The Origins of the League of Nations

  • David Armstrong
Part of the The Making of the 20th Century book series (MACE)


The creation of the League of Nations was an extraordinary event. Not only had there been nothing like it before, but there was very little in the system of international relations which existed in 1914 or in the previous history of diplomacy to suggest its possibility. The guiding principle of all states in their relations with each other was the protection of their national sovereignty, and any development that might interfere with this, even in a very small way, had always been resisted. International co-operation in the most important area of peace and security had, perhaps inevitably, been limited and temporary, but even in much less contentious matters, such as setting up an efficient international postal system, or deciding upon rules to govern the laying down of marine cables, or regulating the spread of epidemic diseases by international sanitary conventions, progress had taken many years. In each case this was because one or more states had opposed change in the belief that its sovereignty might be infringed or that it might lose some narrow national advantage. Even so derisory an issue as an attempt to determine internationally agreed safety standards in the manufacture of matches had been vigorously resisted by Britain on the latter grounds. Yet a few years after this episode Britain was one of the principal founders of the League: a permanent international organisation with wide-ranging responsibilities.


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© David Armstrong 1982

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  • David Armstrong

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