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The League of Nations as an organization for technical, economic, social and humanitarian cooperation

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We will see the League of Nations as an organization for technical, economic, social and humanitarian cooperation. We had seen Versailles as an interpretative key for the 20th century. The territorial issues dealt with in Versailles remain explosive, as do those of minorities. Versailles was a key moment for decolonization and nationalism, which marked an evolution of the colonial order with the creation of the mandate system. The 1922 Geneva Economic and Financial Conference followed the Versailles Conference, which marked the beginning of attempts to organize the international system, which also enabled the Bretton Woods system to be set up in 1945. The thesis is that the League of Nations did not fail, but it was torpedoed. The peace of Paris marks a new international order. Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles will trigger a real national hysteria in Germany because the whole German people feel guilty. The German government is beginning to support the opening of the archives, which will lead to a democratization of access to sources. Historians in 1914 touched on subjects that probably went as far as Napoleon, a history that was at least almost a hundred years old. Also, with Versailles comes contemporary history as a scientific and academic discipline. It was only after the Second World War that contemporary flesh was established.

Zara Steiner published a monumental work on international relations between the two wars under the title "The Lights That Failed. European International History, 1919-1933". Even if Steiner conceptualizes international relations in a classical way, the "Geneva dream" remains only a dream and rejects the failed of the Versailles system, a history of international relations that opens its perspective on cross-border and transformational dimensions will show that this inter-war dream has materialized much more than previously thought: the international order is much more marked by the history of the League of Nations.

In "Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World" published in 2007, Margaret MacMillan reports that on June 28, 1919, when President Wilson left Paris, he turned to his wife and said: "Well, little girl, it is finished, and, as no one is satisfied, it makes me hope we have made a just peace". We will look at the League of Nations and show how it organizes itself for technical, economic, social and humanitarian cooperation.

Main organs of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

There are the Council, the Assembly, the Secretariat, political and technical subsidiary bodies as well as bodies related to the League of Nations. The purpose of the League of Nations is to try to prevent war. The aim is to encourage cooperation between nations, to guarantee international security with a view to preserving world peace. This was intended to address not only international conflicts and the dangers associated with them, but also latent unrest. The League of Nations was a broadening towards a universal organization and was less oriented towards Europe than the European Concert had been. The organization of the League of Nations obliged the opening towards any civilized nation. To be admitted to the League of Nations, it was not necessary to be completely sovereign like the dominions. Being European was not a prerequisite. The absence of the United States will be decisive for the history of the League of Nations making it an organization that cannot be universal.

The organization is comparable to the UN structure with permanent and non-permanent members in the Council, an Assembly and a Court of Justice. There was no veto power for the League of Nations or in other words everyone had a veto power since the concept was an equal state with one vote. The League of Nations system was much more than just a central organization. There were rich international movements formed before the war that were integrated into the League of Nations as a technical organization. It is a new element of the 20th century. The Council was to establish the International Court of Justice under Article 14 of the Charter, which was established in The Hague in 1920.

Switzerland is committed to ensuring that it is not integrated into the League of Nations network. This is because the initial exclusion of central empires was seen as proof that the League of Nations was not neutral. This lack of neutrality was seen as a problem whereby Switzerland tries to keep the old networks outside the League of Nations, it also allows Switzerland to keep control over the old system of international relations which allowed it to keep control over the administrative system. After the Locarno Pact of 1925, there was a relaxation, but this did not change the view of the integration of the old networks. There are all kinds of other international organizations that were not part of the League of Nations and will be based in Geneva. There is therefore the League of Nations system, but also a parallel system of international organizations and offices which is a governmental system, but not integrated into the League of Nations. This is one of the most substantial differences between the multilateral diplomacy system between the two wars and what will be put in place after the Second World War with the establishment of the United Nations, which will successfully integrate the old international networks of the 19th century.

