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The United Nations: An Introduction for Students

The predecessor:
The League of Nations


The League of Nations was founded immediately after the First World War. It originally consisted of 42 countries, 26 of which were non-European. At its largest, 57 countries were members of the League. The League was created because a number of people in France, South Africa, the UK and the US believed that a world organization of nations could keep the peace and prevent a repetition of the horrors of the 1914-18 war in Europe. An effective world body now seemed possible because communications were so much better and there was increasing experience of working together in international organizations. Coordination and cooperation for economic and social progress were becoming important.

The League had two basic aims. Firstly, it sought to preserve the peace through collective action. Disputes would be referred to the League's Council for arbitration and conciliation. If necessary, economic and then military sanctions could be used. In other words, members undertook to defend other members from aggression. Secondly, the League aimed to promote international cooperation in economic and social affairs.


The Covenant of the League of Nations begins...

“In order to promote international cooperation and to achieve international peace and security by the acceptance of obligations not to resort to war, by the prescription of open, just and honourable relations between nations, by the firm establishment of the understandings of international law as the actual rule of conduct among Governments, and by the maintenance of justice and a scrupulous respect for all treaty obligations in the dealings of organised peoples with one another, Agree to this Covenant of the League of Nations."

The end of the League

As the Second World War unfolded, it became clear that the League had failed in its chief aim of keeping the peace. The League had no military power of its own. It depended on its members' contributions; and its members were not willing to use sanctions, economic or military.Moral authority was insufficient.

Several Big Powers failed to support the League: the United States crucially never joined; Germany was a member for only seven years from 1926 and the USSR for only five years from 1934; Japan and Italy both withdrew in the 30s. The League then depended mainly on Britain and France, who were understandably hesitant to act forcefully. It was indeed difficult for governments long accustomed to operating independently to work through this new organization
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