The Failure of the League of Nations
After the end of the Word War 1, it was evident that a failure in the international balance of power could have catastrophic consequences. As such, international leaders conceived and actualized the idea of a global body that would check the international balance with a view to preventing a repeat of another world war. The result of such cooperation was the League of Nations, a global body formed with the goal of maintaining peace and order in the world. However, the League of Nations, which comprised superpowers such as Britain, France, and Germany, failed to maintain world order and prevent another world war. Several factors deprived the capacity of the League to quell the impending Second World War. In this paper, I will argue that the League of Nations failed to prevent another war because the superpowers along with other member countries were focused on their national interest, yet ignored a collective global interest that has a benefit for all. This research established that the league was a victim of power politics, members were not loyal to the League, it lacked its own troops and an army to enforce its regulations, existence of bad blood among some European nations, and defiance of nations such as Germany, Italy, and Japan. Failure of the US to join the league was also a major setback.
In light of the realities that emerged following the First World War regarding the serious consequences of disrupting the global power system, the nations of the world came up with the idea of collective security. Collective security can be described as a concept that would be used to act jointly, with a view to countering or preventing an attack aimed at disrupting the existing international peace and order (Ebegbulem 2011, 23). As such, the collective security envisioned the development and application of collective measure that would be used to deal with threats to global peace. The collective security relied heavily on the commitment of the nations of the world. During the period following the end of the First World War, the League of Nations was the body, which was tasked with the role of implementing collective security concept, by uniting nations to implement it. Under the League of Nations, the concept failed terribly. In addition, some nations feared that the collective strength of the League would possibly work against their national interests.
Failure of the United States to join the League dealt a big blow to the League of Nations. Although Woodrow Wilson advocated the push for its formation, he did not receive support from the US congress and the senate(U.S. Department of of State, 2010). First, the Monroe Doctrine barred the US from involvement in the affairs of Europe (Jefferson, 1999). By the terms of the treaty of Versailles that ratified the formation of the League, any emergency of war in European nations would compel the US to send its troupes through the League of Nations. Such a move would draw the US into international conflicts and contravene its foreign policy (U.S. Department of of State, 2010). The US Republican Party was also promoting isolation of the US from international engagements and advocated for national sovereignty. Wilson, a democrat failed to win the support of republicans and this greatly derailed the operations of League of Nations. The US being the world’s most powerful nation, its decline denied the League a political and economic might that would have been instrumental in the enforcement of the League’s decisions.
Britain and France had severely suffered during the First World War and could not provide financial and military support to the League. At the time of the ratification of the Versailles treaty, the advocates were optimistic that the US, Britain and France would be the key players in its operations (Trueman, 2013). Decline of the US to join the League left Britain and France as the leading members, yet they had been weakened during the First World War and were keen on restructuring their internal economies and military units. Though actively involved in the First World War, Germany and Russia were also initially locked out of the League’s membership. This was a blow to its operations. The League’s warnings to aggressors were widely ignored since it was considered powerless. It lacked military might to enforce its decisions.
What is more, Germany, Italy and Japan contributed to the League’s failure to develop and enforce the collective security (Oppenheim 18). The three nations dishonored the League’s established rules regarding maintenance of world peace. As already mentioned, the success of the collective security, for which the League of National was the enforcement instrument, dependent on the collective efforts of the world nations. “The League of Nations failed because…France, Britain, and the United States – were not able to set aside their national interest for the good of a collective global interest” (Baylis et. al., 2012, 34). Open defiance and lack of commitment of powerful nations such as the US had a negative impact on the League efficiency. It was as if the League was now powerless. When aggressions increased, the organization could not act effectively, since there was not commitment from the nations, which were busy concentrating on advancing their national interests, while neglecting the global issues of peace and order.
The League of Nations had started with very unrealistic goals. For example, the League’s disarmament goals were too much to negotiate if it is observed today (Henig 2010). For effective disarmament and evasion of future war, it would have been appropriate for the nations to set aside their national interest. With the disarmament interest as a priority, the nations would have crafted an unbiased agreement to end the armament problem. The League also did not have their own troops and ability to secure their aims. Member countries did not provide military support to help the League to fight against an aggressor of the alliance (Henig 2010). It could be observed that the lack of cooperation and agreement in the League makes them weak and not effective. The League required more cooperation between its members; they were focused on their national interest.
