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At the close of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 the Congress of Vienna established a balance of power they called the "Concert of Europe." With some popular support from peace societies, which were founded at that time, and with a concern for international law, national leaders were able to solve many of their differences by means of arbitration. Between 1815 and 1900, of the two hundred cases in which states agreed to arbitration, not a single case led to a war. However, the states had not pledged that they would submit to arbitration in every international conflict. The Swiss humanitarian Henri Dunant initiated a movement that led to a conference at Geneva in 1864 that protected the sick and wounded in land warfare with the Red Cross convention. Four years later another Geneva conference added more articles for a convention on the sea, but these articles were not ratified.
Also in 1868 Czar Alexander II invited European diplomats to meet at St. Petersburg to outlaw especially cruel weapons. Another conference initiated by the Russian Czar led to a meeting at Brussels six years later in which representatives of fifteen European nations formulated laws of land warfare. These were influenced by the General Orders for the United States Army that President Lincoln had issued during the Civil War based on the ideas of the German-born Francis Lieber, who wrote A Code for the Government of Armies. However, British diplomats refused to consider naval issues at this 1874 conference. In 1890 the United States and ten other American republics signed a Pan American Treaty of Arbitration, but it was not ratified.
In 1899 Czar Nicholas II, concerned that Russia was at a financial disadvantage in the armaments competition, proposed a conference to discuss limitation of arms, the laws of war, and arbitration to settle international disputes. Peace advocates championed the second Russian circular by calling for a "Peace Conference," and the Dutch government offered The Hague as a meeting place. Quaker Dr. Benjamin Trueblood for years had been writing essays in the American Peace Society's journal, The Peace Advocate, on plans by Kant, Ladd, and others for international organization. Quaker Alfred K. Smiley had been inviting peace leaders and prominent politicians to his hotel retreat in New York annually since 1895. The Polish Jew, Ivan Bloch, attended the 1899 conference and gave delegates copies of his six-volume The Future of War, which showed how war had become so economically ruinous.
The first Hague Conference that began on May 18, 1899 included 26 states and is considered the first international assembly that met in peace time in order to preserve peace instead of to conclude a war. The diplomats' meetings went on for ten weeks, and their official Act agreed on the following conventions and declarations:
I. Convention for the peaceful adjustment of international differences.
II. Convention regarding the laws and customs of war by land.
III. Convention for the adaptation to maritime warfare of the principles of the Geneva Convention of the 22nd August, 1864.
IV. Three Declarations:
1. To prohibit the launching of projectiles and explosives from balloons or by other similar new methods.
2. To prohibit the use of projectiles the only object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.
3. To prohibit the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope, of which the envelope does not entirely cover the core, or is pierced with incisions.1
Although recognizing the regulation of the rules of war for those nations agreeing to them, the Kaiser declared most of the goals utopian because not a single country was willing to submit all questions to arbitration. The "Permanent Court of Arbitration" that was established could be used voluntarily to resolve differences. The first convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes provided an instrument for a permanent panel of commissioners. Each party to the dispute would select two commissioners, and the fifth commissioner was to be named by the other four. In September 1900 ministers of the ratifying countries met to establish the administrative council of the Permanent Court. They included the eight great powers-Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, France, Great Britain, United States, and Japan, plus Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Romania, and Siam.
A Pan-American Conference began in October 1901 and agreed to all three Hague conventions. Delegates from Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, and the host Mexico even agreed to a treaty of compulsory arbitration. United States president Theodore Roosevelt submitted a dispute about a Pious Fund going back to 1697, and on October 14, 1901 the five arbitrators awarded payments to Catholic bishops in California. In 1902 Argentina and Chile agreed to a Convention on Limitation of Naval Armaments. Britain and France signed an arbitration treaty in 1903. Roosevelt followed their example and signed arbitration treaties with France, Germany, Portugal, and Switzerland. He was negotiating with Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Japan, and others when the Senate led by Henry Cabot Lodge insisted on approving each treaty. T. R. felt this undercut his efforts and therefore abandoned them. An attack by Russian warships on British fishing vessels while on their way to fight the Japanese in 1904 was judged a violation in the Dogger Bank case. Russia accepted the decision and paid Britain 65,000 pounds.
Theodore Roosevelt supported arbitration and arms limitation at the second Hague Conference in the summer of 1907 when 44 nations attended, including 24 from beyond Europe. A Korean delegation was turned away because they had not been invited. Japan forced the Korean monarch to abdicate and later took over the country. After much debate the Conference had to announce that they could not agree on how to choose judges for the World Court. The French favored an obligatory arbitration treaty, but the Germans opposed this. As in 1899, the 1907 Conference failed to limit armaments, and many nations pushed ahead with their naval construction of large battleships despite the efforts of the London Naval Conference, though the Declaration of London in January 1909 did clarify issues of international law.
Ten of the 1907 Hague Conference's eleven conventions were ratified and are still in force for those nations. These include such legal issues as the opening of hostilities, laws and customs of war on land, rights and duties of neutral powers, status of enemy merchant ships, conversion of merchant ships into warships, laying of automatic submarine contact mines, bombardment by naval forces, maritime warfare, and restrictions on the right of capture in naval war. At this conference three neutrals were added to each commission of inquiry. Between 1909 and 1914 the Permanent Court of Arbitration made judgments in ten cases. This method was used in 1910 to settle a dispute over the Newfoundland Fisheries between the United States and Britain. Under President Taft the United States negotiated arbitration treaties with the British and French, but the Germans declined; in 1912 Taft complained that the Senate had truncated the treaties with its amendments. A third Hague Peace Conference was planned for 1915; but because of the World War it was not held.
Several years after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1910 Theodore Roosevelt spoke to the Nobel Prize Committee about a League of Peace, which the great powers could form "not only to keep the peace among themselves, but to prevent by force if necessary, its being broken by others."2 The problem with The Hague approach, he believed, was that it lacked an effective executive police power. Until that was achieved, he suggested that peace could be assured by a combination of powerful nations which sincerely want peace and have no intention of committing aggression. Roosevelt concluded that the statesman who could bring this about would have the gratitude of all mankind.
In 1909 Norman Angell published a pamphlet that was enlarged to a book and went through several editions by 1913 as The Great Illusion. In this work he endeavored to show that the development of industry and commerce had made the use of military power economically and socially futile because nations no longer gain by trying to take over territories beyond their borders. To tamper with credit and commerce by confiscation is self-injurious to powers that attempt this, as small nations are able to compete with them for trade effectively without having expensive military power. Neither do nations impose their moral ideals on other nations by means of war because all of the moral and ideological struggles are occurring within nations and across political boundaries, not between nations. Thus he prophesied that armaments are obsolete and that the current arms race between European powers, such as Germany and England, were self-destructive. He lamented the failure of the Hague Conferences to bring about any disarmament and appealed to public opinion to see through the current political illusions.
