League of Nations conference in Geneva, 1926 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-02454 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)
The League of Nations was set up in the aftermath of the First World War. In the years before the war, countries had tried to make themselves secure by allying themselves with other countries, usually to protect themselves against what they saw as a threat from another state. Unfortunately, these alliances often made other states suspicious and so they too entered into alliances. These alliances were usually kept secret, increasing the climate of fear and mistrust. Despite being created to try and avoid conflict, the alliances ended up being a key factor in causing the First World War.
At the end of the First World War, US President Woodrow Wilson proposed a ban on secret treaties. He also proposed the formation of a League of Nations. This would be a place where nations could bring their disputes to be resolved. There was enthusiastic support from many countries, especially smaller states. Larger states like Britain and France were cautiously in favour. Unfortunately for the League, Wilson was unable to persuade the US Congress to join. Despite this, the League opened its doors and held its first session in 1920.
The League does not enjoy a favourable historical reputation. However, this may not be entirely fair. It has been criticised for failing to stop aggressive regimes in Japan, Italy and Germany in the 1930s. This is justifiable to some extent, but have the failures of the 1930s obscured the work of the League in the 1920s?
We have gathered together a box of sources from the Churchill Archive on the League in the 1920s.
Austrian christian social politician and Federal Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß (right) with the other members of the delegation to the League of Nations in Geneva, 1933. From left to right: Wiessenbach, Hornbostel, Pflügel, and Dollfuß (Bibliothèque nationale de France)