Challenges faced by the League of Nations

1 Conflict between Poland and Lithuania

The League of Nations is blamed for ratifying and accepting polish aggression against Lithuania. Conflict between Poland and Lithuania arose over possession of the city of Vilna. In 1920, Poland invaded and annexed Vilna yet it had been given to the custody of Lithuania. The league did not condemn or even try to settle the conflict but accepted the polish occupation. This was out right acceptance of aggression and militarism as opposed to dialogue in resolving conflicts.

2 Corfu incident

The League of Nations registered another setback over the Corfu incident. On Aug 1923, 4Italians (a driver, a general and two officers), were murdered by Greek bandits on Greek territory. Mussolini held Greece responsible and retaliated by bombarding and occupying the Greek Island of Corfu. Greece appealed to the league for arbitration but Mussolini refused to co-operate and the League instead ordered the Greeks to compensate Italy for the murders. It should be noted that Mussolini withdrew Italian troops only after securing a huge compensation of 50 million Lire from Greece. Thus, the league is accused for approving Mussolini's invasion of Greek territory and ratifying a huge compensation for the murder of the 4 Italians.

3. Conflict between Bolivia and Paraguay, 1928

The League of Nations failed to settle conflict between Bolivia and Paraguay. Armed conflict (war) between the states started in December 1928.The council of the League brought Bolivia and Paraguay to around table settlement but both states continued with the bloody conflict. The League of Nations imposed sanctions on both states but other members of the league declined (refused) to implement it. In March 1935, Paraguay resigned from the League of Nations and the league lost interest in the conflict. Thus, it's safe for one to conclude that the League of Nations failed to settle the armed conflict between Bolivia and Paraguay.

4. Japanese invasion of Manchuria, 1931

The League of Nations failed to restrain Japanese aggression on China and her eventual occupation of Manchuria. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria, a Chinese territory and renamed it Manchukuo. The league failed to take action against Japan and many members of the league were instead in support of Japan. Lord Lynton's (an Englishman). Commission condemned the invasion and recommended that Japan should withdraw her troops. The league accepted the report but failed to implement it. However, Japan rejected the report and withdrew from the league on May 1933 and the league did not take any action against her.

In 1930's more Japanese troops poured into Manchuria to pacify the area. It was only during the course of World War II that military action against Japan was taken, by which time the league had effectively ceased to exist.

5 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, 1935

The Italo-Ethiopian crisis was yet another event that portrayed the weakness of the League of Nations.

In1955, Italy using poisonous gas against civilians invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to avenge the 1896 defeat at the battle of Adowa. No serous action was taken against Italy and by 1936 she had conquered the whole of Ethiopia. Britain and France were more concerned with the need to preserve Italy's friendship than to defend an African country i.e. Ethiopia. This was because they themselves had conquered many parts of Africa in the second half of the 19th century. Although sanction was imposed on Italy, it proved ineffective in forcing Mussolini out of Ethiopia. Thus, the League of Nations failed to live to its expectation of defending small and weak nations against aggression by big and mighty powers.

6 Germany's Invasion of Rhine lands, March 1936

Germany's invasion of Rhine lands was an event that showed the failure of the League of Nations. On March 1936, Hitler invaded the Rhine lands, which threatened the security of France and Belgium. The invasion also violated the Versailles settlement of 1919 and the Locarno treaty of 1925 that had prohibited the presence of Germany troops on the demilitarized zones of Rhine lands. The league merely condemned

Germany but took no other punitive action against her. This was because the members of t!:; league were afraid of confronting German troops under Hitler's leadership.

7 The Spanish civil war, 1931-39

The Spanish civil war was an event that showed gross negligence and weakness of the League of Nations.

In 1931, the monarchical government of Spain was over thrown and replaced by a republican government.

