League of Nations


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 systematic classification → 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.


Reference works

Recent Books

Leading articles


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


Systematic classification → United Nations, League of Nations

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  • Micheletta, L. e L. Riccardi, La politica della pace: la Società delle Nazioni tra multilateralismo e Balance of Power, Milanofiori Assago, Wolters Kluwer, 2016. Showcase item

    La Società delle Nazioni nacque come una risposta globale alla necessità manifestatasi nel primo dopoguerra di ribaltare le convenzioni tradizionali su cui si erano incardinate le relazioni internazionali. La New Diplomacy da essa propugnata intendeva sostituire il sistema gerarchico delle grandi potenze così come si era manifestato, pur con le evoluzioni successive, dal Congresso di Vienna. Non a caso lo spazio riservato agli interessi dei «piccoli stati» era uno degli elementi di maggiore novità della proposta wilsoniana. Per la prima volta si sarebbe sganciato il concetto di equilibrio internazionale da quello della centralità assoluta dei disegni delle grandi potenze il cui compimento si fondava sulla maggiore forza militare, economica e organizzativa. Le vicende politiche ed economiche degli anni Venti e Trenta si sarebbero incaricate di mettere alla prova questo ambizioso disegno.

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  • Pedersen, S., The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015.

    Pedersen, S., The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015.

    At the end of the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference saw a battle over the future of empire.  The victorious allied powers wanted to annex the Ottoman territories and German colonies they had occupied; Woodrow Wilson and a groundswell of anti-imperialist activism stood in their way.  France, Belgium, Japan and the British dominions reluctantly agreed to an Anglo-American proposal to hold and administer those allied conquests under "mandate" from the new League of Nations. In the end, fourteen mandated territories were set up across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific.  Against all odds, these disparate and far-flung territories became the site and the vehicle of global transformation. In this masterful history of the mandates system, Susan Pedersen illuminates  the role the League of Nations played in creating the modern world. Tracing the system from its creation in 1920 until its demise in 1939, Pedersen examines its workings from the realm of international diplomacy; the viewpoints of the League's experts and officials; and the arena of local struggles within the territories themselves. Featuring a cast of larger-than-life figures, including Lord Lugard, King Faisal, Chaim Weizmann and Ralph Bunche, the narrative sweeps across the globe-from windswept scrublands along the Orange River to famine-blighted hilltops in Rwanda to Damascus under French bombardment-but always returns to Switzerland and the sometimes vicious battles over ideas of civilization, independence, economic relations, and sovereignty in the Geneva headquarters. As Pedersen shows, although the architects and officials of the mandates system always sought to uphold imperial authority, colonial nationalists, German revisionists, African-American intellectuals and others were able to use the platform Geneva offered to challenge their claims. Amid this cacophony, imperial statesmen began exploring new means - client states, economic concessions - of securing Western hegemony.  In the end, the mandate system  helped to create the world in which we now live. A riveting work of global history, The Guardians enables us to look back at the League with new eyes, and in doing so, appreciate how complex, multivalent, and consequential this first great experiment in internationalism really was.

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  • Kolb, R. (ed.), Commentaire sur le Pacte de la Société des Nations, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2015.

    Kolb, R. (ed.), Commentaire sur le Pacte de la Société des Nations, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2015.

    Premier commentaire systématique complet d’un des traités les plus importants du XXe siècle en droit international, prédécesseur direct de la Charte des NU. Le lien avec la Charte est mis en exergue dans chaque article.Ce Commentaire du Pacte de la Société des Nations a un double but. En premier lieu, d’assurer l’information la plus complète et la plus à jour possible sur l’ensemble de l’expérience de la SDN, notamment dans ses aspects juridiques. Le Pacte est le texte fondateur du phénomène de l’organisation internationale au XXe siècle. C’est à ce titre qu’aucune recherche et qu’aucune prise de position approfondies en la matière ne peuvent s’abstraire de ce point de départ de 1919. En second lieu, la Charte des Nations Unies, texte fondamental de l’organisation politique mondiale actuelle, s’oriente au Pacte de la SDN, tant quand elle en prolonge les linéaments que quand elle cherche au contraire une rupture. Comprendre la Charte, dans son texte de 1945, largement inaltéré à ce jour, suppose dès lors toujours de connaître le Pacte. Cet ouvrage se destine ainsi à être à la fois un instrument d’information et une invitation à l’exploration des voies du passé dans ce qu’elles ont de fécond pour la compréhension de l’avenir. Pour arriver à ces buts, le présent Commentaire se compose de contributions expliquant les diverses dispositions du Pacte, mais aussi de contributions transversales, s’attachant à tel ou tel aspect de portée plus générale, important dans la vie de la SDN comme dans celle des Nations Unies.

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  • 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.

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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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