League of Nations

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League of Nations

Co-official flag of the League of Nations

Member States of the League of Nations and areas dependent on them, League of Nations mandates (orange) and non-members (gray)
English name League of Nations
French name Société des Nations
Seat of the organs Geneva , SwitzerlandSwitzerlandSwitzerland 
Secretary General United KingdomUnited Kingdom Eric Drummond
(1920–1933) Joseph Avenol (1933–1940) Seán Lester (1940–1946)

Member States 58
Official and working languages

English , French

founding January 10, 1920
resolution April 18, 1946
Geneva, House of the League of Nations (photo from 1931)
Gustav Stresemann on the way to the League of Nations conference in Lugano in 1928

The League of Nations ( French Société des Nations , English League of Nations , Spanish Sociedad de Naciones ) was an intergovernmental organization based in Geneva . Created as a result of the Paris Peace Conference after the First World War , it began work on January 10, 1920. He was unable to achieve his goal of permanently securing peace through the arbitration of international conflicts, international disarmament and a system of collective security . After the Second World War and the founding of the United Nations (UN), the remaining 34 members decided unanimously on April 18, 1946 to dissolve the League of Nations with immediate effect.

History and structure


The idea of ​​a federation in a community of states and the expression " international law " were first presented in 1625 by the Dutch legal scholar Hugo Grotius in his book De iure belli ac pacis ("On the law of war and peace") as "foundations for international law". The Konigsberg philosopher Immanuel Kant demanded in 1795 in his book Perpetual Peace , the International Law , where he described the idea of a "consistently peaceful community of nations" for the first time in detail. The ideas of the Enlightenment spawned an international peace movement in the 19th century and led to the Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907 . But the "Hague Association of States", as Walther Schücking, who was trained by Kant, called the institution, failed above all in the German Reich on the question of mandatory international arbitration.

Foundation and goals

A program to implement Kant's demand, triggered by the horrors of World War I , was taken up in the 14-point program of US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson of 1918. The statutes of the League of Nations were part of the Paris suburban treaties (largely initiated by Lord Robert Cecil ) and thus also the Treaty of Versailles . The statutes of the League of Nations were adopted on April 28, 1919 by the plenary assembly of the Versailles Peace Conference. In order to accommodate the US Senate, the statutes also included compatibility with the Monroe Doctrine , which was later included in the Charter of the United Nations . With the Treaty of Versailles , the states involved also signed the statute of the League of Nations on June 28, 1919 - the union was part of the treaty. With its ratification on January 10th, the League of Nations was officially founded and met for the first time on November 15th, 1920. Lord Robert Cecil became President of the League of Nations in 1923 and remained so until it was dissolved in 1946.

The League of Nations should both promote international cooperation , mediate in cases of conflict, and monitor compliance with peace treaties. In contrast to the UN, its statutes contained an obligation for the member states to immediately and directly , i.e. H. without the prior decision of a body to rush to military aid to the affected state.

Headquarters in Geneva

Because of its meeting place and seat, the League of Nations was also given the unofficial name of the Geneva League . The first seat was in the Palais Wilson building complex in Geneva , which he continued to use after moving in 1933/1936 and which currently serves as the seat of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). Between 1933 and 1936 he moved to the newly built Palais des Nations (League of Nations) complex in Geneva’s Ariana Park, where the institution’s headquarters remained until its dissolution in 1946.

After the founding of the United Nations in 1945, which initially had its headquarters in London before moving to New York City in 1952 , they took over the palace from the League of Nations in 1945, expanded it considerably in the following years and continue to use it today. Since 1966 the Palais des Nations has been the European headquarters of the United Nations ( United Nations Office in Geneva ) and houses, among other things, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN treaty bodies .

organization structure

Organization chart of the League of Nations (1930)
The League of Nations meeting room in Geneva, in front of the building of the Palais des Nations

The organization of the League of Nations already anticipated the organization of the United Nations in the main . The biggest difference to today was, on the one hand, the much smaller number of full-time employees and, on the other hand, the fact that almost all resolutions had to be passed unanimously. The League of Nations' ability to act was therefore severely restricted. There was no need for the permanent members to have a right of veto.