General Franco picked up arms and led a co-ordinate rebellion against the republican government. From 1936- 1939, there was a bloody confrontation between General Franco's rebels supported by Italy and Germany against the Spanish republican government backed by Russia and mercenaries forces recruited from several European countries including Britain, USA and France. The League of Nations did nothing and was inactive over the bloody Spanish civil war. The league is therefore blamed for neither settling the conflict peacefully nor condemning and restraining Russia, Italy and Germany from participating in the civil war.

8 German Annexation of Austria, March 1938

The German annexation of Austria was yet another event that exposed the infectiveness/ weakness of the League of Nations. In March 1938, Hitler invaded and annexed Austria to Germany. Austria was made to live under German military occupation and Nazis were appointed rulers. This was an open violation of the Versailles treaty of 1919 that had forbidden the reunion of Austria and Germany. The League of Nations took no action against Hitler and German annexation of Austria. By keeping aloof, one can conclude that the League of Nations failed to preserve the Versailles settlement of 1919 for which it was formed.

9 German annexation of Sudetenland (Czechoslovakia), 1938

The League of Nations was also a failure over the German invasion and annexation of Czechoslovakia. In 1938, Hitler attacked Sudetenland (in Czechoslovakia) and in March 1939, he went ahead and merged the rest of Czechoslovakia with Germany. The League of Nations did not take any positive step to restrain German aggression against Czechoslovakia. Besides, the Munich conference delegates appeased Hitler by approving the German annexation, which was an open acceptance of aggression by one-sovereign state against another.

10 The German invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War

The German invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War were perfect testimonies that the League of Nations failed to bring a lasting peace in Europe. On 1st September 1939, German troops invaded Poland from all fronts and almost devastated the whole country. Britain and France gave Hitler an ultimatum to withdraw within 24 hours but Hitler objected. Consequently, Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3rd September 1939, which amplified the German- Polish conflict into the Second World War. As usual, the League of Nations did not restrain or condemn German aggression and the declaration of war by Britain and France (on Germany). It must be noted that, had the League of Nations been a strong and authoritarian organisation, Hitler would have feared to violate the territorial integrity and independence of Poland, which would have averted the outbreak of the Second World War.

11 Lack of a joint standing army

The League of Nations failed to establish a joint standing military force of its own to enforce its resolutions and maintain peace. Article 16 of the league constitution, which provided that member states should send troops when called upon was undermined by an amendment of 1923 that members were free to fight or not in a crisis situation. This explains why most members of the league e.g. Germany, Japan, Italy and Russia (by 1935) refused to send their troops to fight in crisis situations. Lack of a joint standing army reduced the league to the status of a "toothless backing bull dog" that relied on sanctions, which proved useless against aggressions. This encouraged a series of aggressions that climaxed into the German invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War. It also explains why the League became ineffective in countering/ handling the Nazis and fascist aggressions over Europe in the inter war period. It should be stressed that if the League of Nations had its own standing army, Hitler would have thought twice before invading Poland. Even when he could have invaded as he did, such an army would have been used to "push" him out of Poland, which could have averted the Second World War.

12 Failure to mobilize for collective security

The League of Nations failed to mobilize its members for collective security. Nations ignored the idea of collective security in preference to their own national security. The army (Collective) had national duties to execute and in times of need could prefer to serve their country other than global duties assigned by the League of Nations. Donald Kegan argues that; "Hitler's path was made easier by growing evidence that the league of nations was ineffective as a device for keeping peace and that collective security was a “myth” (The western Heritage, by Donald Kegan , P936). In other words, the failure of the League of Nations to mobilize members for collective security explains why there was no collective action against Hitler, which encouraged him to wage a series of aggression that led to the outbreak of the Second World War.

13 Poor organisation and system

The League of Nations was loosely organized with unclear and unstable membership. It was a laizez fair organisation with free entry and exit similar to co-operative society principle of "open and voluntary membership". There was no condition for membership and punishment for withdrawal of membership.

