Was World War I
an avoidable debacle ?
In his Congressional address in January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson favored the establishment of an international organization that would work to maintain international peace and security. The idea of an association of nations to promote international cooperation and arbitration was also strongly supported by Britain and other European nations. The League of Nations was thus set up by the Allied Powers to prevent another global conflict similar to World War I.
The League of Nations was established by the Allied initiative at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The Allies drafted the Covenant of the League of Nations on June 25, 1919, as a part of the Treaty of Versailles. The various organs of the League of Nations – the Secretariat, the Assembly, the Council, the Court of International Justice, the Health Organization, and other agencies were set up and ratified at the conference.
The Covenant of the League of Nations was signed by forty-four states on June 28, 1919. The initial meeting of the League’s council was held in Paris on January 20, 1919. Ten months later, in November of the same year, the League’s headquarters were moved to Geneva. Forty-one of the member nations were represented in the General Assembly meeting in Geneva on November 15, 1920.
President Woodrow Wilson had vehemently sought the formation of the League of Nations in his Fourteen Points:
“A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”
President Wilson had actively campaigned in the United States for the establishment of the League. In July 1919, President Wilson undertook a nationwide campaign to procure the support for U.S. participation in the League of Nations. The Republicans, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, however, had reservations and suggested amendments to the Treaty of Versailles. President Wilson's refusal to accept amendments and the Republican campaign resulted in a failure of the U.S. Congress to ratify the Treaty. The United States did not join the League of Nations.
The U.S. government's refusal to join the League of Nations seriously undermined its powers. Russia and Germany were not allowed to join the League in 1919. With three major powers of the world being non-members, the League's ability to impose peace and security was seriously limited. With the League’s inability to prevent Italy’s annexation of Ethiopia and Japan’s territorial invasion of Manchuria, the member nations lost faith in the organization. The League of Nations could do little to prevent Hitler’s rearmament plans for Germany. The workings of the League of Nations were called off during World War II.