Failure of the League of Nations - Essay Example

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The question under discussion is was the United States responsible for the failure of the League of Nations. The League of Nations established in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I, was one such attempt to change the focus of war prevention from individual to collective security…
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Failure of the League of Nations
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War weariness is a common phenomenon, more so when the gains from such wars are intangible and far removed from domestic affairs. In the aftermath of prolonged periods of conflict, “war prevention assumes a high priority…[and]…the favoured technique is to institute measures of cooperation and consultation…with a view to preventing war…”(Buzan 1983, 163). The League of Nations established in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I, was one such attempt to change the focus of war prevention from individual to collective security. For such an organization to be effective, it had perforce to have the backing of the major powers. Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and later Germany and Russia – all great powers in their own right - joined the League of Nations. The United Sates on the other hand, was the only major power not to join the League in spite of having been instrumental in creating it in the first place. This dichotomy i.e. the failure of the United States to join the League of Nations, in spite of being its staunchest advocate, could thus be ascribed to its inability to reconcile domestic political compulsions with its international obligations.
Was this domestic compulsion a clash between the ‘realists’ and the ‘idealists’? This is the main theme that the research paper will seek to examine. The idealist view of international relations envisaged the creation of, “international institutions to replace the anarchical and war-prone balance-of-power system”(Kegley 1997, 21). The realist view on the other hand, viewed the state as the most important player, subservient to no other (external) authority. The idealist view was endorsed by president Wilson who in his, “celebrated Fourteen Points speech, delivered before Congress in 1918, proposed the creation of the League of Nations…”(Kegley 1997, 22). Although the League of Nations came into being in 1919, Congress refused to ratify the United States’ entry into the league. This challenge to President Wilson’s world view was spearheaded by a group of Senators led by Senators Henry Cabot Lodge, William E. Borah, and Hiram Johnson.
Part of the realist view was that the US should revert to its policy of ‘isolation’ that had been in vogue pre-World War I in keeping with the Monroe Doctrine. This was at odds with the League’s charter, which enjoined that, “the international community had not only the right but a duty to intervene in international conflicts…”(Holsti 1995, 348). The major cause for concern as per the opponents of the League was created by Article X of the League’s Covenant. This read, “Article X. The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.” As evident, it also implied placing the United States under international jurisdiction should the need arise. This article, it was claimed, besides compromising the sovereignty of the United States, violated the spirit of Washington’s last message to Congress, namely to keep the United States free from foreign entanglements. Joining the League it was felt, would forever involve the United States in external wars to protect the territories of other countries, with such involvement not necessarily being in the national interest.
This was possibly not acceptable to the realists, who, led by the above opponents of the League, carried on a bitter fight against President Wilson. Domestic opinion thus prevailed over distant international concerns. It may also have been possible that this group may have wanted the United States to consolidate its position as an industrial and financial power, as it was then just one of many centers of power, before venturing into the global arena.
Works Cited
Buzan, “People, State and Fear”, 1987, Harvester Press, Sussex, England.
Holsti, KJ, “International Politics: A Framework for Analysis”, 7th Edition 1995, Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., USA.
Kegley, Charles W., Jr, and Wittkopf, Eugene R, “World Politics: Trends and Transformations”, 6th Edition 1997, St Martin’s Press, New York.
Bennett, Leroy. International Organizations.
Berridge, G.R. International Politics.
Clark, I. Globalisation and Fragmentation.
Harney Meg, Ineffectiveness in Action: The Failure of the League of Nations. Retrieved from
Miller, Lynn H . Global Order.
Northedge, FS. The League of Nations.
Schmidt, Karl J, The League of Nations. Retrieved from
Wesson, Robert, G. International Relations in Transition. Read More
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