Key lesson from the failure of the League of Nations that can be identified in the formation of the United Nations

Any citation taking from this article has to be cited accordingly. Failure to comply with regulations may subject to copyright.

“More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations.”

– Kofi Annan –

There are several arguments on why the League of Nations failed. One of the arguments is that the League respects too much principle of state sovereignty – that caused not enough authority to protect a small state from bigger state national interest. This essay will focus on examine the power of Security Council over Assembly in the League – that later on has caused the big states to overrule the small states. The League has functioned well during the 1920s – however, during the 1930s, the failure of the league has started to appear. The league was failed to maintain the great depression in the 1930s. The great depression has caused all states to act aggressively (BBC, 2014). The majority of powerful state try to maintain the economy crisis within the state – therefore, the powerful state invaded small state in order to get along with the economy crisis. There are two main points that could be analyzed from the situations.

Firstly, the League has failed to maintain global interest rather than national interest. The majority of the powerful state wanted to invade small state in order to survive the depression. Even though the small states have rejected and brought the case to the league, it did not work – because the council is more powerful than the assembly. Secondly, because of the national interest – to some extent, it has caused the small state to be left behind because they do not have enough power – both to fight against the powerful state or the lack of power in the league. From those two points, it has shown that the League was failed to maintain the equality of a state. For instance, the case of Japanese wanted to invade Manchuria in the 1931 (Burkman, 2008) is one of the evidence why the League failed to protect small state sovereignty. In September 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria (BBC, 2014) – after rejected the Lytton Report that was adopted by the League Assembly (Nish, 2008). As Japan was one of the permanent members of the League Council (Armstrong et al., 2004) – the situation has shown how the power of Assembly is nearly useless to the Council.

In addition, there was a lack of cognition to protect the world as a whole rather than as an individual state. The caused of this is that each state – mainly the powerful state – does seek national interest more than global interest. As in this case, Japan has faced dilemma – whether they had to choose between pursuing their national interest or international interest (Nish, 2000). Moreover, there is an argument that – Japan joined the league mainly for their national interest and to avoid the international isolation (Burkman, 2008). If this is true, it has prevented the League to obtain accordingly to their vision. Not surprisingly, the League failed. The case of Japan has proved the lack of Assembly power compared to the Council of the League. It was hard to obtain the League because it relied on its member – thus it is crucial for all members to agree on any decisions that have to be made – because if it does not they would not commit for so long (Housden, 2012). In fact, during the 1930s it was hard to find a decision that would benefit the whole state – that later on caused the powerful state to achieve what they desire and the small state to be taken advantage of. There was no justice for it – as the league was failed to maintain a covenant of cases they faced (Murray, 1948).

In comparison to the League, the UN has more powerful General Assembly (Peterson, 2006). Even though the power of Security Council is still higher than the Assembly – in the UN the Assembly has the power to recommend and indicates any issues – including major issues – in the world (Baylis et al., 2014). The case of Palestine could be seen as an example. Palestine was not able to be a full member state in the UN because of the absence of Security Council support (Baylis et al., 2014). However, the GA was able to stand together and give another action – that might not be as powerful as Security Council support, but it does mean something to Palestine. In 2012, the GA has voted Palestine to be a non-member observer state (Baylis, et al., 2014). Even better, according to the Article 17 of the UN – the GA has absolute power on the UN expenditure budget – together with the allocation of it (Hurd, 2011). The authority of it is purely given to the GA without interference from others body, even the council. Furthermore, small states have tried to advance the authority of the GA in the UN – that to some extent it works – as if the Security Council has failed to address the issue, the GA will be seen as the important body (Armstrong et al., 2004).

As during the League recognition, powerful state such as Japan wanted to invade Manchuria – similar issues arise during the UN recognition. Not long after the establishment of the UN, some powerful state still tried to continue the imperialism. One of an example is Dutch that tried to take their colonial authorities back – which was Indonesia – even though Indonesia has declared their de facto independence (Armstrong et al., 2004). The difference with the Japan – Manchuria situation is that the UN has successfully prevented the re-colonization to happen. The cognition of many states that the imperialism has to stop has come to an edge. Thus, a couple years later, Dutch declared their recognition of Indonesia as an independent state (Armstrong et al., 2004).

In conclusion, the power of the Council over the Assembly in the League is one of the reasons why the League was failed. This lesson could be identified in the formation of the UN – as the General Assembly of the UN has more power than the League. Moreover, it could not be declined that the power of Security Council is still crucial – thus what makes it different from the League is that the cognition from the big power of the importance of global interest. Even though it is still debatable, but the recognition of the needs to united the world from all nation-states – has brought the UN to where it stands now. “It will not be easy to find solutions for all these difficulties; but the united wisdom of civilized humanity should not fail the race.” (Lawrence, 1919: 97).


Armstrong, D; Llyod, L; Redmond, J (2004). International Organisation in World Politics. 3rd ed. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p16-137.

Baylis, J; Smith, S; Owens, P. (2014). The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p304-317.

BBC. (2014). History: Failures in the 1930s [Online]. Available at <> [Accessed 24 February 2017].

BBC. (2014). Manchuria and Abyssinia [Online]. Available at <> [Accessed 24 February 2017]

Burkman, T (2008). Japan and the League of Nations: Empire and World Order. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Housden, M (2012). The League of Nations and the Organization of Peace. Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited.

Hurd, I (2011). International Organizations: Politics, Law, Practice. Cambridge; New York; Melbourne; Madrid; Cape Town; Singapore; Sao Paulo; Delhi; Dubai; Tokyo; Mexico City: Cambridge University Press. p97-159.

Lawrence, T (1919). Lectures on the League of Nations. Bristol; London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co Ltd.

Murray, G (1948). From the League to U.N. London; New York; Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Nish, I (2000). Japan’s Struggle With Internationalism. London; New York: Kegan Paul International.

Peterson, M (2006). The UN General Assembly. Oxon; New York: Routledge.

Featured Image taken from Google Search

“By strengthening the three pillars of the United Nations – security, development and human rights – we can build a more peaceful, more prosperous and more just world for our succeeding generations.”

– Ban Ki-moon –

Author: Valentina Laura

A dreamer & a lover.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: