Back   Why the League Failed - Sources

Source A

Recent events have shown that the British people's hope that [the League of Nations] would be adequate for the maintenance of peace is premature... 

In existing conditions, [a government White Paper suggests that] an additional expenditure on the armaments of the Defence Services can no longer be postponed.

The Times newspaper (5 March 1935) reports a decision by the British government that growing

German, Russian and Japanese aggression required a new policy to defend Britain.


Source B

In June 1935, Britain made a naval agreement with Hitler, to let Germany have a navy one-third of the size of Britain's.  It was the sign that Britain had given up on the League as a way to keep the peace, and was trying a new policy - appeasement.

The modern historian John Duncan suggests that Britain's naval agreement with Germany was

a decision by the British government to abandon 'collective security' (2004).


Source C

The Covenant of the League has been violated...  We shall therefore have to climb down, and Hitler has scored.  We must swallow this humiliation as best we may, and be prepare to become the laughing stock of Europe.  I do not mind that very much.  We can rebuild our shattered name.  But it does mean the final end of the League and that I do mind dreadfully.  Quite dreadfully.

A letter written by the British diplomat Harold Nicolson to a friend,

after Hitler had marched into the Rhineland (12 March 1936).


Source D

Spanish Civil War cartoonPowerpoint presentation explaining the cartoon

This cartoon by the British cartoonist David Low, drawn during the Spanish Civil War, appeared

in the Evening Standard newspaper, 14 December 1936.

The headline on the newspaper reads: 'SPAIN - League Discussion'. 

The soldiers are saying: 'The League! Pah! Fancy suggesting nations could unite for peace'.

Click here for the interpretation


Source E

The events of the 1930s doomed the League of Nations.  By 1936, after the Disarmament Conference had failed, few people looked to Geneva for the answers to Europe's problems.  As civil war erupted that summer, Spain was added to Manchuria, Abyssinia and the Rhineland in the roll-call of the League's failures.  Hardly surprising, then, that the Spanish foreign minister should accuse the League of following 'a strange theory which said that the best way to help the League was to stop making any attempt to keep the peace or defend the Covenant'.

The historian Mark Mazower sums up the effect that these failures

had upon the League's reputation (1998).





You have studied the weaknesses of the League, and its failures in Manchuria and Abyssinia.   Sources A-D suggest other events which undermined the League of Nations.


1.   Read Source A-D, identify the four additional events which undermined the League, and explain how they did so.

... and some more ideas:

Source F

The clue lies in the name: the League of Nations.  Not 'states' or 'countries' - 'Nations'.  Wasn't it Wilson who insisted that self-determination was at the centre of the Treaty of Versailles?


Wilson made a Peace which created a world of nations, but he formed a League which relied on 'moral persuasion' and 'collective security'.  The League never had any chance of success.  As soon as any of his nations found that its national self-interest was threatened, the League could go hang.

The modern historian John Duncan suggests that the tension between national interest

and the League's needs made the eventual failure of the League inevitable (2004).


Source G

Hitler did not object to the League of Nations simply because it defended the Versailles settlement.  If that had been so, he would simply have negotiated at Geneva to change in the settlement... 


Hitler saw world politics as a racial struggle - in Darwinian terms, a battle for survival.  The fundamental problem, therefore, with the League was - in Nazi eyes - it embodied a wholly mistaken philosophy of international affairs.  There could be no equality among states, for some 'are not worthy of existence'...

 There was no longer a cohesive value-system or an international society in the old sense; and it was a 'fiction' to talk about international 'rules'.

The historian Mark Mazower suggests that it was

a new idea - fascism - that destroyed the League (1998)




You have studied the way EVENTS undermined the League.   Sources F and G suggest that there were  wider underlying factors which destroyed the League of Nations.   These sources suggest that it wasn't events which destroyed the League, but ideas.


2.   Read Source F and G, and put into your own words the reasons they suggest for the failure of the League.