The tragic story of the League of Nations begins with the man who conceived it and offered it to the world, who developed its charter and bore the pains of its formulation at the Peace Conference in France, and who broke down in exhaustion when his own nation, the United States, refused to ratify it in the Senate.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and Woodrow was a deeply religious man throughout his life. He was fascinated by politics and longed to be a statesman like England's Prime Minister Gladstone. He wrote several books on government and taught political economy at Princeton University. As an educational reformer he was unanimously chosen president of Princeton in 1902. Wilson emphasized broad liberal studies more than specialization and mere preparation for a career. In 1910 the Democratic Party nominated him for governor of New Jersey, and his persuasive expression of progressive principles swept him to victory. His liberal reforms were successful, and in 1912 he won the Democratic Presidential nomination and then a popular plurality over the divided Republicans and Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party. He offered "New Freedom" and set out to break up the privileges of trusts and tariffs; he championed the worker's right to overtime pay beyond an eight-hour day. However, his greatest challenges were to be in foreign policy after the outbreak of the World War in 1914.
In the spring of 1914 President Wilson sent his close friend and advisor, Colonel Edward M. House, to Europe as an unofficial ambassador for peace. House met with German officials and the Kaiser explaining that with the community of interests between England, Germany, and the United States they could together maintain the peace of the world. However, England was concerned about Germany's growing navy. House went to Paris and then London, where he conferred with Edward Grey about negotiating with Germany. Even after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the event which precipitated the war, House returned to Berlin and appealed to the Kaiser through a letter that England, France, and Germany could settle their differences peacefully. Many years later the Kaiser admitted that the mediation offer by Wilson and House had almost prevented the war. However, the German militarists were intent on fighting, and the war broke out with Austria leading the way. President Wilson on August 19 declared that the United States was neutral, and he requested that the American people be impartial. He tried to mediate peace between the European powers through his pacifist Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, and in January 1915 Wilson again sent House to Europe on a peace mission; but both efforts failed.
Hamilton Holt and William B. Howland initiated a meeting of American professors at the Century Club in New York on January 25, 1915 to discuss a future League that could guarantee two principles-friendly settlement of disputes between nations and protection of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations against outside aggression. On April 9 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia the League to Enforce Peace was organized, and former President William Howard Taft became its founding president. In England a League of Nations Society was founded in May 1915, and the idea was supported publicly by Edward Grey and Herbert Asquith. In the United States numerous branches of the League to Enforce Peace sprang up around the country. On May 27, 1916 the League to Enforce Peace heard speeches by President Wilson and Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge was wary of forming permanent alliances, about which George Washington had warned America, but this he felt should not preclude joining with other civilized nations to diminish war and encourage peace. In fact Senator Lodge stated strongly that they must find some way "in which the united forces of the nations could be put behind the cause of peace and law."3
In his speech President Wilson called for a new and more wholesome diplomacy and a way for the nations of the world to band themselves together so that right may prevail against any selfish aggression. Civilization is not yet firmly established until nations are governed by the same code of conduct that we demand of individuals. He outlined three fundamental principles: first, that every people has the right to choose their sovereignty; second, that small nations as well as large ones ought to have the guarantee of territorial integrity; and third, that the world and the rights of its people and nations ought to be protected from disturbing aggression. He proposed that the United States initiate a movement for peace calling for a
universal association of the nations to maintain
the inviolate security of the highway of the seas
for the common and unhindered use
of all the nations of the world,
and to prevent any war
begun either contrary to treaty covenants
or without warning and full submission of the causes
to the opinion of the world
a virtual guarantee of territorial integrity
and political independence.4
While speaking to West Point graduates in 1916 Wilson contrasted the spirit of militarism to the citizen spirit, and he asserted that in the United States the civilian spirit is intended to dominate the military, which is why the President, a civilian authority, is commander-in-chief of all forces. In September, Wilson was renominated by the Democratic Party, and in his acceptance speech he discussed world peace. America must contribute to a just and settled peace because no longer can any nation remain wholly apart from world turmoil. Again he appealed to world opinion to establish joint guarantees for peace and justice in a spirit of friendship. President Wilson's re-election was promoted under the slogan "He kept us out of war," and he managed to win a narrow victory.
In January 1917 the Germans decided to pursue unrestricted submarine warfare. Wilson was trying to get the western allies and central powers to negotiate peace with each other, and he was not informed of the Germans' change in policy when he delivered his "Peace without Victory" speech on January 22. This was the first time a President had appeared alone before the Senate since George Washington vowed never to return there. Wilson expressed his hope that peace could be negotiated soon, and he was convinced that after the war an international concert of power must prevent war. He offered the United States Government in its tradition of upholding liberty to serve in using its authority and power to guarantee peace and justice throughout the world by means of a League for Peace.
The President wanted to indicate the conditions upon which the United States could enter into this process. First, the war must be ended and by a treaty of peace that will be universally approved and guaranteed by a universal covenant, which must include the peoples of the New World. The organized force of mankind protecting the peace must be greater than any nation or probable combination of nations. Wilson did not believe that the war should end in a new balance of power but rather in a just and organized common peace, for no one can guarantee the stability of a balance of power. Neither side really intends to crush the other; therefore it must be a peace without victory so that the victor will not impose intolerable sacrifices, which result in resentment and probably future hostilities. Equality of nations is the right attitude for a lasting peace as well as a just settlement regarding territory and national allegiance. Equality of nations means a respect for the rights of small nations based upon the common strength of the concert of nations, not upon individual strength. A deeper principle yet is
Governments derive all their just powers
from the consent of the governed,
and that no right anywhere exists
to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty
as if they were property.
That henceforth inviolable security of life,
of worship, and of industrial and social development
should be guaranteed to all peoples.5
Peace can only be stable with justice and freedom; otherwise the spirit rebels. Wilson asserted the importance of freedom of the seas and also the need to limit navies and armies. He felt that he was speaking "for liberals and friends of humanity in every nation ... for the silent mass of mankind everywhere."6 He suggested that the American principles of the Monroe Doctrine should be extended throughout the world so that "every people should be left free to determine its own polity, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid."7 These principles of self-determination, freedom, and protection from aggression are the principles of humanity and must prevail.
Wilson struggled to keep America out of the war; but when the Germans announced submarine warfare even against neutral shipping, he immediately broke diplomatic relations with Germany. American intelligence reports indicated that Germany was trying to form an alliance with Mexico against the United States. Wilson had considered entry into the war a crime against civilization, and he loathed the implications. Privately he told the reporter Frank Cobb,
It would mean that we would lose our heads
along with the rest and stop weighing right and wrong.
It would mean that a majority of people in this hemisphere
would go war mad, quit thinking
and devote their energies to destruction.8
However, in March 1917 several US ships were attacked, and the President decided to propose a declaration of war to the Congress on April 2. He appealed to international law and the freedom of the seas. Because of the loss of noncombatants' lives he interpreted the German submarine warfare against commerce as "warfare against mankind." He did not recommend revenge or the victorious assertion of physical might as motives for action but rather the vindication of human right and a refusal to submit to wrongs. Therefore since the Imperial German Government was at war with the United States, they must accept the belligerent status thrust upon them. Wilson clearly stated that the purpose of America's role
is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice
in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power
and to set up amongst the really free
and self-governed peoples of the world
such a concert of purpose and of action
as will henceforth insure the observance of those principles.9
He declared that a new age was beginning in which nations and governments must be held to the same standards of conduct and responsibility as the individual citizens of civilized states. He indicated that America had no animosity toward the German people, and he explained that small groups of ambitious men were using those people as pawns under the veil of the private courts of a privileged class. Wilson believed that peace could only be maintained by a partnership of democratic nations; autocratic governments cannot be trusted. Therefore Americans must fight for the liberation of the world's people, including the German peoples. "The world must be made safe for democracy."10 Peace must be founded on political liberty. President Wilson disavowed any desire for conquest or dominion; America was to be merely one of the champions of humanity's rights. Wilson's speech was greeted with wildly enthusiastic applause; later he thought how strange it was to hear applause for a message that meant death for many young men.
