The League of Nations and International Security: 1920 - 1939

De Baripedia

So far we have focused on the technical and social aspects of the peaceful settlement and the League of Nations system. We will seek to analyse and see if the League of Nations has been able to fulfil its first vocation, namely peacekeeping. To do this, we will analyse the crises that marked the period between the two world wars.

In 1919, no one could foresee the rise of National Socialism. Indeed, and historical research speaks of the "Thirty Years' War" of the 20th century, it is possible to see the Second World War as a consequence of the First World War. We will look at collective security as envisaged by the Peace Conference. The introduction of a mechanism to deal with the war of aggression and thus to seek a peaceful settlement is a new element. There is the introduction of instruments for the peaceful settlement of disputes, whereas the old system was that of alliances.


The "international security"[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The concept of "collective security" was introduced and first used by Edvard Beneš in 1924. Already, during the peace negotiations following the Second World War, Wilson and Smuts designed a system to promote peace and prevent destabilizing factors. The approach that was sought to be built in Paris was based on avoiding the phenomena and problems that caused the First World War. On the issues of nationalism, the League of Nations has sought to create systems for the protection of minorities against imperialism and the social tensions that are emerging and becoming explosive after the October Revolution. The League of Nations will respond to the arms race with a disarmament system. The League of Nations is also trying to introduce the concept of transparent diplomacy.

With the creation of the League of Nations, the peace treaty established the principle of international solidarity and the indivisibility of peace. The main articles provide an understanding of the mechanism and ideas that underlie the construction of the League of Nations. Article 10 gives territorial integrity: "The members of the Corporation undertake to respect and maintain against any external aggression the territorial integrity and present political independence of all members of the Corporation. In the event of aggression, threat or danger of aggression, the Council shall notify the means of ensuring compliance with this obligation. Respect for territorial integrity is essential in the conception of the collective security of the League of Nations. In Wilson's idea, there was also the concept that it was difficult in Paris to make peace and settle all issues. In designing the League of Nations, there is the idea that it is possible one day to review the decisions taken. There is the possibility of revising Article 19 "The Assembly may, from time to time, invite the members of the Society to reconsider treaties that have become inapplicable as well as international situations, the maintenance of which could endanger world peace". This principle was applied with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which revised the Treaty of Sèvres. Agreements such as those of Munich in 1938 are made outside the League of Nations and therefore according to the old system. Article 8 states, "The members of the Society recognize that peacekeeping requires the reduction of national armaments to the minimum consistent with national security and the fulfilment of international obligations imposed for joint action. The Council, taking into account the geographical situation and special conditions of each State, shall prepare plans for such reduction for consideration and decision by the various Governments...". The armaments of the members who are part of the League of Nations must be at least, but this leaves room for interpretation, which is a political issue. In its mechanism, Article 8 stipulates that it should be the Council that sets exceptions to the minimum armament: "After their adoption by the various governments, the armaments limit so set may not be exceeded without the consent of the Council". In theory, nation states can no longer engage in an arms race and must declare their weapons and if they exceed the limits, they must obtain the consent of the League of Nations. This is a limit to national sovereignty. There is a desire to avoid a future war, but it will not work.

Article 9 establishes a Commission to deal with military naval and air armaments issues. The concept of the League of Nations is very strong with regard to arms control. One way to avoid armed conflict is to waive the use of war, as set out in Article 12 of the Pact: "All members of the Society agree that, if a dispute arises between them which may lead to a breach, they shall submit it either to the arbitration procedure or to the Council for consideration. They further agree that in no case shall they resort to war before the expiry of a period of three months after the arbitrators' award or the Council's report. With the establishment of arbitration procedures, the League of Nations tries to find solutions to disputes without having to resort to war. The peaceful settlement of disputes is regulated in articles 12, 15 and 17 of the Covenant. In the legal construction, the League of Nations had strong and powerful instruments, and the pact is extremely clear on these points, the failure was rather from the political point of view.

