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Old Monday, November 19, 2007
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Post League of Nations

League of Nations

League of Nations, international alliance for the preservation of peace. The league existed from 1920 to 1946. The first meeting was held in Geneva, on November 15, 1920, with 42 nations represented. The last meeting was held on April 8, 1946; at that time the league was superseded by the United Nations (UN). During the league's 26 years, a total of 63 nations belonged at one time or another; 28 were members for the entire period.

In 1918, as one of his Fourteen Points summarizing Allied aims in World War I, United States president Woodrow Wilson presented a plan for a general association of nations. The plan formed the basis of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the 26 articles that served as operating rules for the league. The covenant was formulated as part of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, in 1919.

Although President Wilson was a member of the committee that drafted the covenant, it was never ratified by the U.S. Senate because of Article X, which contained the requirement that all members preserve the territorial independence of all other members, even to joint action against aggression. During the next two decades, American diplomats encouraged the league's activities and attended its meetings unofficially, but the United States never became a member. The efficacy of the league was, therefore, considerably lessened.

The machinery of the league consisted of an assembly, a council, and a secretariat. Before World War II (1939-1945), the assembly convened regularly at Geneva in September; it was composed of three representatives for every member state, each state having one vote. The council met at least three times each year to consider political disputes and reduction of armaments; it was composed of several permanent members—France, Britain, Italy, Japan, and later Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—and several nonpermanent members elected by the assembly. The decisions of the council had to be unanimous. The secretariat was the administrative branch of the league and consisted of a secretary general and a staff of 500 people. Several other bodies were allied with the league, such as the Permanent Court of International Justice, called the World Court, and the International Labor Organization.

The league was based on a new concept: collective security against the “criminal” threat of war. Unfortunately, the league rarely implemented its available resources, limited though they were, to achieve this goal.
One important activity of the league was the disposition of certain territories that had been colonies of Germany and the Ottoman Empire before World War I. Supervision of these territories was awarded to league members in the form of mandates. Mandated territories were given different degrees of independence, in accordance with their stage of development, their geographic situation, and their economic status.

The league may be credited with certain social achievements. These include curbing international traffic in narcotics and prostitution, aiding refugees of World War I, and surveying and improving health and labor conditions around the world. In the area of preserving peace, the league had some minor successes, including settlement of disputes between Finland and Sweden over the Åland Islands in 1921 and between Greece and Bulgaria over their mutual border in 1925. The Great Powers, however, preferred to handle their own affairs; France occupied the Ruhr, and Italy occupied Corfu (Kérkira), both in 1923, in spite of the league.

Although Germany joined the league in 1926, the National Socialist (Nazi) government withdrew in 1933. Japan also withdrew in 1933, after Japanese attacks on China were condemned by the league. The league failed to end the war between Bolivia and Paraguay over the Chaco Boreal between 1932 and 1935 and to stop the Italian conquest of Ethiopia begun in 1935.
Finally, the league was powerless to prevent the events in Europe that led to World War II. The USSR, a member since 1934, was expelled following the Soviet attack on Finland in 1939. In 1940 the secretariat in Geneva was reduced to a skeleton staff, and several small service units were moved to Canada and the United States. In 1946 the league voted to effect its own dissolution, whereupon much of its property and organization were transferred to the UN.

Never truly effective as a peacekeeping organization, the lasting importance of the League of Nations lies in the fact that it provided the groundwork for the UN. This international alliance, formed after World War II, not only profited by the mistakes of the League of Nations but borrowed much of the organizational machinery of the league.

The accompanying table lists the countries that were members of the international organization. Where no date is given, the country was an original member of the league. The year in parentheses is the year of admission to the league unless otherwise indicated.
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