The League of Nations opened a new chapter in the history of international organizations as it had an autonomous system meaning that the secretariat in Geneva had a status equal to that of an embassy. According to Madeleine Herren, the two new elements were the expansion of the international political system and the beginning of the integration of states that were not yet sovereign. There is a very strong expansion of international politics. On the other hand, there is the change in the function of diplomacy. Compared to the former secret diplomacy of the European Council type, the instrument of negotiation has become a means of convincing and carrying out multilateral public propaganda. There is the establishment of a real international discourse.

The Council[edit | edit source]

A meeting of the Council of the League of Nations.

In principle, the Council had the same powers as the Assembly with permanent and non-permanent members. Was planned as a permanent member of the prestigious states, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan. The non-permanent members were to be elected by the Assembly together with Brazil, Belgium, Greece and Spain. Voting shall take place regularly until the dissolution of the League of Nations. After the withdrawal of the United States, the permanent members were reduced to four. In 1936, Germany left the League of Nations, in 1937 it was Italy and in 1939, the USSR was expelled. From 1939 before the great crisis of the Second World War, only Great Britain and France had permanent membership status showing why the Society is extremely weak and can do nothing to avoid the Second World War. Several thinkers and politicians stressed the importance of regular meetings. This assumption of regular meetings was made with the Council of the League of Nations, which was an important development in relation to the former European Concert system.

The Assembly[edit | edit source]

The Assembly was competent for all areas related to the issue of world and technical peace. All countries had one seat and one vote, in reality, there were always three representatives per country who had one vote. The Assembly questioned the principle of sovereignty. This was an important step towards the reform of the British Empire and on the issue of decolonization. Originally, the League of Nations consisted of 42 members, 32 victorious states and 10 neutral states. 22 additional states were admitted, including Germany in 1926 and the USSR in 1934. The withdrawal from the League of Nations could be made at any time, but effective after two years. Between 1922 and 1934, there were 20 States that withdrew from the League of Nations. When Hitler came to power, he left the League of Nations, fascist Italy following the Ethiopian crisis and Japan, which also had an authoritarian regime. There was also the exclusion of the Soviet Union.

Despite the fact that the League of Nations opened the public prosecutor's office for international relations to all kinds of countries that were not European, despite its very vast scope, the League of Nations has never succeeded in achieving the universality that has made it weak. On the one hand, the League of Nations goes beyond the limits of Europe and is not really able to be universal. Unlike the UN Council, the permanent members did not have veto power, and unanimity was required, as was unanimity in the Assembly. It is this procedure that has been criticized most often. This unanimity rule corresponded to the rules of public international law. Moreover, given the composition of the League of Nations, this was democratic, giving weight to small States and those that had not yet achieved independence. As a result, States remained sovereign. The only time States had to renounce their sovereignty was the renunciation of the law of war. War is from the moral point of view a legitimate continuation of politics, but it must comply with the rules of the pact. It was only in the context of mediation that Article 15, which provided for unanimity, was not necessary. In the case of conflicts, a majority vote was sufficient to recommend a peaceful settlement.

Secretariat[edit | edit source]

The Secretary-General was active in various sectors. Until the war, secretaries-general were typically from Great Britain or France. The officials in Geneva were from all Member States and owed their allegiance to the League of Nations and not to their State of origin. The logic of national belonging nevertheless remained important. Officials could not accept anything from his own state and were not allowed to propagate for his own state. The secretariat operated according to the rules of the European administration and more precisely according to the rules of the English administration.

Eric Drummond in 1932.

The first secretary was Sir Eric Drummond, who was established directly at the Paris conference. The maintenance of the secretariat was assumed by all member States and the financial distribution of costs was made through the cost allocation key already established in the organization of the Universal Postal Union. The Universal Postal Union is now a specialized agency of the United Nations, but it was not part of the League of Nations either because of Swiss reluctance. The Geneva headquarters could theoretically be moved at any time. Article 7 also made it very clear that all secretariat services were open to women as well. It is an important element of the League of Nations. The delegates and the secretariat had diplomatic status.