The United States was involved in the World War, but it would be six months before many soldiers would be fighting in France. That summer President Wilson appointed an Inquiry of several distinguished experts to gather information on Europe's oppressed peoples, international business, international law, proposals for a peace-keeping organization, and ideas on repairing the war damage in Belgium and France. He said he wanted a basis to decide what would be fair for all and prophetically warned that seeds of jealousy, discontent, and restrained development could breed future wars.
Utilizing this research by experts, Wilson formulated the war aims and peace suggestions of the United States and presented them before Congress on January 8, 1918 as his famous Fourteen Points. He reiterated that the United States was seeking only a peaceful world that is safe for self-governing nations. His specific points may be summarized as follows:
1. "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at"-no secret treaties.
2. Free navigation of the seas outside territorial waters.
3. Equality of trade and removal of economic barriers.
4. "Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety."
5. Impartial adjustment of all colonial claims weighing equally the interests of the populations with the claims of governments.
6. Evacuation of Russian territory and the opportunity for Russians to choose their own institutions, and aid according to their needs and desires.
7. Evacuation and restoration of Belgium under her own sovereignty.
8. Liberation and restoration of invaded French territory and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, correcting the wrong of 1871.
9. "A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality."
10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary should be freely allowed autonomous development.
11. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated and restored, and the Balkan states ought to be established along lines of allegiance and nationality with international guarantees of independence and territorial integrity, with access to the sea for Serbia.
12. Turkey itself should have secure sovereignty; but other nationalities should be freed of Turkish rule and be assured of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be open to all ships and commerce under international guarantees.
13. An independent Poland should include territories of Polish populations, have access to the sea and guaranteed territorial integrity.
14. "A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."11
The President then declared that the United States was willing to fight for these principles to secure liberty and safety for all peoples under international justice. Germany was to be allowed her fair and equal place among the nations, and Wilson requested negotiation with representatives of the majority of German people rather than the military party and imperialists.
These Fourteen Points were adopted by the Allied statesmen as a basis for the peace. Responses to this speech soon came from representatives of Germany and Austria. These replies by Count von Hertling and Count Czernin were answered by Wilson in a speech on February 11; he was especially critical of the German Chancellor von Hertling. Peace must be established justly in view of world opinion and not involving militarily only the separate states that are most powerful. Wilson also pointed out that there were to be no annexations, no punitive damages, no arbitrary handing of people about by antagonists, but respect for national aspirations and self-determination.
Wilson again summarized the great ideals America was fighting for in a 4th of July speech at Mount Vernon. Over a million American men had already been shipped to France. The four goals he stated were:
1) destruction of every arbitrary power that disturbs the world's peace;
2) settlement of political and economic questions with the consent of those involved, not according to the material interests of other nations;
3) consent of all nations to live under common law and mutual respect for justice; and
4) establishment of a peace organization of the free nations' combined power to check violations of peace and justice according to the tribunal of international opinion to which all must submit.
By the end of summer 1918 the Central Powers were breaking up, and on September 27 Wilson appealed to the peoples of those countries by suggesting more specific peace proposals. Once more he emphasized that right must be made superior to might. The idea of a League of Nations was beginning to take a more definite shape. Each government must be willing to pay the price necessary to achieve impartial justice, to be made effective by the instrumentality of a League of Nations. The constitution of the League of Nations must be a part of the peace settlement; for if it preceded peace it would be confined to the nations allied against a common enemy; and if it followed the peace settlement, it could not guarantee the peace terms. Wilson then outlined five particulars:
1. Impartial justice means no discrimination or favoritism between peoples.
2. No special interest of a single nation should infringe upon the common interest of all.
3. "There can be no leagues or alliances or special covenants and understandings within the general and common family of the League of Nations."
4. There can be no selfish economic combinations or boycotts except as "may be vested in the League of Nations itself as a means of discipline and control."
5. "All international agreements and treaties of every kind must be made known in their entirety to the rest of the world."12
On October 6 the German government requested an armistice; President Wilson sent a reply declaring that the armies of the Central Powers must withdraw immediately from all invaded territory. A German response dodged the issue of evacuation, and therefore another message clarifying the military situation was sent through the Secretary of State. On October 25 Wilson made perhaps one of his worst political mistakes when he requested the election of a Democratic majority in Congress in order to indicate to the world American support of the President's leadership. This intrusion of party politics into non-partisan foreign affairs was deeply resented by Republicans and in fact backfired against Wilson, as the Republicans won both houses.
Meanwhile the Germans agreed to disarm and relinquish the monarchical military leadership and wanted a peace according to the points made in Wilson's speeches. Austria-Hungary also accepted the President's declarations and recognized the rights of the Czecho-Slovaks and the Jugo-Slavs. The Allied Governments agreed to accept the Fourteen Points and the subsequent addresses with one reservation by Great Britain on freedom of the seas. Poland and Germany each announced themselves as republics. Finally on November 11 German representatives signed the Armistice Agreement at Marshall Foch's headquarters. The Germans agreed to an almost total surrender and to the payment of reparations. The German Navy was to be dismantled, and its Army was to be reduced to 100,000 men. Conscription was abolished, and weapons were strictly limited, allowing no tanks or military aircraft as well as no submarines. However, the German General Staff, which was supposed to be abolished, merely changed its name. If these disarmament conditions had been maintained, the second world war in Europe could never have occurred as it did.
On the same day President Wilson read the Armistice Agreement to Congress and promised food and relief to a suffering Europe. He pointed out the disorder in Russia and the folly of attempting conquest by the force of arms. He also asserted,
The nations that have learned the discipline of freedom
and that have settled with self-possession to its ordered practice
are now about to make conquest of the world
by the sheer power of example of friendly helpfulness.13
America must hold the lamp of liberty for the peoples who were just then coming into their freedom. A peace must be established that will define their places among the nations and protect their security.
Wilson decided to attend the Peace Conference in France with a select group of experts, such as geographers, ethnologists, and economists, whom he told, "Tell me what is right, and I'll fight for it."14 Unfortunately he did not invite anyone to attend from the Senate, which later was to cause irreconcilable problems. In Europe, Wilson was enthusiastically greeted by thousands of cheering people almost as a messiah. After arriving in France in December, he visited England and said that never before in the history of the world had there been such a keen international consciousness. On the same day in Manchester he spoke of America's desire for peace in the world, not merely a balance of power or peace in Europe. At Rome on January 3, 1919 President Wilson explained how military force is unable to hold people together, that only friendship and good will can bind nations together.
Therefore, our task at Paris is
to organize the friendship of the world,
to see to it that all the moral forces
that make for right and justice and liberty are united
and are given a vital organization to which
the peoples of the world will readily and gladly respond.15
The idealistic American President, who wanted only permanent peace under universal justice with no special rewards for his country, faced an awesome challenge among the European old-school diplomats, who were determined to gain all they could for their own national interests. Lloyd George had just been re-elected British prime minister under the slogan "Be tough on Germany," and Clemenceau of France was even more adamant about making Germany pay all she could and leaving her as weak as possible. The Italians represented by Prime Minister Vittorio E. Orlando and the Japanese wanted control of specific territories, and secret treaties made between the Allies during the war were to emerge and confound several of Wilson's points. Against Wilson's protests the conference news was censored, and what did leak out to the press tended to be through the French newspapers controlled by their government.
