At the time of the Corfu Incident in 1923, many people wondered what would happen if a powerful state were to challenge the League on a matter of major importance, for example, by invading an innocent country. How effective would the League be then? The former British prime minister, Lord Balfour, remarked: ‘The danger I see in the future is that some powerful nation will pursue a realpolitik as in the past. I do not believe we have yet found, or can find, a perfect guarantee against such a calamity.’ Unfortunately several such challenges occurred during the 1930s, and on every occasion the League was found wanting.
Closely linked with the Versailles Treaties
This initial disadvantage made the League seem like an organization created especially for the benefit of the victorious powers. In addition it had to defend a peace settlement which was far from perfect. It was inevitable that some of its provisions would cause trouble – for example, the disappointing territorial gains of the Italians and the inclusion of Germans in Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Rejected by USA
The League was dealt a serious blow in March 1920 when the US Senate rejected both the Versailles settlement and the League. The reasons behind their decision were varied. The absence of the USA meant that the League was deprived of a powerful member whose presence would have been of great psychological and financial benefit.
This gathering of leading ambassadors was only intended to function until the League machinery was up and running, but it lingered on, and on several occasions it took precedence over the League.
The Conference of Ambassadors in Paris was an embarrassment
In 1920 the League supported Lithuania in her claim to Vilna , which had just been seized from her by the Poles; but when the Conference of Ambassadors insisted on awarding Vilna to Poland, the League allowed it to go ahead.
A later example was the Corfu Incident (1923) : This arose from a boundary dispute between Greece and Albania, in which three Italian officials working on the boundary commission were killed. Mussolini blamed the Greeks, demanded huge compensation and bombarded and occupied the Greek island of Corfu. Greece appealed to the League, but Mussolini refused to recognize its competence to deal with the problem. He threatened to withdraw Italy from the League, whereupon the Ambassadors ordered Greece to pay the full amount demanded.
There were serious weaknesses in the Covenant
These made it difficult to ensure that decisive action was taken against any aggressor. It was difficult to get unanimous decisions; the League had no military force of its own, and though Article 16 expected member states to supply troops if necessary, a resolution was passed in 1923 that each member would decide for itself whether or not to fight in a crisis. This clearly made nonsense of the idea of collective security.
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