League of Nations

Introduction

League of Nations - Research Guide International Law

The League of Nations was the forerunner of the United Nations. It was established under the Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty that formally ended World War I. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919. Part I of the Versailles Treaty, i.e. the Covenant of the League of Nations, was the constitutional document of the League. According to this constitution, the League’s purpose was “to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security”. The main organs of the League were the Assembly, the Council and a permanent Secretariat, headed by a Secretary General. The Assembly was the global deliberative organ, the Council the global executive, and the Secretariat acted somewhat like a global bureaucracy. Both Council and Assembly were mandated to deal with any matter within the sphere of action of the League or affecting the peace of the world. The League was based at Geneva, Switzerland. The Covenant also included the establishment of a Permanent Court of International Justice. Even though the League managed to contain various international disputes, the League ultimately failed to prevent World War II, and was formally abolished in 1946.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on the League of Nations. It provides the basic (legal) materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library’s classification index code 54a. League of Nations in General and subject heading (keyword) League of Nations are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

Latest acquisition

•Sarè, S., The League of Nations and the Debate on Disarmament (1918-1919), Roma, Edizioni Nuova cultura, 2013.Sarè, S., The League of Nations and the Debate on Disarmament (1918-1919), Roma, Edizioni Nuova cultura, 2013.

This essay regards the early stages of the debate on Disarmament at the end of World War I, when the international community intended to limit countries’ armaments (and expenses) according to a widespread sentiment in public opinion, after a huge moral and physical devastation. In 1918 some draft projects of the League of Nations Covenant were elaborated by the Great Powers and the original texts demonstrate the initial absence of the matter, but as the brainstorming continued, the articles regarding the way to disarm appeared even more pregnant. The question at stake concerned  the reduction of armaments to the lowest point consistent with national defence and the fulfilment of international obligations, the abolition of the mandatory conscription, the prohibition to earn private profits from the manufacture of arms, the control of arms trafficking, and the ‘full and frank’ publicity of military programs. In 1919, during the Paris Peace Conference, motivated men worked to create an organization (forerunner of the United Nations) with the aim of avoiding future wars. In the final version of the Covenant some articles to realize Disarmament were present and a specific ‘Commission’ to carry on the related duties was established: the correspondence between the protagonists shows the difficulties in approaching the issue.

Bibliography

Reference works

Recent Books

Leading articles

Documents

This three volumes set serves as a guide to all of the League of Nations Documents, published by Research Publications, as part of the microfilm collection League of Nations Documents and Publications, 1919-1946. The guide consists of basically two classes of League of Nations materials: A. Documents and B. Serial Publications. The microfilm collection is available at the Peace Palace Library. Please contact the counter in our Reading Room, if you want to make use of this unique collection.

Periodicals, serial publications

Bibliographies

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  • Johnson, G., Lord Robert Cecil: Politician and Internationalist, Farnham, Ashgate, 2013.

    Johnson, G., Lord Robert Cecil: Politician and Internationalist, Farnham, Ashgate, 2013.

    Lawyer, politician, diplomat and leading architect of the League of Nations; Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, was one of Britain’s most significant statesmen of the twentieth century. His views on international diplomacy cover the most important aspects of British, European and American foreign policy concerns of the century, including the origins and consequences of the two world wars, the disarmament movement, the origins and early course of the Cold War and the first steps towards European integration. His experience of the First World War and the huge loss of life it entailed provoked Cecil to spend his life championing the ethos behind and work of the League of Nations: a role for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937. Yet despite his prominence in the international peace movement, Cecil has never been the focus of an academic biography. Cecil has perhaps been judged unfairly due to his association with the League of Nations, which has since been generally regarded as a failure. However, recent academic research has highlighted the contribution of the League to the creation of many of the institutions and precepts that have, since the Second World War, become accepted parts of the international system, not least the United Nations. In particular, Cecil and his work on arms control lay the basis for understanding this new area of international activity, which would bear fruit during the Cold War and after. Through an evaluation of Cecil’s political career, the book also assesses his reputation as an idealist and the extent to which he had a coherent philosophy of international relations. This book suggests that in reality Cecil was a Realpolitiker pragmatist whose attitudes evolved during two key periods: the interwar period and the Cold War. It also proposes that where a coherent philosophy was in evidence, it owed as much to the moral and political code of the Cecil family as to his own experiences in politics. Cecil’s social and familial world is therefore considered alongside his more public life.

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  • Clavin, P.M., Securing the World Economy: the Reinvention of the League of Nations, 1920-1946, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Clavin, P.M., Securing the World Economy: the Reinvention of the League of Nations, 1920-1946, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Securing the World Economy explains how efforts to support global capitalism became a core objective of the League of Nations. Based on new research drawn together from archives on three continents, it explores how the world’s first ever inter-governmental organization sought to understand and shape the powerful forces that influenced the global economy, and the prospects for peace. It traces how the League was drawn into economics and finance by the exigencies of the slump and hyperinflation after the First World War, when it provided essential financial support to Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, and Estonia and, thereby, established the founding principles of financial intervention, international oversight, and the twentieth-century notion of international ‘development’. But it is the impact of the Great Depression after 1929 that lies at the heart of this history. Patricia Clavin traces how the League of Nations sought to combat economic nationalism and promote economic and monetary co-operation in a variety of, sometimes contradictory, ways. Many of the economists, bureaucrats, and policy-advisors who worked for it played a seminal role in the history of international relations and social science, and their efforts did not end with the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1940 the League established an economic mission in the United States, where it contributed to the creation of organizations for the post-war world – the United Nations Organization, the IMF, the World Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization – as well as to plans for European reconstruction and co-operation. It is a history that resonates deeply with challenges that face the Twenty-First Century world.