Meanwhile most of Europe was in turmoil, and many military leaders wanted to grab what they could get. For this reason on January 24 Wilson published a statement warning those who would take possession of territory by force that they would be prejudicing their cause, because they were placing in doubt the justice of their claims which the Peace Conference must determine. The next day he addressed the Peace Conference, which he felt had two purposes-not only the settlements required by the war but also the secure establishment of a means for the maintaining of world peace. Wilson believed the League of Nations was necessary for both purposes. He argued that settlements may be temporary, but their actions as nations for peace and justice must be permanent. Although they could not make permanent decisions, they could set up permanent processes. Therefore the League of Nations must be made vital and continuous so that it may be ever watchful and effective. The idea for a League as an essential part of the Treaty was adopted unanimously by the representatives of the 32 states present on January 25, and a subcommittee for the drafting of a League of Nations Covenant was selected with President Wilson as chairman.
On January 27 Wilson suggested a solution to the problem of what to do about the German colonies. Because he felt world opinion was against annexations, the League of Nations could mandate that districts be administered by a mandatory power for the improvement of the inhabitants' conditions and without discriminatory economic access.
General Jan Christiaan Smuts, the leader from South Africa who had confronted Gandhi, had published a pamphlet, The League of Nations: A Practical Suggestion, calling for a strong and active League, which would not only prevent wars but also be a living and working organ of peaceful civilization. It must have general control of international affairs involving commerce, communications, and social, industrial, and labor relations. Smuts proposed the mandate system by which powerful nations would be assigned to oversee temporarily the former colonies of Germany and the non-Turkish portions of the former Ottoman empire that needed assistance. Wilson and Colonel House, the American members of the committee, managed to get together with the British delegates Smuts and Lord Cecil, who also had his own draft, to hammer out what was called Wilson's second draft, which was revised into an Anglo-American version. Although the French and Italians submitted drafts, this version was accepted as the basis for discussion. Working every night, the committee of fourteen members turned out its Draft Agreement after eleven days. Wilson announced that a living thing had been born.
A proud President Wilson presented the League of Nations draft to the Peace Conference with an address on February 14. The League was to consist of a body of delegates, an executive council, and a permanent secretariat. Any issue of international relationship would have free discussion because that is the moral force of public opinion. Nevertheless if moral force did not suffice, armed force was to be in the background, but only as a last resort. The League was designed to be simple and flexible, yet a definite guarantee of peace, at least in words. Securing peace was not the only purpose of the League; it could be used for cooperation in any international matter, such as ameliorating labor conditions. All international agreements must be registered with the secretary-general and openly published. Wilson believed the mandate policy of aiding development was a great advance over annexation and exploitation. All in all, Wilson felt that they had created a document that was both practical and humane, that could serve the conscience of the world. The day after the draft was accepted by the plenary session, the President departed for the United States.
In Washington, Wilson met with Congressional representatives to discuss the League. By the time he returned to France in March 1919 American public opinion was insisting on four alterations. First, the Monroe Doctrine must be explicitly protected. Second, there must be a way nations could withdraw from the League. Third, domestic disputes must be exempt from League interference, including tariffs and immigration quotas. Fourth, a nation must have the right to refuse a mandate for a territory. Wilson felt that these provisions were not necessary, but he was willing to get them put into the covenant for the sake of its acceptance. However, he had to compromise in order to do so, and thus his position on other issues was weakened.
Colonel House had been compromising on every side at the peace talks, such that when Wilson returned to Paris, he felt he had to start all over again. This caused an irreparable breach between the President and his close friend and advisor. The Allies were forcing unbearable reparations and indemnities on Germany and the defeated nations. Wilson did not consider it wise for England to retain naval supremacy or for the American and British navies to patrol the world together. Militarism on the sea is the same as on the land. He felt that power must not be vested in a single nation or combination of nations; the sea is a free highway and should be protected by a league of all the nations under international law.
Wilson developed a comprehensive plan for disarmament to fulfill one of his most important points. Armaments were only to be used to preserve domestic safety and to maintain international order according to the League. Compulsory military service and the private manufacture of munitions must be abolished. Disarmament policies must be worked out after the peace settlement, be unanimously agreed upon, and have publicity to assure compliance. Although disarmament was temporarily forced upon Germany, these policies were never universally carried out. Wilson persistently argued for a new attitude of mind and an organization of cooperation for peace which considered moral force above armed force.
Returning to the negotiations of the peace settlement, Wilson faced intransigent obstacles to his principles. Several territorial arrangements had already been agreed upon by the major powers during the war in such secret agreements as the Sykes-Picot Treaty and the Treaty of London. Wilson spoke up for self-determination, and at his suggestion a commission of inquiry was sent to the Middle East to discover what the peoples' wishes were. The other powers verbally agreed but never did send their representatives. By the time the Americans went and returned with their information, the issues had been settled. The French wanted not only Alsace-Lorraine but also the coal mining district of Saar and a buffer state in the Rhineland. Italy wanted not only the opposite coast of the Adriatic including Trieste, which had been promised in the Treaty of London, but they also demanded the port of Fiume, which represented Yugoslavia's only hope for a commercial port. England and Japan had divided up the German colonies in the Pacific Ocean, giving Japan those north of the equator and Britain those south of the equator, but Japan also wanted Shandong (Shantung) on the mainland.
In early April 1919 Wilson became ill. He had reached the limit of his patience and requested that the ocean-liner George Washington be prepared to take him home. The President decided to take his stand on the issue of Fiume; it had not been included in the Pact of London, because it naturally belonged to the new Jugo-Slav state. Wilson consequently went to the public with his arguments, and the Italian delegation withdrew from the Conference. With the Italians already turning their back on the League, the Japanese saw their chance to push for control of the Shandong Province in China. Wilson backed China's rights and lectured the nations on their duties toward each other. However, he did not want Japan to leave also and perhaps form an alliance with Russia and Germany; neither England nor America was willing to go to war with Japan over Shandong. Therefore it was agreed that Japan would control Shandong temporarily, and Wilson hoped that the League of Nations would later rectify the situation for China. Above all, Wilson struggled to save the League itself. The Italians never did get Fiume, but they did return to sign the final Treaty. By preventing an unjust decision, a war between the Jugo-Slavs and the Italians was made less likely. Wilson also compromised with the French on the Saar and Rhineland districts, and annexations were modified into temporary mandate agreements.
Germany had been suffering greatly; a food blockade by the Allies had been maintained against them for four months after the Armistice. Finally at the instigation of Herbert Hoover, President Wilson convinced the Allied leaders that the blockade must be lifted for humanitarian reasons. The Treaty agreed upon by the Allies and neutral nations was presented to the Germans on May 7. Their response on May 29 repeatedly complained of failures of the Treaty to adhere to the "Fourteen Points and subsequent addresses." They felt unnecessarily humiliated by the severe provisions the French had demanded. However, facing the threat of Marshal Foch moving the French army in on them, the Germans decided to sign the Treaty. On June 28, 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed by Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Wilson, and other representatives of the nations. When Austria signed the peace treaty in September 1919, the major powers and several other nations signed the Convention for the Control of the Trade in Arms and Ammunition, which prohibited arms sales in most of Africa and part of Asia. The Central American States adopted a Convention on Arms Limitation on February 7, 1923.
