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The League of Nations Union (LNU) was an organisation formed in the United Kingdom to promote international justice, collective security and a permanent peace between nations based upon the ideals of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was established by the Great Powers as part of the Paris Peace Treaties, the international settlement which followed the First World War. The creation of a general association of nations was the final one of President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. The LNU became the largest and most influential organisation in the British peace movement. [1] [2] By the mid-1920s it had over a quarter of a million registered subscribers [3] and its membership eventually peaked at around 407,000 in 1931. By the 1940s, after the disappointments of the international crises of the 1930s and the descent into World War Two, membership fell to about 100,000. [4]

Contents

Formation

The LNU was formed on 13 October 1918 [5] by the merger of the League of Free Nations Association and the League of Nations Society, two older organisations already working for the establishment of a new and transparent system of international relations, human rights (as then understood) and for world peace through disarmament and universal collective security rather than traditional approaches such as the balance of power or the creation of power blocs through secret treaties. [6]

Internal structure

The headquarters of the LNU were located variously at Buckingham Gate [7] and Grosvenor Crescent, Westminster. In the 1940s they moved to smaller premises in St Martins Lane, WC2 for reasons of economy. [8] The top organ of administration in the LNU was its General Council. The Council met twice a year and was responsible for LNU policy under its 1925 Royal Charter of Incorporation. Beneath the General Council sat the Executive Committee, which met every two weeks and co-ordinated all activity such as the LNU’s campaigns and educational programmes, received reports from branches, monitored the output of specialist sub-groups and had responsibility for the LNU’s staff. LNU branches had their own independent management structures. [9]

Activities

The LNU played an important role in inter-war politics. According to one source it had been successful in converting the mainstream of British society, including labour, the churches and the principal newspapers to the cause of the League of Nations. [10] It also carried great influence in traditional political circles and particularly in the Liberal Party. One historian has gone so far as to describe the LNU as “a key Liberal pressure group on foreign policy” and to call Liberal Party members the “true believers” of the LNU. [11] Its first President was Edward Grey the Liberal foreign secretary during the First World War. Other leading Liberal lights in the LNU included Geoffrey Mander [12] Liberal MP for Wolverhampton East from 1929-1945 and Professor Gilbert Murray, who was Vice-President of the League of Nations Society from 1916 and Chairman of the LNU after 1923. [13] The recruitment of Conservative politicians to support the LNU and the League of Nations itself was more problematic for the LNU but they pursued it to demonstrate the cross-party nature of the Union, which was important for the credibility of an organisation which was active politically in pursuit of international goals. [14] High profile Conservatives did then come into the LNU, notably Lord Robert Cecil and Austen Chamberlain who were both members of the LNU Executive Committee. [15] However, most Conservatives were deeply suspicious of the LNU’s support for pacifism and disarmament [16] – an analogous position to the opinions held by Conservatives in the 1980s in respect of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Even Austen Chamberlain remarked that the Executive Committee contained ‘....some of the worst cranks I have ever known.’ [17]

Peace Ballot

One example of the significance of the political impact the LNU could have was its organisation of the Peace Ballot of 1935, when voters were asked to decide on questions relating to international disarmament and collective security. The Peace Ballot was not an official referendum but more than eleven million people participated in it, representing strong support for the aims and objectives of the League of Nations, influencing policy makers and politicians. The results of the Peace Ballot were publicized worldwide. It has been suggested that one outcome was the interpretation of the result by the Axis powers as an indication of Britain’s unwillingness to go to war on behalf of other nations [18], although those voting in favour of military action against international aggressors as a matter of last resort was almost three-to-one.

Educational programmes

The LNU other main activity was education and awareness raising. It provided publications, speakers and organised courses. [19] Some of its programmes had a lasting impact on British schools. [20]

The end of the LNU and the establishment of the United Nations Association

The failure of the League of Nations to ensure collective security during the international crises of the 1920s and 1930s in prominent conflicts such as Manchuria, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the Spanish Civil War and the Russian invasion of Finland diminished public faith in the League and its principles. In addition the withdrawal, exclusion or expulsion of key nations from its counsels -the USA refused to join, Germany and Japan left in 1933, Italy went in 1937 and the Soviet Union was expelled in 1939 -made clear the limitations of collective security without full and active participation of all the powers. [21]

It was plain a new international settlement would be needed after the Second World War and in 1948 the United Nations Association (UNA) was founded to promote the work of the United Nations Organisation, which was established in 1945 following the Dumbarton Oaks Conference of the previous year. As a result the LNU arranged for the transfer of its complete organisation and membership to the UNA. However, under the provisions of its Royal Charter, the LNU was able to continue until the mid-1970s in a limited capacity, to handle bequests, and administer the payment of pensions to former employees.

Papers and records

The papers, records, minute books, pamphlets, reports and leaflets of the LNU are deposited at the British Library of Political and Economic Science at the London School of Economics in Westminster. [22]

References

  1. ^ R. M. Douglas, The Labour Party, Nationalism and Internationalism, 1939-1951: A New World Order; Routledge, 2004, p27
  2. ^ http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/peace/CDGB/leagueofnationsunion.htm
  3. ^ John T. Callaghan, The Labour Party and Foreign Policy: A History; Routledge, 2007 p69
  4. ^ Joseph Preston Baratta, Politics of World Federation: From world federalism to global governance; Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004 p74
  5. ^ http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/peace/CDGB/leagueofnationsunion.htm
  6. ^ http://library-2.lse.ac.uk/archives/handlists/LNU/LNU.html
  7. ^ Edith M. Phelps, Selected Articles on a League of Nations; H.W. Wilson & Company, 1919 pp xxvi & xxxvii
  8. ^ http://library-2.lse.ac.uk/archives/pressuregroups/lnu.html
  9. ^ http://library-2.lse.ac.uk/archives/handlists/LNU/LNU.html
  10. ^ B. J. C. McKercher (ed.), Anglo-American Relations in the 1920's: The Struggle for Supremacy; University of Alberta, 1990 p23
  11. ^ Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement, and the British Road to War; Manchester University Press, 1998, p111
  12. ^ http://library-2.lse.ac.uk/archives/pressuregroups/lnu.html
  13. ^ Steven Morewood, The British Defence of Egypt, 1935-1940: Conflict and Crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean; Routledge, 2004 p73
  14. ^ Francis West, Cecil Murray: A Life; Croom Helm, 1984 pp200-201
  15. ^ David Dutton, Austen Chamberlain: Gentleman in Politics; Transaction Publishers, 1985 p307
  16. ^ J A Thompson, Lord Cecil and the Pacifists in the League of Nations Union; Volume 20,4, 1977 pp949-959
  17. ^ Neville Thompson, The Anti-Appeasers: Conservative Opposition to Appeasement in the 1930s; Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1971 p37
  18. ^ Pat Thane, Companion to Twentieth Century Britain, Cassell & Co, 2001 p311
  19. ^ Chris Cook, Sources in British Political History, 1900-1950 Volume 1; MacMillan, 1975 p144
  20. ^ http://library-2.lse.ac.uk/archives/handlists/LNU/LNU.html
  21. ^ J A Cannon, League Of Nations in The Oxford Companion to British History, OUP 1997 p567
  22. ^ http://library-2.lse.ac.uk/archives/handlists/LNU/LNU.html

Further reading

  • Donald S Birn, The League of Nations Union – Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981

See also

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