Sir Eric Drummond was Secretary General from 1920 to 1932. He came from a noble family in Scotland and was a close relative of Ballefour in the Foreign Office during the Versailles conference. When he started at the League of Nations, Sir Eric Drummond was 44 years old. His career is very typical for an English diplomatic career, namely that he came from a noble family, son of the Viscount of Strathallan and his half-brother was the Earl of Perth. He studied at prestigious universities such as Eton College and worked at the Foreign Office. In 1933, he joined the British diplomatic service as Ambassador to Rome until 1939.

Joseph Avenol in 1932.

Joseph Avenol was General Secretary from 1933 to 1940. He had worked for the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, a senior civil servant and had participated in numerous economic and financial conferences. In 1922, he was appointed Deputy Secretary General of the League of Nations and responsible for finance. At Versailles, there had been an informal agreement that the first Secretary General should be English and the second French. It should also be noted that Sir Eric Drummond had prevented the appointment of his successor. Avenol's appointment came at a time when Japan was leaving the League of Nations followed by Nazi Germany in 1933. Under his watch, there are great failures. Avenol will play the appeasement card directed towards the powers of the axis. It is in line with the foreign policy of France and the United Kingdom. During the invasion of Ethiopia, he sought to avoid Italy leaving the League of Nations. The defence of Ethiopia to keep the League of Nations safe never leaves Avenol's politics. When he left his post in 1940 following Germany's invasion of France, he remained close to the Vichy regime. As an employee, he refuses to return to France. From 1940 onwards, Avenol carried out a reorganisation of the workforce, which saw massive layoffs.

Sean Lester.

In August 1940, the Irish Seán Lester replaced Avenol and the League of Nations had only 100 employees, whereas the League of Nations originally had 700 employees. The League of Nations is entering a period of hibernation. Seán Lester is the third and final Secretary General of the League of Nations from the young Irish state. A journalist, he joined the government of the young Free State of Ireland in the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1923. He became his country's permanent delegate to the League of Nations in 1929. He was appointed High Commissioner for the Free City of Danzig in 1934 and held this position until 1936. Although the League of Nations still exists, the outbreak of the Second World War made the League de facto quite inactive. Lester was able to do very little and oversees the dissolution of the League of Nations in the transition to the new United Nations.

The organization chart of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

Organigramme de la Société des Nations.jpg

A distinction must be made between a technical and a political subsidiary body, there are also bodies related to the League of Nations which are bodies that are not directly integrated into the League of Nations' organization chart. In the technical subsidiary bodies, there are separate technical bodies and functional commissions.

The humanitarian work of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

The period between the two wars was the era of refugees. There were more than 5 million refugees between 1919 and 1939. Even before the outbreak of the Second World War, the refugee issue was important. The main phases of these movements linked to the refugee issue are the repatriation of war refugees from the 1920s onwards, assistance to Russian, Greek, Armenian, Turkish and Bulgarian refugees and then assistance to German refugees, including Jews, between 1933 and 1939 and the Spanish between 1936 and 1939.

Nansen Office for the Repatriation of Prisoners of War[edit | edit source]

Bureau Nansen pour le rapatriement des prisonniers de guerre.png

The Nansen office is extremely important in managing the refugee crisis. There are a million Russian refugees. With the peace of Lausanne, there are 1.5 million Greeks, 300,000 Turks and 400,000 Armenians displaced to define homogeneous national spaces. The Nansen Office for Refugees is the predecessor of the High Commissioner for Refugees. The logic of the national state, which is intended to be with regions that are ethnically homogeneous, wars and conflicts between minorities and governments, and the establishment of dictatorships in Europe with the seizure of power by fascists in Italy and the seizure of power by National Socialists in 1933, creating problems for those who are not in the logic of a dictatorial system.