The idea of realism played a key role in the failure of the League of Nations to prevent another world war. Realism suggests that each nation has a role to guard its interest in a world where the power system is so delicate. According to Baylis and Smith, each state actor in the global system “is responsible for ensuring their own well-being and survival,” (2014. 162). This implies that each nation has a role to work towards advancing its national interests, even if that means foregoing its efforts in the global peace realm. In light of the realist theory, nations of the world should work within their powers to ensure their own domestic security and socio-economic development. Realists argue that it is imprudent for a nation to place their survival and security on another global actor (such as another country), or an international body such as the League of Nations or the United Nations (Philpott 2000, 213). Morgenthau notes that “the main signpost that helps political realism to find its way through the landscape of international politics is the concept of interest defined in terms of power” (2006, 3). It is worth noting that in light of the power differentials of nations, entrusting the safety of a nation on another entity entails a wide range of uncertainties. A nation’s actions should be guided by its interests, with the major goals of increasing, or at least maintaining its powers in a world characterized by differentially powerful nation-states. Quoting Thomas Hobbes, McPherson writes that “…the right of nature is defined as the ‘the liberty each man hath, to use his own power . As he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of His own life; and consequently of doing any thing which in his own judgment and reason he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto” (1986, 41).
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In light of the foregoing, it is almost certain that power politics played a key role in the failure of the League Nations to stop the Second World War. As already mentioned, the League was the main instrument that would be used to develop and enforce the collective security to ensure international peace and order, in which no singular nation-state or alliance dominated the rest. Accordingly, the unity of all nations was necessary. It is not surprising that the failure of all the partners to cooperate and work collectively made it hard for the League to be effective. In many ways, realist ideas contributed to the scenario. For example, the US declined to join the League, although it was highly expected to be part of the global body, considering that the country was a key player in the global power system. The main reason for America’s refusal to be part of the League of Nations can be said to be realism (Baylis and Smith, 2012, 163 -164). For one, the US did not want to involve herself in European matters and conflicts. Instead, the country was keen on its domestic and global interests. In view of the concept of realism, the US wanted to forge her own way by ensuring safety and survival. Clearly, joining the League did not seem to the US that it would do anything to increase her chances of survival and security. As a result, America chose to keep off the global peace and development body, a move which had a far reaching negative impact on the League, which badly needed the US support.
Similarly, the open defiance by Germany, Italy and Japan was majorly motivated by the respective nation’s desire to pursue their national interests, which they believed would increase their domestic security and safety, as well as their chances of survival in the international realm (Oppenheim 2008, 27). As a result, Japan’s persistent aggression and defiance culminated in her eventual dismemberment from the League, after which she went ahead to attack China. Aside from weakening the League, Japan’s exit encouraged other Europeans tyrants to experiment the same tactics in Europe and Africa. Japan would later launch a full attack on China in 1937. In view of the realist ideas, Japan’s aggression was informed by her desire to extend her territories and establish herself as a political power in the international stage, with the ultimate goals of ensuring her security and survival (Baylis and Smith 2014, 162). Similarly, Italy under Benito Mussolini defied the League’s warning and economic sanctions to go ahead and invade Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), which was then a member nation to the global peace body. Even after the invasion, the League’s further economic sanctions did nothing to stop Italy’s aggression. Italy’s 1935 invasion of the Abyssinian capital further weakened the League as it was apparent that the organization was powerless and could do nothing to keep world peace and order, except engage in empty rhetoric (Ebegbulem 2011, 23-26).
Moreover, Germany had always wanted to reclaim Rhineland as part of her territory. The country defied the peacekeeping body’s warning and sanctions to invade the land. Although Germany feared that France would stop her from reclaiming Rhineland, neither the French nor the British did anything to stop Hitler’s troops. This was so partly because at that time, France lacked a strong leader. To stop Hitler’s aggression in Rhineland, France needed British support, but the latter was not willing to stop Germany’s attacks.
Realists argue that the failure of the League to stop another war was contributed by the fact that Great Britain, a key power in the organization, was busy taking care of her interest in their own Empire, while putting minimal efforts in the Leagues operations and efforts towards collective security (Morgenthau 2006, 2-3). Besides, France always wanted to punish Germany for the latter’s actions during the just ended World War 1. This means that the two countries could not cooperate in the interest of the global peace and order, which the League of Nations was working towards. It is worth noting that the French’s desire to punish the Germans, and the Great Britain’s focus on building and strengthening their own British Empire were in line with realist ideas that each nation of the world tends to prioritize their national interests at the expense of the global, collective interest. The individual actions of the nations that should have united in the interest of collective security dealt serious blows to the League of Nations (Beck 1995). Aggressions from different, often defiant nations such as Japan, Germany and Italy not only left the League of Nations weak and unable to stop another war, but also actually resulted in the highly devastating Second Word War.
In conclusion, the League of Nations, which was formed to keep global peace, failed to stop another world war. Nations, which should have cooperated in enforcing the collective security machinery, were busy pursuing their respective national interests, at the expense of global peace. Refusal of the US to join the League, the open defiance of Germany, Italy and Japan, the bad blood between some European nations and the pursuit of domestic interests weakened the League’s capacity to stop another war. The issues discussed in this paper support my argument that the League of Nations failed to prevent another war because the superpowers in the organization were overly focused on their national interest yet ignore a collective global interest.