Role of the League of Nations:
The League of Nations had to its credit many accomplishments. It secured a settlement in the Aland Island and Upper Silesia when all other means had failed. In 1923, it successfully resolved a dispute between Italy and Greece and supervised the task of rehabilitating Greek refugees from Asia Minor. It also offered material assistance to Austria and Hungary for their financial restoration. It also averted a clash between Greece and Bulgaria in 1925. It maintained international regimes like the Free City of Danzig. Its permanent Court of International Justice decided 27 cases and gave an equal number of advisory opinions. As such, the League of Nations was able to contribute toward world peace. Potter says, “If measured by what other international organizations had accomplished in the past, the League’s performance, even in the security field, rates very high, indeed higher than that of any other international institution with the exception of a very few highly special and limited agencies”. According to Walters, “The establishment of the League was a revolutionary step in the sense that it involved a forward leap of unprecedented extent and speed accompanied by extraordinary changes in the conduct of international relations- changes of principle, changes of method, changes even in the general convictions which form the basis of public opinion. Before the league it was held both in theory and practice that every state was the sole and sovereign judge of its own acts, owing no allegiance to any higher authority, entitled to resent criticism or even questioning by other states. Such conceptions have disappeared forever… The belief that aggressive war is a crime against humanity and it is the interest, the right and the duty of every state to join in preventing it, is now every where taken for granted”.
In spite of many success, the League of Nations collapsed and could not prevent the outbreak of World War II. It could not exercise control over the member-states. Japan was its first member-state to violate the League Covenant and invade Manchuria in 1931. Italy followed Japan and attacked and conquered Ethiopia. Next came Germany, who in violation of the Versailles Treaty, ordered the remilitarization of Rhineland. Soon afterwards Germany attacked Austria and Czechoslovakia and withdrew from the League. In the face of such events, the League stood powerless until it finally collapses with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
However, to assess the position of the League of Nations in preserving world peace, it a worth-while to note some remarks of a few reputed authors.
Dr Oppenheim in summing up the position of the League observes that the League appeared to be a league absolutely sui generis, a union of a kind which had never before been in existence and its constitutional organs as well as its functions were likewise of an unprecedented kind. He concludes that the Covenant of the League was an attempt to organize the hitherto unorganized Family of Nations by a written constitution, and the League was nothing else than the organized Family of Nations. According to Walters, “The League, as a working institution, is dead but the ideals which it sought to promote, the hopes to which it gave rise, the methods it devised, the agencies it created, have become an essential part of the political thinking of the civilized world, and their influence will survive until mankind enjoy a unity transcending the divisions of States and Nations”. According to another writer, “Perhaps the greatest general contribution of the League was its influence in spreading the idea of international cooperation. More than any other agency, the League helped to make people aware of the existence of world conditions and world problems and to dispel ideas concerning purely national and isolated difficulties. It appeared to be a decided advance merely to have a periodic assemblage of representatives from all over the world at one conference table so that these delegates might come to know their respective views and outlooks. The concept of an association of nations was old; the actuality of the League of Nations was new, And the League of Nations failed in the end to preserve peace because it could only be what the nations made of it, nothing less and nothing more”.
According to Dr Schuman, “The League and its associated agencies never became symbols of human brotherhood eliciting love and loyalty from large numbers of people in all lands and thereby developing the prestige and authority required by an incipient world government. The League remained a method of cooperation among sovereign governments. Their subjects and citizens remained patriots devoted to national interests. In some states, they were bewitched by visions of tribal conquest; in others, frightened into passivity; in still others, befuddled and betrayed. Nowhere they were united in the effective service of common purposes. The League’s white palace in Ariana Park, by the Shores of Geneva’s Lake Leman, therefore became, in the end, a sepulchre”.
According to Simonds and Emeny, “Recalling in some measure the traditional Concert of Europe, the League was, nevertheless, to be of universal scope, and constituted a final testimony to the belief that the World War had demonstrated that conflict could no longer be localized in an integrated world. It was not an alliance, because eventually if not immediately, it was to be open to all nations on equal terms. It was, furthermore, not provided with the resources of a superstate, and although it most closely resembled a national Legislature, it was in fact able to proceed, in the main, only by unanimous consent. Thus in practice, it became little more than an international conference having a permanent existence”.