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  • Fosse, M. and J. Fox, The League of Nations: From Collective Security to Global Rearmament, Geneva, United Nations, 2012.

    Fosse, M. and J. Fox, The League of Nations: From Collective Security to Global Rearmament, Geneva, United Nations, 2012.

    At the Peace Conference at Versailles, US President Wilson called for the creation of a League of Nations for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small nations alike. For the first time, conflicts between nations were a matter of global concern. Numerous key areas ¿ social, economic and statistics, health, labour ¿ were dealt with either directly by the League or indirectly by its specialized agencies. The League’s lifetime (1919-1947) saw the creation of bodies that would be at the origin of the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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  • Chaudron, G., New Zealand in the League of Nations: the Beginnings of an Independent Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, Jefferson, NC, McFarland, 2012.

    Chaudron, G., New Zealand in the League of Nations: the Beginnings of an Independent Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, Jefferson, NC, McFarland, 2012.

    When leaders of New Zealand joined other heads of British Commonwealth countries in signing the 1919 Treaty of Versailles to end World War I and joining the League of Nations, they did not regard the act as a declaration of independence. On the contrary, while their Canadian and South African counterparts saw membership in the league as a rite of passage towards greater autonomy, New Zealand’s leaders viewed it as an unwelcome burden and a potential threat to the British Empire. This history of New Zealand’s relations with the League of Nations from its inception in 1920 to its demise in 1946 follows the government’s transformation in attitude from its initial hostility to detached acceptance and, finally, passionate support in the late 1930s. By chronicling this intricate relationship, this work traces New Zealand’s first tiny, halting steps towards developing its own foreign policy.

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  • McCarthy, H., The British People and the League of Nations: Democracy, Citizenship and Internationalism, c.1918-45, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2011.

    McCarthy, H., The British People and the League of Nations: Democracy, Citizenship and Internationalism, c.1918-45, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2011.

    In the decades following Europe’s first total war, millions of British men and women looked to the League of Nations as the symbol and guardian of a new world order based on international co-operation. Founded in 1919 to preserve peace between its member-states, the League inspired a rich, participatory culture of political protest, popular education, and civic ritual which found expression through the establishment of voluntary societies in dozens of countries across Europe and beyond. Embodied in the hugely popular League of Nations Union, this pro-League movement touched Britain in profound ways. Foremost amongst the League societies, the Union became one of Britain’s largest voluntary associations and a powerful advocate of democratic accountability and popular engagement in the making of foreign policy. Based on extensive archival research, The British People and the League of Nations offers a vivid account of this popular League consciousness and in so doing reveals the vibrant character of associational life between the wars.

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  • Housden, M., The League of Nations and the Organization of Peace, Harlow, Pearson Education, 2011.

    Housden, M., The League of Nations and the Organization of Peace, Harlow, Pearson Education, 2011.

    The League of Nations was the first globally recognized inter-governmental body that attempted to organise peace comprehensively. It addressed not only the traditional security areas of military balances and diplomacy, including the peaceful settlement of international disputes, but also aimed at removing the very causes of war by promoting social and economic justice (specifically by addressing the welfare of vulnerable people). In many ways decades ahead of its time, the League broke the mould as a mechanism for ‘doing international relations’. New to the Seminar Studies in History Series, it contains valuable primary source material, a Glossary, Bibliography and Who’s Who.

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  • Henig, R.B., The League of Nations, London, Haus Histories, 2010.

    Henig, R.B., The League of Nations, London, Haus Histories, 2010.

    Many of the peacemakers who came to Paris in 1918-19 had thought deeply about establishing an international body of stature and authority to prevent war from breaking out again in the future. Large and small nations were vociferous in their discussions and arguments about the form and role which the League should have. This book looks at how the League was shaped and the multi-faceted body which emerged, and how it was used in ensuing years to counter territorial ambitions and restrict armaments, as well as its role in human rights and refugee issues. The failure of the League to prevent the Second World War would lead to its dissolution and the subsequent creation of the United Nations. Following the Peace Conference, in the 1920s France and Britain were the two major powers driving the League, and they had very different approaches to peacekeeping and to the prevention of disputes. The book examines initiatives such as the Draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance and the Geneva Protocol, and analyses the succession of crises which the League had to deal with, from the Italian invasion of Corfu in 1923, to the Greek invasion of Bulgaria in 1925, the dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay in 1928, the Manchurian Crisis of 1931-3, and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935.

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