What is the League of Nations?

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  • Written By: Amanda Piontek
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 18 May 2020
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The League of Nations was an international organization that was formed soon after the first World War and existed from 1919 until 1946. Its primary goal was to encourage the use of negotiation and arbitration to prevent war and to settle international disputes. The League of Nations was based in Geneva, Switzerland. It included the victorious Allied Nations from World War I, with the exception of the United States, as well as many of the neutral nations.

World War I came to an end in November of 1918 after Germany signed an armistice with the Allies. Although the fighting had ceased, the nations continued to meet, draft peace treaties and organize a baseline for handling future conflict between the countries of the world. An official Peace Conference met in Paris in 1919 to discuss these most important matters. At the center of the conference were leaders from several prominent countries: Woodrow Wilson of the United States, David Lloyd George of Great Britain and Georges Clemenceau of France.

After months of negotiation, the countries drafted the post-war document Treaty of Versailles. This treaty imposed consequences on Germany for beginning the war and provided the framework for the creation of the League of Nations. The treaty was signed on June 28, 1919. Twenty-nine members of the Allied Powers signed the treaty and became the official members of the League, with 13 other neutral powers joining by the end of 1920.

United States President Woodrow Wilson was heavily involved in the Paris Peace Conference and the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles. Despite his involvement and dedication to the formation League of Nations, all U.S. treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds majority in the United States Senate. Opponents of the treaty led a bitter fight against President Wilson, and in 1920, an overwhelming Republican victory in the general election of the Senate blocked the U.S. from joining the League for good.

Over the years, the League of Nations intervened in territorial disputes and conflicts between and within nations. Members fought against international opium trade and sexual slavery, and they worked toward worldwide disarmament. The League also formed councils to study the legal status of women around the world and to oversee the plight of refugees.

There are several points of interest that led to the failure of the League of Nations. The United States' inability to join the League weakened the organization from the beginning. Failure to stop the war in 1935 between Italy and Abyssinia — which became Ethiopia — further weakened their prestige. Finally, the outbreak of World War II in 1939 proved that the League was powerless to uphold its primary purpose, which was to prevent another world war. The League of Nations dissolved in 1946, transferring its powers and assets to a newly formed organization, the United Nations.

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