This explains why Germany, Japan, Italy and Russia easily joined the league in 1920's and all had withdrawn their membership by 1936. All these were possible because the League of Nations did not put strong conditions and measures against entry and exit of members.

14 Failure to involve United States of America Germany and Russia right from the siari

The absence of United States of America right from the start was a serious weakness of the League of Nations. The league failed to secure the membership of United State of America yet she was the world economic and military power who could have strengthened it. U S A had played a leading role in ending the First World War and the idea of the League of Nations came from her president, Woodraw Wilson.

Her absence denied the league of the active role of its architect / parent that was crucial for its success.

Besides, the league did not involve Russia and Germany right from the start merely because of suspicion.

Russia was initially isolated because of adopting communism through the revolution of 1917 and Germany because of her pre- 1914 arrogance and aggression. Although Russia and Germany were later admitted, their commitment was feeble/ weak and no wonder that they had all pulled out of the league by 1936. It must be noted that the absence of Russia from the start locked many eastern powers outside the League of Nations because of the strong influence Russia had over them after the 1917revolution in Russia.

15 Failure to avert economic depression

The League of Nations failed to promote economic co-operation in Europe, which contributed to the outbreak of economic depression. It failed to implement economic reforms necessary for free trade and that is why United State of America and other Nations pursued the policy of protectionism and economic nationalism. It also failed to address the loophole in the gold standard system that limited money supply yet production of most nations had increased. These weaknesses undermined international trade and diplomatic relations between European powers leaving nations flooded with surplus products in narrow domestic market leading the great depression of 1929- 1935.

16 Failure to control re-armament

The League of Nations failed to control re- armament in the inter- war period. The disarmament commission failed to implement universal disarmament and concentrated only on Germany. As the commission disarmed Germany, others like Britain, France and Russia were re-arming themselves to the teeth in violation of the Versailles treaty of 1919. Germany insisted that the allied powers should also disarm and France took it jokingly. Her attitude was "security firsts disarmament after words," However, Hitler's attitude was that. "Because other powers had not disarmed as they had promised, it was wrong to keep Germany helpless" He concluded that; re-armament was the only road to power and national achievement". Consequently, Hitler withdrew Germany from the disarmament conference of Geneva in 1932, the League of Nations in 1934, re-instated conscription and embarked on massive rearmament that revived arms race.

17Inadequate funding

The League of Nations had weak financial base. Very few member states co- operated in funding the activities of the league. It therefore survived on the good will of its members and had no money of its own. The League of Nations therefore had insufficient money to finance its activities and implement its resolutions that made it to fail.

18 Failure to maintain unity

The League of Nations failed to maintain unity in the inter- war period. Selfish interest, mistrust, suspicion

and the spirit of revenge led to the formation of rival political groups and organizations for example, the Balkan pact of March 1934 v/as signed between Romania, Greece and Turkey against imperial interest of the big powers in the Balkans. Britain, United States of America, France and Russia formed the democratic alliance against the axis alliance of Germany, Italy and Japan. The formation of such alliances and counter alliances divided Europe into two hostile and antagonistic camps that led to the outbreak of the Second World War. Thus, one can blame the re-emergence of alliance system in the inter- war period led to the failure of League of Nations to maintain unity in Europe.

19 Failure of mandate system

Lastly, the mandate commission of the League of Nations was not totally successful. France encountered a lot of resistance in Syria due to her poor administration and policies against the Syrians. Britain's mandate and rule in Palestine completely failed to reconcile Arabs and Jews over the establishment of a Jewish national home. The 1930 investigation report of the mandate commission exposed the failure of Britain to settle conflicts between the Jews and Arabs over the "wailing wall" that was part of Solomon's temple of worship. Consequently, Britain surrendered her mandate over Iraq. There was also bitter resistance in the German territories in Africa e.g. Tanganyika, Namibia, Togo and Cameroon that were mandated to Britain, France and the republic of South Africa. Germany opposed surrendering her former colonies to the commission as a way of depriving her of her possession / territories.