Articles 10, 15 and 16 are the ones that regulate and give more weight to collective security in the sense that a State that has attacked another State is considered to have attacked all other members of the League of Nations. Article 16 states: "If a member of the Corporation resorts to war, contrary to the commitments made in Articles 12, 13 or 15, he shall ipso facto be considered to have committed an act of war against all the other members of the Corporation. They undertake to immediately terminate all commercial or financial relations with the Company, to prohibit all relations between their nationals and those of the State in breach of the agreement and to put an end to all financial, commercial or personal communications between the nationals of that State and those of any other State, whether or not a member of the Company". If a member resorts to war, it is automatically considered as having attacked all other members of society. They undertake to immediately terminate all commercial, financial and personal relations with him. This article is extremely strong: "In this case, the Council has the duty to recommend to the various governments concerned the military, naval or air forces by which the members of the Society will respectively contribute to the armed forces intended to enforce the Society's commitments". In the event that one member of the League of Nations attacks another, it is automatically considered to be at war and governments are recommended the military forces they should make available to the League of Nations to fight that State that has gone against the Covenant. This concept is strong being the ultimate ratio. There are the means of economic sanctions, which are automatic, military sanctions and finally moral sanctions by excluding the community of States of the world, and therefore the League of Nations. Once the League of Nations fails to be universal, this principle is weak and difficult to implement.

Periodization[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is possible to periodize in four parts:

  • 1919: a whole series of problems related to collective security with the problem of the Russian civil war, the war of the Young Turks to obtain the revision of the Sèvres Treaty, the Irish war of independence, the Ruhr conflict and the unrest in China. In this context, it should not be forgotten that from October 1922 onwards, Italy was seized by fascists. In 1923, Hitler who was still a marginal and tried in Munich to make a putsch on the same modality as Mussolini who would fail, but would be constitutive for the creation of the myth of National Socialism. Fascism and National Socialism are two new ideologies that present themselves as alternatives to communism and the liberal ideas of the capitalist system;
  • 1925: From the Locarno Pact is Germany's entry into the League of Nations becoming a permanent member of the Council of the League of Nations. Germany has not given up the same guarantee with regard to the eastern border, leaving open a potentially large door of conflict giving de facto the beginning of the Second World War. The phase between the two wars is often seen as a "black hole" leading to the Second World War, but this is not correct. Between 1924 and 1925, there was a relative stability that some people called the "Golden Twenties" or the "Roaring Twenties". This is a phase with strong movements and cultural production that strongly marks the 20th century. In 1928, the Briand-Kellog Pact made the prohibition of war the norm. This pact aims to condemn war as a means of conflict resolution and as an instrument of national policy[6]. War for the first time is declared prohibited as a new development in the conception of international law. This pact is of unlimited duration, and the signatory states undertake not to use war as a political instrument. With the pact, States must submit to the arbitration of the League of Nations and must guarantee not to enter into war for a period of three months, but after that period, war becomes legitimate. In the philosophical conception of the League of Nations pact, there is no prohibition on war, but it became so in 1928.
  • 1931 - 1933: it is the destabilization that begins more and more with a situation that begins to deteriorate from 1929 onwards following the global economic crisis. Nation-states are beginning to retreat into their own national interests. International crises began outside Europe. It was Japan's attack on Manchuria that marked the first serious event marking the direction towards World War II in Asia. In South America, there is the Chaco War and in Africa, the Italian attack on Abyssinia. It is on the fringes of the world that the entire system created with the League of Nations is beginning to be destabilized.
  • 1933 - 1939: German revisionism under National Socialist domination will put an end to everything that was built in Versailles. National Socialist Germany will leave the League of Nations once the return of the Saarland has been completed, the restoration of compulsory military service, the annexation of Austria in 1938, the occupation of the Sudetenland territory and finally the annexation of Danzig. There was a rapid movement towards the Second World War. In 1939, Italy launched an assault on Albania destabilizing the system. There is also the civil war in Spain where Italy and Germany support the fascist general Franco who is waging a war against the Spanish Republic.