Organs of the League of Nations:

  • League of Nations Assembly: It met once a year, each member country had one vote, most decisions required unanimity.
  • League of Nations Council : It had permanent members ( United Kingdom , France , Italy (until 1937), Japan , German Empire (1926–1933), USSR (1934–1939)) and twelve non-permanent members. Decisions had to be made unanimously, the parties involved in the conflict had no right to vote in the corresponding vote .
  • President Robert Cecil 1923–1946
  • Permanent General Secretariat and General Secretary .
  • Administrative court of the League of Nations , responsible for the labor law issues of the employees of the League of Nations

The General Secretaries of the League of Nations were:

Health Organization of the League of Nations

The impetus for the establishment of the health organization of the League of Nations was given by a typhus epidemic that affected Eastern Europe and Russia from 1916 onwards. By 1920 around 30 million cases and around three million deaths were counted. In April 1920, representatives of Western countries, the Red Cross and the Office international d'hygiène publique discussed a health organization within the framework of the League of Nations that had recently been founded. In December of that year, the League of Nations Assembly decided to found a health committee. In mid-1921 Ludwik Rajchman was appointed medical director of the League of Nations and thus head of the committee and later the health organization. Rajchman was a Polish bacteriologist and had successfully fought the typhus epidemic in his home country. He remained at the head of the organization until 1939.

Until 1923 the committee was officially referred to as "provisional". It was then assigned to the social section of the League of Nations. In 1928 the committee became an independent health organization under the umbrella of the League of Nations.

The organization primarily served the international exchange of medical information. In addition, the personal professional exchange of medical professionals, the organization of conferences on standardization in biology and medicine and the implementation of studies were areas of work for the health organization. She also supported the development of public health systems in Greece and China, among others. From 1930 on, rural health care was a key issue, particularly in Asia.

The Epidemiological Intelligence Service, established in 1921, was supposed to serve the constant exchange of information. In the years that followed, the service produced a rapidly growing number of periodical publications on health topics. In 1925, with financial help from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Far Eastern Health Office was founded in Singapore with eleven employees. The city was chosen because of its importance as a crossroads of several maritime trade routes and telegraph lines and because a powerful radio system could be used for payment in the British naval base there. The Swiss doctor Raymond Gautier became the head of the office. Starting from the Singapore hub, more and more corresponding offices were integrated into a network in the following years, primarily in port cities on the Eurasian continent, in East Africa as well as in Australia and Oceania, which continuously transmitted local health information to Singapore via cable and radio telegraphy. The focus was on epidemic outbreaks in port cities. Knowledge of this should make it easier for states that ships to call at from there to prevent epidemics, but at the same time make quarantine against ships more targeted and thus reduce obstacles to the transport of goods and people. After there had initially been conflicts of jurisdiction with the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau , which performed similar tasks, an agreement was concluded at the International Health Conference in Paris in 1926 that delimited the areas of responsibility of both organizations.

Asia remained a focus of the work of the League of Nations health organization: the only two offices outside Europe opened in Tokyo in 1926 and in Delhi in 1931. In 1926 the Singapore Office received regular weekly reports from 104 port cities. By 1933 the number rose to 163. This collection of information was associated with the first transnational standardization of epidemiological statistics and their recording. Two weekly worldwide publications emerged from the reports: the weekly fascicle as a printed work (with a print run of around 400 in 1927) and the weekly health bulletin transmitted by radio. The radio bulletin was initially transmitted in a code specially created for health information, but also in plain text from an increasing number of stations over the years. This made it possible for the captains of ships to use the information.

In 1939, Raymond Gautier, who had been in charge of the Singapore office until then, became the medical director of the League of Nations. In February of that year, the health organization's own transmission mast went into operation near Geneva. Until then, the major German radio station Nauen had been the most important European broadcaster for international health information. The cooperation between the German Reich and the organization ended in September 1939 after the start of the Second World War.

During the war, several states stopped sending information to the League of Nations health organization. After the occupation of Paris in 1940 and as a result of the Japanese conquests in East Asia, work came to an almost complete standstill. Some employees at the headquarters in Paris resumed their work in London and published the Weekly Epidemiological Report throughout the war . The staff of the Singapore office was evacuated to Australia in February 1942. There the office was closed in October 1942.

The Weekly Epidemiological Report was published by the United Nations on September 5, 1946 and is still in existence today. Senior members of the League of Nations Health Organization played an important role in establishing the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948, notably Gautier and Yves Biraud, previously Head of Epidemiological Intelligence. The WHO set up a health information network in Asia that initially largely corresponded to that of its predecessor organization.


Final session of the League Council in Geneva, 1926
League of Nations meeting in Lugano in 1928

Since the US Senate refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty , the United States never became a member of the League of Nations. The Senate felt ignored by Woodrow Wilson, who had pushed forward the ratification of the statutes of the League of Nations without prior consultation with the Senate. The Weimar Republic was reached after long negotiations on September 8, 1926 a member of the League of Nations; after the seizure of power of the Nazis , the declared German Reich on 14 October 1933 its withdrawal from the League of Nations, and left at the same time the Geneva Conference on Disarmament . Due to a two-year notice period, Germany remained a de jure member of the League of Nations until 1935 .

Initially, the League had some success in the solution is less conflict, for example, to Spitsbergen , the Åland Islands and Corfu . Major disputes such as the Ruhr conflict , the Spanish civil war and the Sudeten crisis were fought outside the League of Nations. But he became a pioneer in decolonization , fighting hunger and looking after refugees, and gained experience in finding consensus.

The failure of the League of Nations to intervene in the Japanese attack on China in 1931 was controversial . Japan withdrew from the League of Nations on March 27, 1933 because it approved the Lytton Report . He finally demonstrated his powerlessness in the Italian attack on Abyssinia in 1935 : the most severe sanctions imposed remained ineffective; both the USA (oil) and the German Reich (coal) continued to supply Italy, thereby demonstrating the body's impotence. The Soviet Union, a member since 1934, was expelled in 1939 because of the attack on Finland (" Winter War ").

The federal government had no significant influence on the prehistory of the Second World War . Efforts to negotiate the German Reich in its place when it increasingly leveraged the Versailles Treaty from 1933 onwards were unsuccessful. The later diplomat of the Federal Republic, Walter Truckenbrodt , described this process in 1941 from the perspective of the “German Reich” and called the federal government “platonic” because it had no real power base. The constitutional lawyer Carl Schmitt also called the Geneva League in 1936 a mere "label", a facade behind which the political content changed regularly. The League of Nations had no military troops of its own with which to intervene in crisis regions. A theoretical decision on military action could have been taken by the League of Nations, but the dispatch of troops was left to the members in national organization. The conflict on the Greek-Bulgarian border between October 25 and 28, 1925 is a successful example: After the Bulgarian government had called the General Secretary of the League of Nations under Article 11, Paragraph 1 of the League of Nations statutes, French, British and Italian officers sent to the region.

On March 19, 1938, Isidro Fabela protested , as a representative of Mexico and on behalf of the then President Lázaro Cárdenas , as the only government representative in the League of Nations, against the " annexation " of Austria by National Socialist Germany.

With the beginning of the Second World War, the activities of the League of Nations gradually fell asleep. In the first months of the war, operations were largely carried out normally, as far as possible. In December 1939 the League Council and the League Assembly met again after Finland had phoned the League of Nations after the Soviet attack. The Soviet Union was then excluded from the organization. The situation changed with the western campaign , which isolated the headquarters in Geneva from the free world. Parts of the organization began to be relocated overseas via Spain and Lisbon. The areas of economics, finance and transport were accepted at Princeton University , the international labor organization moved to Montreal , the High Commissioner for Refugees and the financial administration settled in London. Only the General Secretariat remained in Geneva. As the war progressed, most member states stopped paying their contributions. Most recently, the League of Nations was financed almost entirely by the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth , and staff had to be reduced to around 15% of pre-war levels. The Palais de Nations was orphaned, but the individual departments maintained their functions in such a way that they could quickly return to normal operations after the war.

