The failure of the League of Nations was not due, in whole or in part, to its serving only British and French interests. Rather, it can be seen that the League was essentially misconceived, and it was burdened with a machinery and a world order which could not live up to its idealistic mission. It is clear that the League was in essence an optimistic project, not equipped to deal with the change described by James Joll in his Europe Since 1870; David Thompson agrees with this assessment, and highlights the point at which ‘the assumptions [of the League] were disappointed’, where ‘there remained no cohesive force’ in order to effect its objectives, in his book Europe Since Napoleon. If anything, as Joll suggests, the League over-depended on Britain and France, therefore alienating the only two member states capable of acting with enough authority to rescue the League from the volatile and revisionist powers of the 1930s. Continue reading
Tag Archives: League of Nations
Was the League of Nations Undermined Mainly by Its Own Constitution?
The League of Nations was certainly undermined by the inherent faults of its constitution; this was the product of a particularly idealistic period of history, in which the notion of a supra-national body was a conception ultimately unable to keep up with the Great Depression and the rapacious revisionist powers of the 1930s. This idealism was also seen in the assumptions made in the League’s creation – seen for example in the likelihood of US membership, as well as the motivations and intentions of Britain and France, both of which did not take kindly to becoming de facto world policemen. It is also clear that matters relating to the Covenant and the nature of League machinery predominate in calculations of the failure of those years. The interpretations and arguments presented stem fundamentally from the way the League was constructed and built; this greatly undermined the League, leading to its eventual failure and the collapse of international order. Continue reading
Past and Present: Writing About the Collapse of International Order
Yesterday I published an essay which attempted to examine the failure of the League of Nations and the terrible consequences of that event. The subject itself is raw; it is not distinct – and cannot be made distinct – from the suffering of the First World War and the horrors contained within (and exacerbated by) the terrible conflagration which followed that fragile peace. Sally Marks refers to the geopolitical situation of the entire period in particularly visceral terms; it was, at least for her, an ‘illusion of peace’. As I have written before, there is a great deal of emotion invested in history. For some, the possessive is always justified – and used – in discussion of the past. It is ‘our’ history, ‘my’ story, ‘your’ heritage. This may be a rather nebulous linguistic point, but it does at least betray a kind of attachment – a deep and elemental attachment, one too complex to describe as glibly as I have just done – to the past which can transcend the quotidian and inspire people to relive old anxieties, fight old battles once again, and (to paraphrase Howard Jacobson) stand haughty upon the honour of their predecessors to demand satisfaction for some ancestral qualm or quarrel. Continue reading
Did the League of Nations Fail Because of American Isolationism?
While the League of Nations was undermined from the outset by the absence of the United States – it was the supposed ‘keystone’ in the arch, according to Punch – this was not the proximate reason for its failure during the interwar period. Rather, it appears that the League was undermined by the selfish actions of Britain and France, as well as the problems of its own creation; it appears that the idea of a supra-national body on this scale was a unique product of the post-war climate, and was therefore misconceived and ill-suited to the rise of fascism in Italy, militarism in Japan and Nazism in Germany. Continue reading
Blessed are the Peacemakers? Review – Peacemakers (2001) by Margaret MacMillan
In many ways the Paris Peace Conference which followed the First World War represented a moment unlike any other in history. For less than a year, the leaders of victorious nations – many of which were also crippled by the conflict – came together to determine the fate of the defeated. These statesmen also acted, for a short but intense period, as what was in effect a world government, a situation entirely without precedent (as Margaret MacMillan notes in her compelling Introduction). But more than that, the Peace Conference was also the world’s ‘court of appeal and parliament, the focus of its fears and hopes’. It represented not just the prospect of a settlement of the most cataclysmic conflict the globe had ever seen; it represented the hope of a better world. Whether the peace treaties which were issued from this conference were vicious or short sighted (questions I have attempted to answer elsewhere) is superficially enough to convict or commend the peacemakers; but when trying really to understand them – their motivations and dreams and desires – and what made them act as they did, an altogether more holistic frame of reference is required. Continue reading
Were the Post-War Peace Treaties of 1919-1922 Vicious and Short-Sighted?
The peace treaties signed at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference were certainly short-sighted, but they were not vicious, for while they did reduce nations such as Germany and Austria to dire economic situations, and fostered political climates which were counter to the interests of peace, they did so without the desire to cripple these countries; on the contrary, as evidenced by Lloyd George’s Fontainebleau memorandum, the victors wanted their former enemies to thrive and to serve as future trading partners. In matters economic, territorial and in the manner of the treaties themselves, too, the treaties were short-sighted but not vicious. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, however, was both vicious and short-sighted, compelling as it did the rebellion of Ataturk and the national crises which struck Turkey in the aftermath of its signing. But this itself serves to demonstrate how the Paris peace treaties were not vicious, for they did not resemble Sèvres in severity. Continue reading