effective and the threat of military action would
have been far greater, especially as America was just across the sea from Japan. Secondly, it showed how the most influential members of the
League were too selfish to fully commit to the League’s interest. Without the major powers setting an example, it is no wonder the League
failed its duty.

The League was again tested by another military dictator in the form of Benito Mussolini. In 1896, Italy had suffered an embarrassing defeat at
the hands of the Abyssinians, who were far less well equipped than the Italians. Mussolini also shared imperialistic aspirations with Japan; he
wished to restore the Roman Empire. Abyssinia’s fertile lands and rich mineral wealth would have made a prized colony. There was a small
dispute between Italian and Abyssinian soldiers which Mussolini seized as his apparent motive for invading. The league condemned Italy and
imposed some sanctions after two months; however oil sanctions were not completely committed to, which allowed Italy to function almost
without change. The sanctions cost an estimated 30,000 British coal miners their jobs. If you remember that the world was currently suffering
from an economic depression, you can sympathize with the unwillingness to impose further sanctions.

The major powers were worried that if they used force to suppress his invasion, it would cause Mussolini to lean towards the likes of Hitler for
an ally. In order to prevent this, the League did not raise an army. In fact, the British foreign secretary and the French prime minister hatched a
plan in secret, the Hoare-Laval Pact, guaranteeing Mussolini two-thirds of Abyssinia only. This was made without the knowledge of the
Ethiopian Emperor and it demonstrates how the French and British were prepared to appease his aggression out of fear.

The British also controlled the Egyptian Suez Canal, which the Italians used as a route from the Mediterranean down to the Abyssinian coast
for supplies and reinforcements. If this had simply been closed to the Italians, they may have been forced to abandon their invasion. But for the
same reasons as stated above, the British did not do so because they wanted Mussolini to be on their side against Hitler.

The new chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, had seen how the League had failed to take any effective action against the Japanese or Italians
and sought to test the limits. Hitler was seeing how the French were constructing the Maginot Line – a colossal line of defensive measures
stretching across the Franco-German boundary – even though the League was aiming for disarmament. Under the Treaty of Versailles,
Germany was not allowed to maintain an army in excess of 100,000 soldiers and was forbidden to possess armored vehicles, including tanks.
Despite this, Hitler had secretly been rearming Germany for years. Eventually, he openly paraded his army; the League did not act.

In fact, in an attempt to appease Hitler, the British signed the Anglo-German naval agreement with Hitler, allowing him to enlarge his navy
from six battle ships to 35% of the Royal Navy. Due to the fact that the two major powers of the league were accepting the rearmament of each
other and Germany, the Disarmament Commission failed its purpose.

A core reason that the League failed was because of France and Britain’s selfish attitude concerning all key conflicts; another is the way in
which they appeased Mussolini in fears of an Italian-German alliance, allowing him almost free-reign. However, the League undoubtedly failed
in its principal mission of preventing war because of the United State’s refusal to join the league. This severely damaged the League’s
effectiveness in economic sanctions and military strength, making it incapable of implementing its threats.

Joe Marris

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