In case of any aggression or threat, or danger of aggression, the Council was empowered to advise the League on measures to be adopted for preserving the territorial integrity and independence of the member-States.
In case of war or threat of war, whether immediately affecting any of the member-States of the League or not, the League was empowered to take any action that was deemed wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of the nations.
Finally, in case of any dispute likely to lead to a rupture, the matter was required to be submitted either to arbitration or to inquiry by the Council. In no case a resort to war was to be made until three months after the award by the arbitrators or the report by the Council.
In case a State went to war by violating its pledges, the other member-States were to break off diplomatic and other intercourse with it. There was just a vague provision for military sanctions.
The efforts of the League in this respect were commendable. It secured settlement in the Aaland Islands and Upper Silesia when all other means had failed. It saved Albania, in 1921, from piecemeal extinction. In 1925 Greco-Bulgarian clash was averted by the interference of the League and in the same year it succeeded in the mediation of Mosul oilfields dispute.
The Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague decided 27 cases and handed down the same number of advisory opinions. The reputation of the Court for impartiality was so great that its decisions were respectfully accepted by the contending States and, thus, the League, on many occasions, saved countries from international rupture.
Removal of the Causes of War:
The members of the League recognized that the maintenance of peace required reduction of national armaments to the lower point consistent with national safety, and enforcement of common action on international obligations.
The Council of the League of Nations was empowered to formulate plans for the reduction of armaments for consideration and action by Governments of the member-States. It was, also, empowered to advise how the evil effects of the manufacture by private enterprise of munitions and weapons of war could be prevented. But the Disarmament Conferences, held from 1925 onwards, failed. Perhaps those who advocated disarmament were the first to arm themselves.
Conquests of small States, the policy of Colonial expansion, and secret alliances, forbidden in the Covenant of the League, remained the avowed policy of all the major Powers. Specific blame could not be placed on any single country.
It was the common action of all. The result was that every State, big or small, began pursuing the policy of war-preparedness. War-preparedness means increase in armaments and reckless increase in armaments creates a vicious circle, as it causes distrust and panic particularly in small States.
In graver matters the League, thus, failed miserably. Japan was the first to violate the sanctity of the solemn commitments by invading Manchuria in 1931. Till that time the authority of the League of Nations had been impressive. Mussolini was the next to follow Japan. The Duce pounced upon Ethiopia in 1935.
In the meantime Hitler was militarising Rhineland and driving Germany forward on the road of conquest. After resigning from the membership of the League, Germany denounced the Locarno Treaty in 1936 and conquered Austria in 1937. The ineffectiveness of the League was further demonstrated by Germany’s conquest of Czechoslovakia. Then came the subjugation of Poland both by Germany and Russia in September 1939.
Organisation of International Cooperation:
The activities of the League in this sphere were really appreciable. The International Labour Organisation had become a recognized source of information about labour conditions. The League’s financial section presided over the successful rehabilitation of Austria, Hungary and Greece, administering large loans in each case.
The League’s world-wide fight against opium traffic was historic. Similarly, the work of the Transit and Communication Section of the League was admirable. Its work on intellectual cooperation could not be dismissed as negligible.
Causes of the League’s Failure:
On the whole, however, the League of Nations miserably failed in its mission. One of the main reasons for the League’s failure was the international disequilibrium brought about by economic, political and social forces in the post-war period.
Hunger for more land and craze for new markets became a mania with every country, particularly with Germany, Italy, and Japan. Economic nationalism and, thus, a plea, for self-sufficiency undermined the very basis of the League, that is, international goodwill and cooperation.
In spite of its best efforts, the World Economic Conference, convened under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1927, could not solve the so-called insoluble problem of tariffs. It had its political repercussions, for economic retribution is always destructive in its results.
Immediately after World War I an unbridgeable gulf was created in the economic outlook of the States. This was due to the new political ideologies professed by them. Nationalism in its narrow sense did no longer remain the slogan of pseudo-politicians only it had become the accepted policy of every State.
Democracy gave way to concentration of authority; in every country, including the citadels of democracy—United States, United Kingdom and France.
The economic depression of 1931 and the misdistribution of gold further aggravated the world problem and, consequently, there ensued an economic tug-of-war between the major countries.
This created suspicions and distrust which ultimately culminated in war preparations, another major addition to the already existing vicious circle. The cumulative effect of all these forces was that the superstructure of international brotherhood, so cherishingly envisaged in the League of Nations, toppled down.
The prestige of the League of Nations waned. The deliberations of the Assembly and the Council became a mere farce. The promoters of war preached peace. “I cannot recall any time,” said Sir Winston Churchill, “when the gap between the kind of words which statesmen used and what was actually happening in many countries was so great as it is now.”
The League could have succeeded in its object only if the representatives of the major member-States had genuinely striven for collective security. But events showed otherwise.
“When the Covenant appeared to require action which might have entailed practical consequences for the mass of the people, successive governments preferred inaction.” It was, therefore, no surprise when the news of the War flashed across the world on September 3, 1939, tolling the death-knell of the League.