Wilson was greeted by ten thousand people when he returned to New York. However, in the Senate there were strong isolationist sentiments against the Treaty. Presenting it to the Senate on July 10, President Wilson wondered forebodingly, "Dare we reject it and break the heart of the world?"16 A few "irreconcilables" were completely against the League. Many senators favored it, but ratification of a treaty required two-thirds of the Senate. A third group led by Senator Lodge demanded reservations, particularly to Article 10 of the League Covenant which read:
The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve
as against external aggression the territorial integrity
and existing political independence of all Members of the League.
In case of any such aggression
or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression
the Council shall advise upon the means
by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.17
For Wilson this was the key article; it was the Monroe Doctrine applied to the world and protected by all. The President explained to the senators that this was a moral obligation but not necessarily a legal obligation. Senator Warren Harding asked what good it would do if it was only a moral obligation which a nation could ignore since it was not legally bound. Wilson pointed out that because it was not legally binding, the nation would have the right to exercise its moral judgment in each case. Lloyd George had explained that the Covenant did not necessarily imply "military action in support of the imperiled nation" but mainly economic pressure and sanctions against the aggressing nation. Former President Taft favored ratifying the League Covenant and agreed that the chance of getting involved in a war was small because of the universal boycott, which in most cases would be effective; only a world conspiracy would require the members of the League to unite against it, and in that case the sooner the better. Taft, a Republican, believed the United States could not be forced into a war against its will, and to think so was a narrow and reactionary viewpoint.
Nevertheless opposition in the Senate was growing. Therefore President Wilson decided to take his case to the people with a busy speaking tour across the whole country. Young Americans had fought and died in France, and he would not give up the struggle for a world of peace without giving all he could. Wilson argued that the League of Nations was founded according to the American principles of self-government, open discussion and arbitration instead of war, a universal boycott of an offending nation, disarmament, rehabilitation of oppressed peoples, no annexations but trusteeships, abolition of forced labor especially of women and children, rejection of secret treaties, protection of dependent peoples, high standards of labor, the Red Cross, international regulation of drugs and alcohol, and prohibition of arms sales. He warned against violent revolutions such as had occurred in Russia rather than revolution by vote. The United States could be isolated no more, for it has become a determining factor in human history and in the development of civilization. He declared that peace of the world could not be established without America. Seven and a half million men had been killed in the war; this was more than all the wars from 1793 to 1914. He spoke of the children who would have to die in a worse war if the League of Nations was not established.
Wilson pushed himself to the limit, traveling 8,000 miles in 22 days and giving 38 speeches. He had increasingly bad headaches which became constant until he finally collapsed in Pueblo, Colorado. The train took him straight back to Washington, where he suffered a stroke that left the left side of his face and body paralyzed. His wife Edith coordinated his Presidential responsibilities. The push in the Senate for reservations to the Treaty was strong; but Wilson refused to give in because it would be repudiating what each nation had signed. If the United States demanded changes, then why could not the Germans also? Thus the President asked those who supported the Treaty to vote against ratification with the reservations, and consequently the Treaty was never ratified by the United States. Wilson hoped, perhaps, to be nominated again for President in 1920, but he was a broken man. The Republican Harding declared nebulously that he favored some sort of association of nations, and he was elected for a "return to normalcy." In Wilson's last public statement on Armistice Day, November 11, 1923 he lamented, "I have seen fools resist Providence before, and I have seen their destruction."18 He still believed that his principles would eventually prevail. He died on February 3, 1924.
On January 16, 1920 President Wilson formally convoked the Council in accordance with the League provision for the summoning of the first Council and Assembly by the President of the United States. It was to be the last official participation by the United States in the entire history of the League of Nations. The League became a dead issue in American politics, and even Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, who both had been early League supporters, could not get the United States involved during their presidencies. The League, which the United States was expected to lead, lost much of its universal acceptance and credibility without the American power. Yet almost every other nation in the world joined the League. In addition to the 32 original members, thirteen neutral states were named in the annex. Any self-governing state, dominion or colony could be admitted to membership by a two-thirds vote of the Assembly. States could leave the organization but were required to give two years' notice. A member-state violating the Covenant could be expelled by a unanimous vote of all the other member states.
The Assembly was composed of three delegates from each member-state. The League Council was to be made up of the five Allied Powers that won the war; but without the United States this became Britain, France, Italy, and Japan. Four other nations were to be elected from time to time to serve on the Council. Initially Belgium, Brazil, Spain, and Greece were selected. Any member could go to the Council with a concern and was allowed a vote at the Council on that issue. At the top of the Secretariat administration was the Secretary-General, and the British diplomat James Eric Drummond was selected for that position before the League went into effect. He served as Secretary-General until June 1933, when he was replaced by Joseph Avenol. League decisions were recommendations for the states to follow, but those who refused were subject to the voluntary sanctions of the nations. No state could be legally bound against its consent and thus maintained sovereignty over its own decisions. In September 1921 the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) with nine judges was established at The Hague, as the League Covenant was amended.
The four strategies that could be used by the League to prevent wars were 1) reducing armaments, 2) settling disputes peacefully with sanctions against any state refusing to do so, 3) guaranteeing current boundaries and agreements, although they could be legally modified, and 4) settling international conflicts before they lead to war. Article 8 required the "reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement of common action of international obligations."19 The Council was supposed to formulate plans for reduction which were to be revised at least every ten years. The League Covenant acknowledged the problem of private manufacturing of arms, and the Council was to advise how to limit it to what members needed for their safety. However, a naval arms race between Britain and the United States occurred and was dealt with independently of the League at the Washington naval conference of 1922.
Disputes were to be settled peacefully by using arbitration, the International Court (PCIJ), or by an inquiry before the Council, which would make a report. Article 12 prohibited member-states from going to war until at least three months after a decision by the arbitrators, the Court, or the Council. If a dispute was not submitted to any of these, Article 15 authorized the Council to make recommendations, and states were not to go to war with other states that complied with its report. Article 16 declared that a state disregarding Articles 12, 13, or 15 was to be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League, which would then sever all trade or financial relations with the Covenant-breaking state. Article 11 authorized the Council to meet and act in regard to any threat to peace or possible war as follows:
1. Any war or threat of war, whether immediately affecting
any of the Members of the League or not,
is hereby declared a matter of concern to the whole League,
and the League shall take any action that may be deemed
wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of nations.
In case any such emergency should arise,
the Secretary-General shall on the request of any Member
of the League forthwith summon a meeting of the Council.
2. It is also declared to be the friendly right
of each Member of the League to bring to the attention
of the Assembly or of the Council any circumstance whatever
affecting international relations which threatens to disturb
international peace or the good understanding between nations
upon which peace depends.20
Without the power of the United States the strong guarantees of Article 10 were left mostly to the British to enforce, and after the war they were in no mood to undertake such a burden alone. Article 18 called for all treaties to be registered with the Secretariat, and those that were not so registered could not be cited at the International Court (PCIJ). In the next decade 2,330 treaties were registered with the League, which published them in English and French.
