The League of Nations

The League of Nations, which was set up in the aftermath of the First World war, brought forward a new positivity for not just Europe but the whole world. It was set up with the aims of peacemaking through international co-operation and collective security. Though the intentions of the League were meaningful and seemingly good-willed, the concept of all nations acting in a co-operative manner was way too far-fetched with its idealism of international peace when, in reality, the lucky few countries who were in the permanent council of the league held all responsibility and power. This amalgamated with the Great Depression which forced countries into giving up any care they had for collective security in hope of finding national stability and confidence.
The Great Depression was an enormous factor in the failures of the League. After the 1930s, the League say a huge decline in the number of successes they had versus the number of failures. The Great Depression, for the most part, caused the demise of collective security and allowed for the rise of nationalist, fascist extremists. This viewpoint is taken by Overy who states that the Great Depression is to blame after the success of the Locarno Era. This is shown during the Abyssinian crisis of 1935 was caused as Italy, who were one of the less affected countries by the Depression, felt they would be able to get away with pursuing colonial interests in Abyssinia but Britain and France acted more harshly as it was too close for comfort to their own colonies. The issue came when Italy exploited the fact that, if they walked out of the League then Britain and France didn’t have much power to anything about it. Although it did not happen in Europe, the Manchurian crisis did affect Europe as it demonstrated big weaknesses of the League to take much action against Japan, which arguably showed Italy that they could get away with their invasion of Abyssinia, and although they gave the fa├žade that they were to take action created by the Litton report, there was never any real intention to take effective action against Japan. To contradict this, however, the Corfu incident occurred in 1923, before the Great Depression, showing that there must have been some other factors were at play, however, this was an isolated incident and Italy were part of the council so took higher priority over smaller, less developed nations.
Another possible reason for the failures of the League was the self-interest of the most powerful nations in it: Britain and France as well as Italy and Japan to a certain extent. Furthermore, the absence of the US, the world’s main superpower, in the League meant that many of the embargo’s that the league could put in place were simply undermined by the US. The self-interest of the powerful nations is seen when Japan had trade agreements with the US meaning that, during the Manchurian crisis and trade sanctions taken upon Japan had little or no effect. This demonstrates self-interest which is particularly noticeable of Britain who were more concerned that the USSR would spread, with communism, into Manchuria as the two were next to each other, and by having Japan occupying Manchuria, would come more military soundness as Japan were a more militarised country. Self-interest is also shown with Italy who, being part of the council, got away with both the Corfu Incident and the Abyssinian Crisis as they just used their power within the league to ensure they were able to do so. This shows the lack of ability due to self-interest as, by this point, Britain and France were more scared of the prospect of Germany remilitarising and thus the Stresa Front was set up. Marks agreed with this viewpoint, stating that nations only wanted to gain power for themselves, not peace. This point, however does have a flaw in that most of the self-interest seen was after the Great Depression, suggesting that the Depression was a more important factor at play in the failures of the League, and why it was successful in the 1920s.
The League was effective, however, when dealing with smaller disputes between smaller, less powerful and often new countries due to sanctions being more of a threat to them as they did not have as much that they could afford to lose as the bigger powers. This is shown as tensions between Poland and Lithuania, Finland and Sweden as well as Germany and Poland were all examples of there the League was successful in calming down tensions, but all of these were smaller powers with much less influence. This being said, however, the successes are far outweighed by the number and scale of the failures which eventually led to the Second World War.
To conclude, the failures which were seen by the league were caused mostly by the Great Depression which boosted self-interest of individual nations into not dealing with extreme crises which were unfolding worldwide. The absence of the US was another major flaw with the league of nations. The few small successes that the League experienced are also another show that the Great Depression was the main issue as all of the successes occurred during the 1920s, before the depression.