On the initiative of the foreign ministers of China, Great Britain , the USSR and the USA, the United Nations was founded in 1945 as the de facto successor organization to the League of Nations. The basic structures, sub-organizations, buildings and archives, as well as parts of the staff, went to the UN. The League of Nations officially dissolved itself on April 18, 1946 at its 21st Assembly of the League. Due to the occasional parallel existence of the League of Nations with the UN, it should be documented that the latter was not a successor organization.

Problems and failures

Various reasons are given for the failure of the League of Nations:

  • At no time did all the great and medium powers belong to it permanently (the USA never; the German Empire, Italy, the Soviet Union and Japan only temporarily).
  • The statutes did not provide for an absolute war ban analogous to the Briand-Kellogg Pact . The conflict with the German Reich hindered international disarmament. After the disarmament imposed by the Versailles Treaty, it refused to comply with the more far-reaching disarmament demands of the Federation and wanted to have its disarmament measures counted towards general disarmament on the basis of the Versailles Treaty, which the League of Nations refused. As a result, disarmament was discontinued.
  • The resolutions were often blocked by members out of self-interest. In particular, the two great powers of the time, France and Great Britain, which had the greatest influence on the League of Nations and its members, behaved in this way. Both of them often made concessions in conflicts in which other Central Powers were involved in order to avoid being drawn into the conflict. This behavior can be found in the Manchuria Crisis (1931/32), the Italo-Ethiopian War and the Spanish Civil War ; in these conflicts the League of Nations made many concessions to the aggressors Japan, Italy and the German Empire.
  • The main cause is the general reluctance of the members, who often acted in their own interest. Hans Wehberg recognized this as early as 1924 : “It is, however, to be urgently warned against any further development of the form of the League of Nations alone to be expected. The future of the League of Nations ultimately depends on the strength of the moral forces behind it. Even without substantial further training of the League of Nations, the League will be able to achieve great things if, unlike in the past, it is inspired by the spirit of justice and humanity. "

Members and non-members

Members and non-members of the League of Nations
  • Members
  • Colonies of the members
  • Mandates
  • Non-member
  • Colonies of non-members
  • Founding members

    The founding members were 32 allied states, namely the victorious powers of the First World War , which signed the Treaty of Versailles. In addition to the British Dominions and India, this also included Czechoslovakia , which actually only formed after the war .

    When a country declared its exit, that exit would take effect exactly two years later. In the literature, the first date is usually found, sometimes (example :) the second.

    Invited members

    As early as 1920, 13 states that were neutral during the war were invited to join the League of Nations.

    Later members

    Law on the Treaties of Locarno and Germany's entry into the League of Nations of November 28, 1925

    Many states were admitted later or joined later, the first as early as the end of 1920.


    Some independent states remained completely absent from the League of Nations.

    League of Nations mandates

    Map of mandate areas
  • British mandate area
  • French mandate area
  • Belgian mandate area
  • Australian mandate area
  • Japanese mandate area
  • New Zealand Mandate Area
  • South African Mandate Area
  • Common mandate area
  • According to the Versailles Treaty (Articles 45 to 50), the League of Nations was responsible for the administration of the Saar area, which was separated from the German Reich as reparations . The previously German colonies and the Arab territories separated from Turkey were transferred to the League of Nations . The parts of French Equatorial Africa ( New Cameroon ) ceded by France to Germany in 1911 were, however, reconnected to it. The League of Nations in turn awarded these areas as mandates to member states. After the Second World War they were administered as UN trust areas. In detail these were:

    Formerly Austro-Hungarian territories

    Formerly Ottoman territories

    Formerly German areas

    See also


    Until 1952

    • The Essential Facts About the League of Nations. Information Section, Geneva 1933 (ten editions published by 1939).
    • John Spencer Bassett: The League of Nations. A Chapter in World Politics. Longmans, Green and Co., New York NY 1930.
    • James C. Malin: The United States after the World War. Ginn & Company, Boston MA 1930, pp. 5-82, online .
    • Raleigh C. Minor: A Republic of Nations. A Study of the Organization of a Federal League of Nations. Oxford University Press, New York [u. a.] 1918 (Reprinted. Lawbook Exchange, Clark NJ 2005, ISBN 1-58477-500-9 ).
    • Francis P. Walters: A History of the League of Nations. 2 volumes. Oxford University Press, London [u. a.] 1952.
    • Woodrow Wilson: Woodrow Wilson's Case for the League of Nations. Compiled with his approval by Hamilton Foley. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1923, review .
    • Alfred Zimmer: The League of Nations and the Rule of Law, 1918-1935. Macmillan, London 1936.

    From 1953

    • Ondrej Ditrych: 'International Terrorism' as Conspiracy: Debating Terrorism in the League of Nations. In: Beatrice de Graaf, Cornel Zwierlein (Ed.): Security and Conspiracy in History, 16th to 21st Century (=  Historical Social Research . Vol. 38, No. 1, 2013 = Special Issue). Center for Historical Social Research, Cologne 2013, pp. 200–210, JSTOR 23644497 .
    • George W. Egerton: Great Britain and the Creation of the League of Nations. Strategy, Politics, and International Organization, 1914–1919. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1978, ISBN 0-8078-1320-6 .
    • Thomas Fischer: The sovereignty of the weak. Latin America and the League of Nations, 1920–1936 ( Contributions to European overseas history. Vol. 98). Steiner, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-515-10077-9 .
    • George Gill: The League of Nations from 1929 to 1946 (=  Partners for Peace Series. Vol. 2). Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park NY 1996, ISBN 0-89529-637-3 .
    • Madeleine Herren : International Organizations since 1865. A global history of the international order , history compact, WB, Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-534203659 .
    • Nigel Kelly, Greg Lacey: Modern World History for OCR Specification 1937. Heinemann Educational Publishers, Oxford 2001, ISBN 0-435-30830-0 .
    • David Kennedy: The Move to Institutions. In: Cardozo Law Review. Vol. 8, No. 5, 1987, ISSN  0270-5192 , pp. 841-988, digitized version (PDF; 9.48 MB) , (reprinted in: Jan Klabbers (ed.): International Organizations. Ashgate / Dartmouth, Aldershot [ua] 2005, ISBN 0-7546-2447-1 ).
    • Paul Kennedy : The Parliament of Man. The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations. Random House, New York NY 2006, ISBN 0-375-50165-7 .
    • Warren F. Kuehl, Lynne K. Dunn: Keeping the Covenant. American Internationalists and the League of Nations, 1920-1939 (=  American Diplomatic History. Vol. 10). Kent State University Press, Kent OH [u. a.] 1997, ISBN 0-87338-566-7 .
    • Peter Macalister-Smith, Joachim Schwietzke: Diplomatic Conferences and Congresses. A Bibliographical Compendium of State Practice 1642 to 1919, W. Neugebauer, Graz, Feldkirch 2017, ISBN 978-3-85376-325-4 .
    • Michel Marbeau: La Société des Nations (=  Que sais-je? 3593). Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 2001, ISBN 2-13-051635-1 .
    • Frederick S. Northedge: The League of Nations. Its Life and Times. 1920-1946. Holmes & Meier, New York [a. a.] 1986, ISBN 0-7185-1194-8 .
    • Susan Pedersen: The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2017, ISBN 978-0-19-874349-1 .
    • Alfred Pfeil: The League of Nations. Literature report and critical presentation of its history (=  income from research. Vol. 58). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1976, ISBN 3-534-06744-4 .
    • Matthias Schulz : The Briand Plan and the League of Nations as a negotiating arena for European unification between the wars , in: European History Online , ed. from the Institute for European History (Mainz) , 2010, accessed on March 25, 2021 ( pdf ).
    • Matthias Schulz: Germany, the League of Nations and the question of the European economic order 1925–1933 (=  contributions to German and European history. Vol. 19). Krämer, Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-89622-009-8 (also: Hamburg, Univ., Diss., 1997).
    • Ben Walsh: Modern World History. Reprinted edition. John Murray, London 1997, ISBN 0-7195-7231-2 .