Article 22 explained how the former colonies and territories of Germany and Turkey were to have their peoples treated as a "sacred trust of civilization" by the mandatory powers responsible for their administration, and annual reports were to be submitted to the Council. A permanent commission of experts was delegated to examine the reports and advise the Council. The war victors of the Supreme Allied Council in April 1920 at San Remo actually selected Britain, France, Japan, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand as the mandatories. The secret Sykes-Picot agreement of May 1916 resulted in Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine being assigned to Britain, as Syria and Lebanon were put under France.
Article 23 urged all member nations to "maintain fair and humane conditions of labor for men, women, and children, both in their own countries and in all countries to which their commercial and industrial relations extended."21 It also entrusted the League to supervise agreements regarding traffic in women, children, drugs, and arms, to provide for the freedom of communication, transit, and equitable commerce, and to take steps to prevent and control disease.
The coal mines of the Saar had been ceded to France in 1919 to compensate for their mines in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais that had been destroyed in the war. Most of the people in the Saar region spoke German, and in the French mandate it was stipulated that after fifteen years a plebiscite would determine who governed it. In 1920 the League Council appointed a High Commissioner for the free city of Danzig. In June 1921 the Council suggested that the Aaland islands should belong to Finland, and with guarantees protecting the islanders Sweden accepted that decision. British power focused by Lloyd George and the League Council persuaded Yugoslavia to withdraw from Albania by December 1921; Italy was authorized to protect the political and economic independence of Albania. Lithuania objected to Poland's occupation of Vilna, but this dispute was not so easily solved. In October 1922 the League confirmed the independence of Austria, and the British, French, and Italian governments offered loan guarantees for reconstruction. That year it became clear that nations were not willing to disarm until they could trust an alternative system of security. Resolution 14 of the League Assembly elucidated this principle that led a commission to draft a treaty of mutual assistance.
When Germany got behind on its reparation payments, French and Belgian armies invaded the Ruhr in January 1923; but a London conference the next August sponsored by the MacDonald government led to the Dawes plan for German reconstruction. However, unwilling to commit itself to enforcement, in March 1925 the British refused to accept the Geneva Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes. This Protocol proposed that all disputes related to international law be submitted to the world court at The Hague and be binding on the parties. Instead, Britain's Austen Chamberlain proposed "special arrangements" for special needs. Political negotiation between the principal powers of western Europe led in October 1925 to the Rhineland Pact that came to be known as the Treaty of Locarno between Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Belgium. Germany accepted the borders imposed by the Versailles Treaty and the demilitarization of the west bank of the Rhine. Germany also agreed to Arbitration Conventions with Belgium, France, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Germany was then admitted into the League of Nations in 1926 and was given a permanent seat on its Council.
At Geneva on June 17, 1925 representatives of 42 nations and the British empire signed the Protocol for the Prohibition of Poisonous Gases and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, although the United States never ratified the treaty. Violence broke out between Bulgarian and Greek troops on the border on October 19, 1925. The Bulgarian government appealed to the League, and on October 23 the Council's presiding Briand sent a telegram urging both sides to withdraw from the battlefield. After the Council repeated its appeal three days later, first the Bulgarians and then the Greeks complied. After an inquiry the Council recommended that Greece pay Bulgaria 45,000 pounds indemnity, and two officers from a neutral country were appointed to watch the border. The Kurds wanted independence from Iraq; but in December 1925 the League Council voted unanimously to give Iraq a 25-year mandate over Mosul; Iraq's mandatory Britain was supposed to make sure that the Kurdish minority was protected. France withdrew its garrison from the Saar in 1927.
By then France had alliances with Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Informal League of Nations support groups existed in many countries, and the peace movement was particularly enthusiastic in the United States. They urged the Coolidge Administration to sign a friendship treaty with France. Wary of a specific alliance, they came up with the idea for a multi-lateral treaty renouncing war. This Pact of Perpetual Friendship was negotiated by US Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and France's minister Aristide Briand, who was persuaded to accept it with a reservation for self-defense. This famous Kellogg-Briand Pact or Treaty of Paris was signed on August 27, 1928 by them and representatives of Germany, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Great Britain with its Dominions in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, and India. This treaty had only three articles, the third of which established the ratification procedure. The first two articles of the Kellogg-Briand Pact read as follows:
1. The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare
in the names of their respective peoples
that they condemn recourse to war
for the solution of international controversies,
and renounce it as an instrument of national policy
in their relations with one another.
2. The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement
or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature
or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them,
shall never be sought except by pacific means.22
The United States Senate did ratify this treaty as did all the other signatories. An additional 31 nations adhered to the Treaty of Paris by the time it was proclaimed on July 24, 1929. Within seven months fourteen more nations had joined. Brazil did so two years after that, but Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Uruguay never did. Thus for nearly every nation in the world this treaty renouncing war became a landmark in international law, and it can be argued that any politician since that time, who has used war as an instrument of national policy, has violated this Treaty and committed a crime against international law.
Japan had given up Shandong (Shantung) at the Washington naval conference in 1922, but on September 18, 1931 they invaded Manchuria, claiming that Japanese troops guarding the South Manchuria Railway had been fired upon by the Chinese, though a subsequent investigation denied this. China appealed to the League Council, which on September 22 requested that the fighting stop. Japanese delegate Kenkichi Yoshizawa assured the Council that Japan had "no territorial designs" on Manchuria. The Chinese authority withdrew to Jinzhou (Chinchow), which the Japanese bombed on October 8. The League Council met five days later, and US Secretary of State Henry Stimson indicated that the United States "would endeavor to reinforce what the League does."23 However, the American Consul-General to Switzerland, Prentiss Gilbert, who attended the Council, did little more than offer moral support. On October 24 Yoshizawa vetoed a Council resolution calling for Japanese withdrawal. On January 7, 1932 Stimson announced that the United States would not recognize any change in Manchuria that violated the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
Although the Chinese mayor of Shanghai accepted a Japanese ultimatum, on January 27 Admiral Koichi Shiozawa ordered Japanese occupation of the Chapei district. When the Chinese resisted, Japan bombed Chapei. On January 29 China appealed to Articles 10 and 15 by taking their case to the League Assembly. A commission headed by Victor Lytton began investigating the situation. Meanwhile the Council did no more than adopt Stimson's non-recognition policy. By March 1932 Japan had set up a puppet government in Manchuria called Manchukuo under the last emperor of China, Pu Yi, using the name Kangde. By the time Japan agreed to a cease-fire in May they had devastated Chapei, and several thousand Chinese and Japanese had been killed or wounded. In September 1932 the Lytton Commission concluded that Manchukuo was not established by the will of the native Chinese but was a result of Japanese imperialism. Japan managed to delay League action for several months; but on February 24, 1933 the Assembly passed a resolution agreeing with the Lytton Commission's judgment. This was opposed only by the Japanese delegation, and Yosuke Matsuoka dramatically walked out. The following month Japan gave formal notice that it was withdrawing from the League. By then the Japanese army had also occupied Jehol, a border province between Manchuria and China.