When we deal with the question of the peaceful settlement of disputes by the League of Nations, we must see the normative direction, which is a legal approach that gives very strong instruments regulated by the Covenant, which dictates conduct in the context of conflicts with a clear and well thought-out normative reality. There is the historical reality that is marked by the situation and the political contingencies that do not follow what international law, in theory, had anticipated. There is the difference between the normative conception of international law and the historical reality behind it.

Conflicts dealt with in the 1920s

  1. Swedish-Finnish conflict 1920 (Åland Islands)
  2. Polish-Lithuanian conflict (Vilna, 1920 - 1923)
  3. Italian-Greek conflict (Corfu, 1923)[mainly dealt with by the Conference of Ambassadors]
  4. Conflict in Mosul, 1924 - 1925 (Great Britain, Turkey)
  5. Greek-Bulgarian conflict 1925 (Demir Kapou)
  6. Chaco War 1928-1938 (Paraguay-Bolivia/Brazil)

Conflicts dealt with in the 1930s

  1. Sino-Japanese conflict over Manchuria 1931 - 1932
  2. Leticia-Colombia-Peru, 1933 - 1934
  3. Italian-Ethiopian War 1936
  4. Russian-Finnish War, 1939 - 1940

Conflicts not handled by the LoN

  1. Annexation of Fiume by Italy (1919/1920)
  2. Franco-German conflict, 1923 (occupation of the Ruhr)
  3. Rif War 1925 (Morocco, decolonization)
  4. Japanese aggression against China, 1937 - 1945
  5. Annexion of Austria by Germany, 1938
  6. Czech-German conflict (Sudetenland crisis) 1938
  7. Annexion of Danzig, March 1939
  8. Annexation of Albania by Italy, April 1939
  9. Annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia (April 1939)
  10. German-Soviet aggression against Poland (1939)

Conflicts dealt with, but outside the framework of the Pact:

  • Upper Silesia 1923: treated by the League of Nations, but less as a "conflict" than by interpreting the Treaty of Versailles
  • Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939)

These are the conflicts of the inter-war period. It is striking that the conflicts of the 1930s caused by National Socialism are not dealt with by the League of Nations. It is clear that from 1933 onwards, Germany is no longer part of the League of Nations, but it was still possible to settle them within the framework of the League of Nations. There are symmetrical and asymmetrical conflicts.

Peace through law? "Symmetrical" conflicts handled by the League of Nations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The case of the Åland Islands[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Åland Islands are a group of islands in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. These islands were administered by Russia before Finland's independence. With the independence of Finland, the question of the island's membership arose. The Finnish-speaking part turned to the Grand Duchy of Finland, and the Swedish-speaking part of the population wanted to belong to Sweden. With Finland's entry into the League of Nations, Britain requested that the issue of the Åland Islands be settled by the League of Nations. The Council that considered this issue ruled in favour of Finland, but demanded that for the Swedish-speaking population there be extensive minority rights and at the same time the League of Nations decided that this island should be demilitarized. This issue has been established through a peaceful settlement that allows for a compromise.

Greek-Bulgarian conflict of 1925 (Demir Kapou)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Between the two states, there was a border dispute that continued latently and in 1925, Greece declared war on Bulgaria and Greek troops invaded Bulgaria. The Council of the League of Nations convened a meeting to resolve the issue and demanded an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops. This requirement was supported by the threat of military intervention. This is a phase in which the League of Nations in the context of symmetrical conflicts manages to assert its weight. It is thanks to its weight, and the threat of military intervention that the Council of the League of Nations succeeds in imposing itself and Greece has had to pay compensation. It is a settlement where the peaceful settlement of disputes has worked and has strengthened the League of Nations.

