HOW DID THE LEAGUE'S MEMBERSHIP AFFECT ITS
Forty-two countries declared themselves members of the League
at its first Assembly at
in November-December 1920.
The Growth of
During the 1920s, more countries joined the League.
The enemy powers were admitted (Austria and Bulgaria in 1920, Hungary
in 1922 and Germany in 1926) when they were judged to be fit and responsible
members of the global community.
The newly-created states of
were admitted together in 1921.
Some other small states such as
By the end of 1934 it
had its greatest number of members: 58.
It is arguable that the membership of a huge number of
nations gave the League a moral authority – it really could be said to be a
But did it make it
a ‘Community of Power’?
doubtful that greater number meant greater power for the League – adding
Costa Rica to
your organisation does not make much of a difference.
Rather than the increase of
membership adding to the League’s power, it is probably more the case that
the League’s membership grew as a result of its successes in the 1920s.
The strength of the League lay not
how many, but in WHO was a member.
And it must be remembered that at the start the League had four major
world powers as members –
Italy, France and the British
New Zealand and
South Africa as well as the
These countries truly gave the League ‘clout’.
Only two admissions, therefore, can be said to have had
The admission of the enemy powers – most especially
Germany – was a major step forward in the idea of
‘collective security’, and
was genuinely a world power, so its admission really did strengthen the
USSR joined the League in 1934,
hoping that the League might be able to restrain Hitler.
The acceptance of the communist
USSR into the
international community was another huge step forward in international
relations and the concept of ‘collective security’.
However, the Soviets lost interest as it became increasingly clear
that the League could not stop Hitler, and in 1939 they made their own
alliance with Hitler and were expelled from the League.
The Decline of
After 1934, the membership of the League fell.
The first significant setback was in March 1933, when
Japan withdrew from the League after the
Manchurian crisis, followed in October 1933 by Hitler’s withdrawal of Germany from the
League. Gradually, the fascist powers
withdrew in 1937 (after the Abyssinian crisis), and Spain in 1939.
dropped out when they were annexed by Hitler.
In addition, a number of central and South American
states withdrew in the second half of the 1930s.
Again, this is probably more the result of the failure of the League,
rather the cause of it.
Did the decline in membership reduce the power of the
League? Certainly, the withdrawal of Japan, Germany
– key members of the Council and genuine world powers – can be said to mark
the end of the idea of ‘collective security’.
Their departure marked the end of the League as a place where the
nations worked together for peace.
Thereafter, it became an
issue, not of community, but of authority – did the League have the power to
impose decent behaviour on errant countries.
Here, rather than
just membership numbers, the crucial factor was that
– the remaining world powers in the League – although they stayed members of
the League, really ceased to treat it as a viable way of keeping the peace.