In the London Naval Treaty of April 1930 Britain, the United States, and Japan had extended their 1922 Washington arms-limit agreement to include cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. The 1922 Naval Treaty had set limits the same for Britain and the United States with Japan allowed 60% and Italy and France one-third as much. After five years of study the League Council's Preparatory Commission scheduled a Disarmament Conference for February 1932 in Geneva. Fifty-nine nations were represented, and Soviet foreign minister Maxim Litvinov came to the Disarmament Conference with a proposal for a substantial reduction of offensive weapons. Germany wanted other powers to reduce their arms to the levels to which they had been restricted by the Versailles Treaty, and they quoted that document's call for "a general limitation of the armaments of all nations."24 They reminded the French officials that they had been given assurances that these limitations would be "the first steps toward the general reduction of armaments."24 The French, lacking support from Britain and the United States to protect their national security, were unwilling to make concessions to Germany. France proposed that all major offensive weapons be controlled by the League and an international force under Council authority. German Chancellor Heinrich Bruening demanded equality for Germany by having the other powers reduce their arms.
On April 10, 1932 Germans re-elected President Paul von Hindenburg, but Adolf Hitler got more than thirteen million votes. Bruening suggested that Germany be allowed to double its army to 200,000. On June 2 Franz von Papen replaced Bruening and harshly criticized the Versailles Treaty. That month United States president Herbert Hoover proposed abolishing offensive weapons and reducing all others by a third, but neither Britain nor Japan would accept the abolition of armored forces and bombers. The Germans announced that they would withdraw until they were given equality. On December 11 envoys of France, Germany, Britain, and the United States declared equal rights in a system to provide security for all nations. On January 30, 1933 President Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor of Germany. On March 5 the Nazi party won the election, and with the nationalists they held a majority in the recently burned Reichstag. On March 16 British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald proposed parity in troops between France, Germany, Italy, and Poland at 200,000 each while allowing Russia 500,000, France 200,000 more in her empire, and Italy 50,000 more; every power would be limited to 500 military aircraft. MacDonald then left to consult in Rome with Benito Mussolini, who proposed a four-power pact between France, Germany, Britain, and Italy outside of the League.
On May 16, 1933 US president Franklin D. Roosevelt declared his support for the British plan. The next day Hitler made a speech calling war "unlimited madness" and offered to disband Germany's entire military establishment if its neighbors would do the same. He complained that Germany was being treated unjustly by the Versailles Treaty; he threatened that if Germany was not given equality, it would withdraw from the Disarmament Conference and from the League. The example of Japanese aggression in Manchuria persuaded most diplomats that disarmament would be foolish, and Britain insisted on keeping its strategic bombing capability. France proposed amending MacDonald's plan, delaying German rearmament for four years and its equality for eight years. A four-power power pact was signed by Britain, France, Germany, and Italy at Rome on July 15, but this did little but agree to consider the revision of treaties. On October 14, 1933 Hitler announced that Germany was withdrawing from the Disarmament Conference and from the League of Nations. When Hitler put this to a national referendum on November 12, about 95% of the German people voted in favor of his decision. Although the French and British intelligence agencies were aware that Germany had been secretly rearming since the 1920s in violation of the Versailles Treaty, no sanctions were proposed.
In October 1932 the mandate for Iraq had been declared terminated, and that nation was unanimously admitted into the League. On July 1, 1933 the French diplomat, Deputy Secretary-General Joseph Avenol, replaced Secretary-General Eric Drummond. In March 1934 the German budget for the next fiscal year revealed a 90% increase in military expenditures, persuading France to end negotiations. In July 1934 Mussolini used four divisions to keep the Nazis from taking over Austria after they murdered Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. Despite opposition to admitting a Communist country by Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Portugal, the Soviet Union was voted into the League of Nations on September 18, 1934 and was given a permanent seat on the Council. Nazi threats regarding the impending plebiscite in the Saar prompted Geoffrey Knox of the Governing Commission to request troops from the League Council, and 1,500 soldiers, mostly Italian, were sent. In the 1935 Saar election 90% voted for reunion with Germany; less than 50,000 wanted to remain under the League; and only 2,214 voted to unite with France.
An undeclared border war had been going on at the Gran Chaco between Bolivia and Paraguay since December 1928 over rich oil deposits. On December 19 that year those governments had informed Secretary-General Drummond that they had chosen Pan-American arbitration; 52,000 Bolivians and 36,000 Paraguayans were killed in the conflict. When the Washington Commission of Neutrals failed in 1933, Bolivia appealed to the League, which sent a Commission of Inquiry. An arms embargo was recommended, and 28 nations agreed to it in May 1934. The arms embargo was lifted from Bolivia after they accepted the cease-fire proposal, but Paraguay did not accept it and resigned from the League in February 1935. In May the League gave the Gran Chaco dispute back to a South American mediation conference that included the United States, and on June 12, 1935 Bolivia and Paraguay signed protocols ending the dispute. In January 1935 the United States Senate had defeated an effort by the Roosevelt administration to become a member of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ).
During the 1920s Italy had used troops to suppress native resistance in Somaliland, and from 1929 to 1932 the Fascists conducted a brutal campaign in Libya, destroying villages, hanging leaders, and putting civilians in concentration camps. On December 5, 1934 a clash at the Wal Wal oasis killed over a hundred Ethiopians (Abyssinians) and about thirty native soldiers under Italian authority. Italy had been planning war to gain Ethiopia's coal, oil, gold, and platinum and so rejected arbitration under the treaty they had signed in 1928. On January 3, 1935 Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie asked the League to intervene to protect his nation as stated in Article 11. Mussolini agreed to arbitration in order to postpone the Council's consideration. Then he disregarded its decision by building up Italian forces in Somaliland and Eritrea. On March 17 Ethiopia appealed to Article 15; but two days before that, Hitler had announced compulsory conscription and an increase in the German army from 10 to 36 divisions. On April 17, 1935 the League Council condemned German rearmament as a violation of the Versailles Treaty. In June Stanley Baldwin became prime minister, and a special poll of British voters called the "Peace Ballot" showed that they overwhelmingly supported the League, favoring economic sanctions 15-1 and military sanctions 3-1.
On October 3, 1935 the Italian army invaded Ethiopia, and within a week both the League Council and its Assembly had condemned Italy for violating the Covenant, though Albania, Austria, and Hungary opposed the resolution. After France's Pierre Laval and England's Samuel Hoare endorsed a sanctions regime that capitulated to Mussolini, it was so unpopular that both foreign ministers had to resign, Hoare on December 19 and Laval on January 22, 1936. Ethiopians submitted evidence that the Italians were using mustard gas in violation of the Geneva Protocol they signed in 1925. After the French Chamber of Deputies ratified a mutual aid pact with the Soviet Union in February 1936, Hitler ordered German troops to occupy the Rhineland on March 7 in violation of the Locarno Pact as well as the Versailles Treaty. French and Belgian diplomats asked the League for sanctions and military force, but the British opposed. On May 6 the Italians captured Addis Ababa, and Mussolini proclaimed his "African victory." When the Ethiopian delegate attended the League Council on May 11, the Italian delegate walked out; but Secretary-General Avenol negotiated with Mussolini and criticized Selassie.
A month later the British government advised lifting the sanctions against Italy. This decision was bitterly criticized in the House of Commons as opposition leader Clement Attlee accused them of destroying the League of Nations. However, this policy of Anthony Eden was also adopted by France. Selassie was allowed to speak to the League Assembly on June 30 and warned them that "the very existence of the League" was in danger, saying "God and history will remember your judgment."25 Four days later the Assembly voted to end the sanctions as Ethiopia cast the only opposing vote. After the Ethiopian delegates were allowed to be seated in September 1936, the Italians no longer attended any meetings. On November 1, 1936 Mussolini announced the Rome-Berlin Axis.