Chaco Conflict, 1928 - 1938 and two wars: 1928 - 1929, 1932 - 1935 (Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Chaco region is a deserted territory located between Bolivia and Paraguay, the only valuable element was a Bolivian port that gave access to part of the Amazonian forest, and it was thought that in this region there were potential gas and oil reserves. There were skirmishes from 1928 and 1932 onwards, also under the influence of the global economic crisis, there is an increasing motivation between the two states to start a war for control of these territories. It should be noted that the European colonization of Latin America in regions that were not commercially interesting had not set clear borders. This war is extremely bloody, it is a war that will kill many people. The League of Nations eventually managed to impose a compromise that put an end to the war and conferred a certain prestige on it. Paraguay withdrew and failed to impose itself by force as it had done de facto. The war ended in 1939 with an agreement that gave Paraguay a large part of the territories, and it was only in 2009 that the presidents of Bolivia and Paraguay signed a final agreement to fix the border.

Leticia - Colombia - Peru: 1933 - 1934[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Colombia and Peru fought over the Leticia trapeze region, which is a port granted to Colombia in 1932. The League of Nations sent a delegation to resolve this dispute. In 1933, more than ten years later, an armistice was declared, and the region was placed under the administration of the League of Nations for one year. In 1934, the region was demilitarized, and Bolivia had to give Peru access to the territory.

In this inter-war period, the League of Nations tries to find compromises with demilitarized zones or through the administration of zones by the League of Nations. There is the attempt by the League of Nations to find solutions to avoid conflicts that would otherwise have been resolved through brute force with war.

Asymmetric conflicts handled by the League of Nations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

These are conflicts between major powers and small states. Unlike symmetrical conflicts, the League of Nations had little influence in conflicts between major powers and small States. It is here that the political situation becomes visible following the fact that the United States is not a member of the League of Nations and is supported by the European powers. There is always a return to hegemonic classical politics between France and Great Britain. There was a unanimity requirement, which often prevented a solution from being found. The major powers used the withdrawal of the League of Nations more as a political means of conveying their interest. Each withdrawal of power weakens the League of Nations, which has led France and Great Britain to return to the old logic of the great powers and therefore to the politics of the concert. Except for the Russo-Finnish war, we find ourselves in a logic of the appeasement that we seek to obtain with the fascist powers.

Polish-Lithuanian conflict: the Vilna question: 1920 - 1923[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the context of nation-state building in Central Europe, Poland and Lithuania were competing for the region and city of Vilnius. Lithuania's recognition followed peace with the Soviet Union in 1920. In the same year, Poland renounced its territories by contract, although many Polish speakers lived in the region. There is a very complex ethnic stratification. This situation excites nationalists and legions are trying to annex these territories of mixed language and ethnic stratification. The League of Nations established a demarcation line that was to be overseen by a committee set up by the League of Nations. Despite the role of the League of Nations, Polish troops took the city by force two days later. The Polish government refused to be at fault on the grounds that they were not regular troops. Following this, the Council of the League of Nations proposed a popular vote to protect the right to self-determination. This right to vote was not respected by the Poles, who ignored it and Vilna remained on the Polish side and annexed. This is an asymmetrical conflict and a clear failure for the League of Nations.

Italian-Greek conflict: Corfu, 1923[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

On the Italian side, it is no longer a liberal state, but a fascist state that is beginning to challenge the League of Nations. In 1922, Mussolini was legally appointed head of the Italian government, beginning to reshape Italy according to fascist ideas. The constitution of the fascist regime will take much sooner than it will be in Germany after 1933. In Italy, the takeover phase is slower than in Germany. From 1929 onwards, the fascist regime was supported by most of the population. Italy was neutral in 1914, although it was part of the Triple Alliance, but considered the outbreak of the First World War as an act of attack that did not fit into the logic of the Triple Alliance. With the 1915 London Treaty, Italy was assured by the powers of the Agreement that if the Agreement entered the war, it would obtain territorial advantages. In the Italian-Greek conflict, the issue was the hegemony over the Mediterranean, which fascism would designate as the concept of the mare nostrum. Italy will obtain territories in Istria, but also Dalmatia.