The Nansen Passport and the emergence of international refugee law[edit | edit source]

Nansen, who was a polar explorer and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was also behind the Nansen passport. The Nansen passport was issued following an international conference of the League of Nations in 1922 that created an internationally recognized temporary passport. It was used for the repatriation of prisoners of war and persons who were deprived of citizenship, who thus had at least one document recognizing their stateless status. Marc Chagall had a Nansen passport, but also Igor Stravinsky or the dancer Anna Pavlova. In reality, Russian refugees in particular benefited from the Nansen passport while trying to escape the Bolshevik Revolution. Later, they were other stateless people by the Greek-Turkish war and the Civil War in Space. This document was internationally recognized, but was not a real passport. This was a way of showing one's own identity and implements a tradition of international organizations being able to issue documents for stateless persons. In 1930, the Nansen Office for Refugees was not appreciated by the States except France and the Nordic States that supported it. In 1935, the Nansen passport covered German refugees from the Saarland.

Saarland: another type of mandate of the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

The regulation was in Articles 45 et seq. of the Treaty of Versailles on compensation. Of the five managers in La Sarre, one had to be German and the other French. The Saarland mines were to be economically exploitable by France. In 1923, Saarland also experienced very strong strikes to oppose the split from Germany. Rault brought French troops into the territory of the Saarland and asserted his right to war. Britain reacted by threatening to raise the Saarland issue. Following the general strike in the Saarland, the Council of the League of Nations concluded that this issue needed to be reviewed. In 1935, a plebiscite was organized by the League of Nations. The experts mobilized came from different neutral states. The League of Nations secured the vote by a group of international troops. With the example of Saarland, the League of Nations has a troop of more than 3000 soldiers. The result of Saarland's plebiscite was unequivocal, the vast majority was in favour of joining Germany in a ratio of 1 to 10. On March 1, 1935, the League of Nations reunited the Saarland region with Germany, after which 8,000 emigrated using the Nansen passport.

The example of Saarland shows the Wilsonian idea of not seeking to solve all problems during the peace conference, but to establish a system for the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes.

Danzig (Gdansk): "Free City" under mandate from the League of Nations[edit | edit source]

Another explosive territorial issue is the High Commission in Danzig, which is a Free City under the mandate of the League of Nations. In November 1920, the city of Danzig was declared a "free city" without resorting to popular votes. The new Polish nation-state was fighting for a position of great power in Europe. In 1926 a dictatorship reigned with Piłsudski at its head and obtained the status of permanent member of the League of Nations.

Poland is a state with large national minorities in both German and Slavic languages. Throughout the history of the League of Nations, national minorities in Poland have turned to the League of Nations Council to address their complaints, which were unpleasant and irritating to Poland. In January 1934, Poland concluded an agreement with Germany providing for bilateral solutions to conflicts with minorities. In September 1934, Poland suspended its cooperation with the League of Nations on minorities showing the weakness of the League of Nations. The peacemakers in Paris had foreseen that treaties for the protection of minorities should be signed. In May 1933, the elections in Danzig resulted in a majority for the National Socialists. What is happening in Germany is reflected in Danzig, especially since what is happening in Danzig makes National Socialism and the idea of regaining a great German empire attractive. Having a mandate over the city was a protection against a regime that is increasingly becoming a regime of terror and acting as a regime of aggression.

Lester was to become a victim of Nazi propaganda. Carl Jacob Burckhardt calmed the atmosphere, but also made several compromises with National Socialism in order to keep peace in Danzig. In 1937, the National Socialists defeated what remained of the opposition in Danzig and imposed their domination. At the beginning of the Second World War, this city under the theoretical control of the League of Nations was de facto under National Socialist control.

The organization of hygiene[edit | edit source]

International cooperation in the field of health had a long tradition dating back to 1907. In 1907, the International Office of Public Health was founded in Rome with its headquarters in Paris and organized with a Council and an Assembly with member countries. States understand that to manage health issues, the borders of national states are problems and that these issues must be addressed at the international level. When the League of Nations became active in the health field, many thought that the Public Health Office would be integrated into the League of Nations. The United States, which was active in the International Office of Public Health, was against the integration of this organization into the family of League of Nations organizations. During this period there were two organizations that coexisted during the two wars: the International Public Health Organization and the League of Nations Hygiene Organization. These two organizations nevertheless sought to cooperate after an initial period of opposition from the United States.