In July 1936 General Francisco Franco and military officers tried to take over the government of Spain by force from the Popular Front led by Manuel Azaña, who had been elected on May 8. Azaña asked for military aid from France and England while appealing to the League. France's socialist prime minister Leon Blum was sympathetic, but the French parliament feared war with Italy and Germany, who were already supplying Franco with aircraft; thus the French government prohibited selling arms to the Spanish republic. On September 9, 1936 in London 26 European nations met as the International Committee for the Application of the Agreement for Non-Intervention in Spain. Attempting to mollify Italy and Germany, the League's Secretary-General Avenol blocked the effort of Spain's foreign minister, Julio Alvarez del Vayo, to bring up the issue in the League Assembly. Although they all accepted the Non-Intervention Agreement, Italy and Germany continued to aid Franco's war; in response the USSR sent supplies to the Spanish government. Avenol invited the countries involved in the crisis to the Council for a mediation effort but removed consideration of possible aggression against Spain. After the Axis powers recognized Franco on November 18, Avenol began blocking League aid to the Spanish republic.
In December 1936 Alvarez del Vayo accused the Fascist powers of violating the Agreement, and in February 1937 the Non-Intervention Committee decided to police Spanish borders and ports to prevent outside aid and volunteers to Spain with naval patrols from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Russia. The next month Italian troops were captured in the battle of Guadalajara, proving that four Italian divisions were fighting. On April 26 German aircraft destroyed the city of Guernica. The Spanish foreign minister accused Italy again at the League Council on May 28, and the next day the Council unanimously passed a resolution for all non-Spanish forces to withdraw from the Civil War. The day after that, 22 of the crew on the Deutschland were killed in an air attack, prompting the German navy to blast the port of Almeria and to withdraw from the interdiction patrols. In September 1937 the Mediterranean powers met to stop submarine warfare, and on the 16th Spanish prime minister Juan Negrin went to the League and asked them to protect Spanish ships and condemn Italy for the losses. Despite Avenol's continuing efforts to conciliate Italy, on December 11 Mussolini announced Italy's resignation from the League.
In May 1938 Alvarez del Vayo asked the League to end the sham of non-intervention, but only the USSR voted with Spain. In October 1938 the international brigades fighting for the Loyalist government were disbanded; but Franco kept bombing, and a British report to the League Council in January 1939 called it "contrary to the conscience of mankind and to the principles of international law."26 The League did arrange aid for the refugees as Franco's offensive captured Barcelona, Catalonia, and finally Madrid before the republican armies surrendered on April 1. On May 9, 1939 Franco announced that Spain was withdrawing from the League of Nations. Avenol's concessions to try to keep the Fascist powers in the League had failed.
Fighting broke out between Chinese and Japanese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge west of Beijing on July 7, 1937 and spread in the north and to Shanghai the next month. On September 12 China asked the League to help; but British consul Edmond in Geneva, Secretary-General Avenol, and French foreign minister Delbos persuaded the Chinese delegate Wellington Koo that League action would prevent President Roosevelt from assisting because of America's neutrality law. So Koo agreed to an advisory committee, and on September 27 he did not ask for sanctions but only requested a review of the bombing issue. Britain's delegate Robert Cecil modified Koo's proposal for collective support from the League for China and deleted the motion to bar aid to Japan. Britain over Koo's objections also got the issue given to the nations of the Nine Power Treaty of 1922 that had limited Japanese armaments. No war had been declared, but in December 1937 Time magazine estimated that the Japanese had killed 20,000 Chinese prisoners of war and civilians in Nanjing (Nanking). In January 1938 Koo again got the run-around that the League could not act without the United States, which was waiting for the League. Koo appealed to the League again in February, May, and in the autumn of 1938 but still could not get even an embargo against aiding Japan with arms or loans.
Although he had pledged to respect Austrian sovereignty in a 1936 treaty, Hitler announced it would be unified with Germany on March 12, 1938. Austria's chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg capitulated but scheduled a plebiscite for March 13. Fearing a defeat at the polls, Hitler ordered his army to invade, and to avoid carnage Schuschnigg cancelled the plebiscite on March 11. British officials advised against the League trying to pass any ineffective resolutions. Next Hitler campaigned for the Sudetanland to be returned to Germany; but on September 22, 1938 Czechoslovakia began mobilizing and appealed to France to fulfill its treaty obligation. At the end of the month British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and French premier Edouard Daladier met with Hitler at Munich as Czech officials were excluded. Chamberlain accepted Germany's terms and was given a paper by Hitler saying that it was "the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again."27 In March 1939 German troops occupied Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia as Hitler let Hungary take over the Ruthenian region of what had been Czechoslovakia. When its former President Benes appealed to the League, Secretary-General Avenol dismissed his request and began admitting that the League could no longer make political pronouncements or maneuvers. Instead, he hoped that the League could expand its social and economic services.
On April 7, 1939 the Italian army invaded Albania, and Mussolini forced its government to resign from the League. On August 23 the new Soviet foreign minister Molotov and Germany's Ribbentrop announced a Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. As German troops invaded Poland on September 1, it became clear that Poland had been divided between them. Britain and France gave Hitler an ultimatum and then declared war on Germany. Avenol and the League did nothing until the USSR invaded Finland on November 30, 1939. On December 14 the League Assembly expelled the Soviet Union for violating its Covenant. Technical assistance was offered to Finland; but it was over-run by Soviet armies by March 1940. During World War II the League survived at Geneva, though Avenol resigned on July 25 and was replaced by Irish Sean Lester. Finally the League of Nations itself was replaced and its remaining functions were taken over by the United Nations Organization in April 1946.
Perhaps the League had helped to prevent small wars and through cooperation brought more collective consciousness into international affairs, but its failure had become overwhelmingly obvious when the aggressions of Japan, Italy, and Germany brought on a second world war that many had feared.
1. The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, Volume
2 by James Brown Scott, p. 77.
2. Advocate of Peace, LXXII (1910), 147 quoted by Calvin De Armond Davis in The United States and the Second Hague Peace Conference, p. 319.
3. Quoted by Page Smith in America Enters the World, p. 615.
4. The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Volume 1, p. 275.
5. Ibid., p. 353.
6. Ibid., p. 355.
7. Ibid., p. 355.
8. Quoted by Arthur S. Link in Wilson: Campaigns for Progressivism and Peace 1916-1917, p. 398.
9. The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Volume 1, p. 378.
10. Ibid., p. 381.
11. Ibid., p. 468-470.
12. Ibid., p. 524.
13. Ibid., p. 556.
14. Baker, Ray Stannard, Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement, Volume 1, p. 10.
15. The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Volume 1, p. 597.
16. The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Volume 2, p. 709.
17. The Law of War: A Documentary History ed. Leon Friedman, Volume 1, p. 424.
18. Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal by Thomas A. Bailey, p. 350.
19. The Law of War: A Documentary History ed. Leon Friedman, Volume 1, p. 423.
20. Ibid., p. 424.
21. Ibid., p. 429.
22. Peace in Their Time: The Origins of the Kellogg-Briand Pact by Robert Ferrell, p. 266.
23. The League of Nations: its life and times 1920-1946 by F. S. Northedge, p. 147.
24. The League of Nations from 1929 to 1946 by George Gill, p. 9.
25. Ibid., p. 46.
26. Ibid., p. 64.
27. Ibid., p. 80.
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