There is always a pretext in this case which is the murder on Greek territory of an Italian general who was part of a League of Nations commission to demarcate the border between Greece and Albania. Italy issues an ultimatum and will occupy the island of Corfu. The League of Nations will send a commission of inquiry and the report relieved the Greek government of all responsibility. Italy insists that the report not be published and refuses to withdraw from the island of Corfu if it does not obtain reparations. We find new elements that are provided for in the pact and at the end we always return to the old hegemonic logic.

Occupation of the Ruhr, 1923: passive resistance[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The peace treaties had defined reparations on the part of Germany, which should have given a certain type of reparation and what it will not do, leading France to occupy the Ruhr in order to guarantee the exploitation of the property in order to guarantee the reparations as set out in the pact. This is a conflict that is not dealt with by the League of Nations. It is a conflict that France manages to bring about as a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles. This annexation of German territory will lead to this situation with a whole series of consequences. The occupation of the Ruhr will weaken France's interests. In this context, even a State that is a permanent member of the Council may annex the territory of another State and this does not automatically give the measures provided for in the League of Nations pact.

Mosul conflict[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is a territorial conflict with the challenge of controlling the resources in the soil, namely oil. There is a state that is the Turkish state that has lost the war and is no longer a great power. Commercial interests are important and the decision taken is not a decision that refers to ethnic or historical logic, but there is a decision in favour of a great power, particularly in the case of Great Britain. This is a very clear example of a conflict that is not asymmetrical and that will be resolved in the direction of the great powers.

Turkey and the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) -

Manchuria Conflict: 1931 - 1933[modifier | modifier le wikicode]


With this conflict, we are on the way to the Second World War, at least in the Asian part of the world. The territorial and economic expansion that Japan is implementing is vast. Japan occupies Manchuria and creates the puppet state of Manchukuo. The Council of the League of Nations is acting slowly doing what is provided for in the pact with a commission of inquiry that is sent to the country preparing the Lytton report, which recommends not recognizing the new puppet state of Manchuku created by Japan, which is increasingly becoming an authoritarian regime under military leadership. This intervention by the League of Nations will not change the reality becoming one of the starting points for Japanese aggression during the Second World War.

Italian aggression against Ethiopia[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is a return to the old imperial logic. A French telegram sent to Rome says that France and England agree to give Ethiopia to Italy. It is a return to the logic of the concert of powers in a logic of appeasement and to keep Italy on the side of France and Great Britain against Germany. Italy is allowed to go against the pact and the League of Nations will do nothing against this flagrant aggression against a State of the League of Nations. It is a return to the old logic of the European Concert. This takes away what little credibility the League of Nations has left.

French attempts to improve the security system[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the 1930s, especially on the French side, there were attempts to improve security in some respects. Everything that France is seeking to achieve in order to improve its situation automatically leads to a huge weakness of the League of Nations. Similarly, the Locarno Treaty, which is seen as an element of stabilization, can also be seen as a first step in a policy that seeks to resolve conflicts outside the League of Nations. It is a treaty signed by the powers, but not recognized internally by the League of Nations even if one of the cardinal points is that Germany will enter as a great power as a permanent member in the Council of the League of Nations. The period between the two world wars was a gradual return to the logic that existed between states.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. Profil de Sacha Zala sur Documents Diplomatiques Suisses
  2. CV de Sacha Zala
  3. Profil wikipedia de Sacha Zala
  4. Profil de Sacha Zala sur le site de l’Université de Berne
  5. Site personnel de Sacha Zala
  6. Schmitt, Carl, Marie-Louise Steinhauser, and Julien Freund. The Notion Of Politics; Partisan Theory. Paris: Flammarion, 2009. p.91 - 92