Activité géographique de la section d’hygiène de la Société des Nations.png

On this map we see the distribution of the geographical activity of the hygiene section of the League of Nations. By its activity and composition, this League of Nations hygiene organization was a world-class organization seeking to cover everyone.

In 1946, the two separate organizations merged into the World Health Organization. The history of these two organizations is very important in order to show substantial differences between the results of international organizations and what will be put in place after the Second World War. One could even argue that the relative strength of the UN is given by the fact that the powers that won the Second World War manage to find solutions for the weaknesses that had marked the weaknesses of the League of Nations.

Regime for the protection of minorities in Eastern Europe[edit | edit source]

When the peacemakers in Paris establish the new states, they create the system of minority protection. This refers to Articles 10 and 19 of the League of Nations Covenant. The aim was to guarantee fundamental rights to national minorities, in particular by codifying the right to life, freedom, religious freedom, equality before the law, political and material freedom, the freedom to use one's mother tongue, but also the rights of groups and individuals. In the period between two wars, we are not yet in a period where there are individual rights. There are not yet human rights, but collective rights.

Collectively given rights are rights that make sense to the individual. The preparation of what will be put in place after the Second World War with the conception of human rights is already being prepared for the rights given to minorities. This conception of minority protection was the attempt of peacemakers in Paris to find solutions with a high ethical stratification. The role of the League of Nations and how it should work were individual complaints or minority groups that can be addressed to the minority section of the League of Nations' minority secretariat. It is the establishment of a system where nationals of a State can put pressure on their own State.

There is a transformation from secret diplomacy to public diplomacy. With the agenda setting, many minorities will put their questions on the international agenda and the Secretariat of the League of Nations will put these decisions on the agenda. The State concerned had to respond to this accusation. During the inter-war period, more than 200 complaints were registered. 81 complaints against Romania concerning Hungarian, Bulgarian and Russian minorities, 47 against Yugoslavia, 44 against the Strike, 13 against Turkey and 2 against Bulgaria. Minorities could at least seek to put their issues on the international agenda. The importance of the mother tongue was not a major issue during the period of the great multi-ethnic empires. The question of language is an explosive one. There is all kinds of political discrimination, including the fact that minorities cannot access political functions, but also the expropriation of national minorities differs.

Suppression of trafficking in women and children[edit | edit source]

There have been positive examples throughout the period where the League of Nations has been able to establish conditions that have improved the status of minorities, but it must be seen that, in general, the outcome of petitions has not really changed in a fundamental way and remains an explosive problem in all international relations to this day. The results of the petitions were quantitatively and qualitatively disappointing given that the large mass of petitions was declared "inadmissible". Nevertheless, this is a first experiment in international monitoring of the fundamental rights of groups. The International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade will be integrated into the family of major activities of the League of Nations. The League of Nations took up this case and in 1921 presented a Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children. A consultative agreement has been put in place preparing the ground for this convention. The basis for this convention can be found in Articles 6 and 7 of this convention. With the Convention against the Illegal Trafficking in Opium, we have all the elements prior to the establishment of the League of Nations that will flow into this system.

Committee on Intellectual Cooperation[edit | edit source]

The topics discussed are, for example, education for peace, the comparison of history books to bring national interpretations closer together, library cooperation, translation and knowledge transfer.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The League of Nations becomes a clearing house for information on the state of the world. There are many publications on any issue. The League of Nations becomes a global documentation centre for information exchange. It expresses a growing international awareness and responsibility for the future of the world, establishing new approaches to improve global governance and stabilize peace. The League of Nations becomes important, provides guidelines and may clash with States, but cannot do anything if Member States do not want to do it.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]