    Web links

    Commons : League of Nations  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
    Wiktionary: League of Nations  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

    Individual evidence

    1. Woodrow Wilson: Woodrow Wilson's Case for the League of Nations (compiled with his approval by Hamilton Foley), Princeton University Press, Princeton 1923. Review (English)
    2. ^ Peter Macalister-Smith, Joachim Schwietzke: Diplomatic Conferences and Congresses. A Bibliographical Compendium of State Practice 1642 to 1919 , W. Neugebauer, Graz / Feldkirch 2017, pp. 263–267, 268–279 (reprint of the Covenant of the League of Nations ).
    3. Ernst Sauer: Basic doctrine of international law. 2nd edition, Verlag Balduin Pick, Cologne 1948, pp. 140 ff.
    4. Heidi JS Tworek: Communicable Disease: Information, Health, and Globalization in the Interwar Period. (pdf) In: The American Historical Review . American Historical Association , June 4, 2019, pp. 812–842 , accessed December 27, 2020 .
    5. Thomas J. Knock: To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order. Princeton University Press, Princeton 1995, ISBN 0-691-00150-2 , p. 263.
    6. Klaus Hildebrand : The Third Reich (=  Oldenbourg floor plan of history , vol. 17). Oldenbourg, Munich 1991, p. 17; Richard J. Evans : The Third Reich. Vol. 2 / II: Dictatorship , DVA, Munich 2006, p. 748 f.
    7. Bruno Simma , Hans-Peter Folz : Restitution and Compensation in International Law. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, Munich 2004, ISBN 978-3-486-56691-8 , p. 34.
    8. See Walter Truckenbrodt: Germany and the League of Nations. The handling of Reich German affairs in the League of Nations Council from 1920–1939. Essener Verlagsanstalt, Essen 1941 (publications of the German Institute for Foreign Policy Research, Vol. 9).
    9. Cf. Carl Schmitt: Positions and terms in the struggle with Weimar - Geneva - Versailles . 1923-1939. Duncker & Humblot, 1988.
    10. ^ Francis Paul Walters: A History of the League of Nations. Oxford University Press, London 1952, pp. 801-810.
    11. ^ Hermann Weber : From the League of Nations to the United Nations. German Society for the United Nations , Bonn 1987.
    12. Italy annexes Ethiopia - the League of Nations lets it happen (chronik.net)
    13. ^ Walter Poeggel: The League of Nations as an intergovernmental organization for world peace and the attitude of Germany. On the 75th anniversary of the founding of the League of Nations. Rosa-Luxemburg-Verein, Leipzig 1995, ISBN 3-929994-47-X , p. 62.
    14. a b c d page 53 below (PDF; 5.8 MB)
    15. With this step the Brazilian government protested against the fact that only the great powers should have a permanent seat in the League of Nations. Spain did the same in 1926. On May 8, 1928, the Brazilian government rejected an offer from the League of Nations for re-entry.
    16. December 1937: Italy leaves the League of Nations. bio.bwbs.de, archived from the original on February 10, 2013 ; Retrieved September 29, 2016 .
    17. one day - Spiegel Online
    18. bundesarchiv.de
    19. Nazi search for clues in the country Braunschweig: year-end 1933. www.ns-spurensuche.de, accessed on 18 February 2018 .
    20. Because of the two-year notice period de jure until 1935 member.