League of Nations

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1939–1941 semi-official emblem

The League of Nations (LON) was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference, and the precursor to the United Nations. At its greatest extent from 28 September 1934 to 23 February 1935, it had 58 members. The League's primary goals, as stated in its Covenant, included preventing war through collective security, disarmament, and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration.[1] Other goals in this and related treaties included labour conditions, just treatment of native inhabitants, trafficking in persons and drugs, arms trade, global health, prisoners of war, and protection of minorities in Europe.[2]

The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift in thought from the preceding hundred years. The League lacked its own armed force and so depended on the Great Powers to enforce its resolutions, keep to economic sanctions which the League ordered, or provide an army, when needed, for the League to use. However, they were often reluctant to do so.

Sanctions could also hurt the League members, so they were reluctant to comply with them. When, during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the League accused Italian soldiers of targeting Red Cross medical tents, Benito Mussolini responded that "the League is very well when sparrows shout, but no good at all when eagles fall out."[3]

After a number of notable successes and some early failures in the 1920s, the League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis powers in the 1930s. In May 1933, Franz Bernheim, a Jew, complained that his rights as a minority were being violated by the German administration of Upper Silesia, which induced the Germans to defer enforcement of the anti-Jewish laws in the region for several years until the relevant treaty expired in 1937, whereupon they simply refused to renew the League's authority further and renewed anti-Jewish persecution.[4]

Hitler claimed these clauses violated Germany's sovereignty. Germany withdrew from the League, soon to be followed by many other aggressive powers. The onset of World War II showed that the League had failed its primary purpose, which was to avoid any future world war. The United Nations replaced it after the end of the war and inherited a number of agencies and organizations founded by the League.

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