The League of Nations 101 is a series that historically analyze the work of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was the first international organization that has aimed to control international affairs and, in order to achieve that, it launched its own international bureaucracy. Through its main organs (the Secretariat, the Assembly and the Council) it was able to form a new, multilateral system by the end of the 1920s.
The League of Nations 101 series' aim is to examine the system-level operations, the possible strategies used by state representations and the activities of the people that were operating the system or intended to prevail in it, as well as to find the place of the League of Nations in the history of diplomacy and international institutions.
The series are divided into the following chapters:
1. A New Spirit
10. The League of Nations' Place in the History of International Institutions and Bureaucracy
The League of Nations' Place in the History of International Institutions and Bureaucracy
During this series, the history of the League of Nations have been explained. Although the organization failed and ended almost a century ago, it was succeeded by the United Nations, which is operating for 77 years, using the experience accumulated by the League of Nations, both good and bad examples. Thus, this last article will show the League of Nations' relevance in the history of international institutions and bureaucracy.
The League of Nations was not the first international organization, as the International Red Cross, the Inter-Parliamentary Union or the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have already been founded before its birth. However, the League of Nations was the first international institution that aimed to control international affairs: a universal organization, which was based on the concept of collective security instead of alliances of interests. State interests, however, are rarely the same (Kissinger, 1994), which led to the relatively quick political failure of the organization.
The League of Nations, according to its own objectives, was established against war as a method of conflict management and secret diplomacy. Its original purpose was to connect the former networks to a large network centre and to resolve the tensions between them. Instead, it created multilateral diplomacy and became an important and unavoidable, but by no means exclusive, player. The League alone could not offer real solutions and left really problematic issues unresolved. As a result, the former networks were not dissolved, but continued to operate within and outside the League of Nations. In many cases, substantive decision-making fell out of the hands of the League of Nations, and agreements were concluded bilaterally or, albeit multilaterally, only rarely with the help of the League of Nations. Tensions among the states of the League were heightened as a result of the unresolved problems, culminating in World War II.
Yet, in the 1920s, it was common to think that the League of Nations was a way for political institutions to improve themselves in order to meet new needs. (Butler, 1924) Internationalism was a purpose the League tried to achieve in various fields, from history teaching to the creation of its own international bureaucracy. (Osborne, 2016) The League also established its specialized agencies, which meant the international reconstruction of specialized institutions: through the huge and successful work in their years' expertise, the institutionalization of international cooperation in the field of science and other forms of expertise from healthcare to law enforcement (fighting human trafficking, child work, etc.) was achieved.
The League of Nations was indeed a caesura between ‘old’ diplomacy and the modern concept of international cooperation, conflict management, and institutional governance. Through its operation the League foreshadowed the central principles of international institutional law. With its birth, the League consolidated the already existing trends of international relations, and systematized the diplomatic and administrative practices into a more permanent one: through its Secretariat, the League created the international civil service, which had its own regulations. The staff of the League of Nations was international and such were their duties as well, which meant the override of its employee’s national interests and provided space for the internationalist concept. The organization’s high ranking officials held privileges and immunities, and the League personnel could appeal to the League of Nations Administrative Tribunal. (Collins, 2019)
Thus, the administration of the League of Nations, the first professional international civil service, was created by Secretary General Sir Eric Drummond, considering the concepts of internationality, independence, and loyalty. The principle of national diversity was of outstanding importance, as it provided both legitimacy and a wide range of competencies and viewpoints for the League. (Gram-Skjoldager, 2019)
In the staff of the League of Nations' Secretariat diplomats, experts, translators, shorthand typists, proof readers, librarians, and even gardeners were presented (Beger, 2021), all highly qualified both in their field of expertise and in the command of languages. (Hevesy, 1927)
As stated in the previous article, there is a strong continuity between the League of Nations and the United Nations – direct succession, similar structures, and similar goals. This continuity exists even in the staff of the two institutions, as many bureaucrats who worked for the League of Nations joined the UN as well. For example, British Captain Francis Paul Walters, who was a key bureaucrat in the League and a confidant of Secretary General Sir Eric Drummond, published several essays and books on the League of Nations after its fall in order to provide assistance in the creation of the UN. (Walters, 1945)
If this strong continuity between the two organizations is carefully examined, milestones can be identified in the development of international civil service: the staff regulations of the Secretariat of the League, the granting of diplomatic status to the staff and the introduction of the oath of office are all elementary points. During this development, the core principles of modern international civil service (multinational staffing, the notion of institutional independence and the principle of undivided institutional loyalty) were created. After World War II, with the birth of the United Nations, these experiments were transformed into complete concepts and principles and raised to a higher level with the UN Charter and other multilateral treaties. Thus, the development initiated within the frameworks of the League of Nations continued in the United Nations through the Convention on Privileges and Immunities and the Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service. (Gram-Skjoldager, 2019)
Although the development of international administration has been and continues to be a strong and rapid progress, these principles determined and introduced by the League of Nations are decisive even today for international organizations.
Thus, along with the League of Nations, international administration and multilateral diplomacy has emerged, whose operation is one of the fundamental experiences of the people of the 21st century.
The era of the League of Nations was the time when the world learned how to operate this newly established multilateral system: it faced its real nature and possible pitfalls, the difficulties of creating an international civil service, the issues and applications of international law, etc. The example of the League of Nations is crucial for every international institution: with its structure and operation, it has set an example for today's organizations, often unobtrusive, such as the United Nations or NATO.
• Beger, Gudrun (2021): At the service of the League of Nations. Exploring the microcosm of the world’s first international civil service. UN Today. Global Affairs. Retrieved from https://untoday.org/at-the-service-of-the-league-of-nations/
• Butler, J. M. (1924): The League in the Development of Political Institutions. International Journal of Ethics (34) 121-126.
• Collins, Richard (2019): The League of Nations and the Emergence of International Administration. Revista Española de Derecho Internacional 71 (2) 285-294.
• Gram-Skjoldager, Karen (2019): From the League of Nations to the United Nations Milestones for the International Civil Service. 11 p., 100 Years of International Civil Service No. 3. Retrieved from https://www.daghammarskjold.se/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ics_100_no_3_karin-gs.pdf
• Hevesy, 1927: The letter of Paul de Hevesy to Miklós Kozma. Geneva, 25 July, 1927. MNL-OL (Hungarian National Archives - State Archives) K 107 64. cs. 59. t. 268.
• Kissinger, Henry: Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
• Osborne, Ken (2016): Creating the "International Mind": The League of Nations Attempts to Reform History Teaching, 1920–1939. History of Education Quarterly 56 (2) 213-240.
• Walters, F. P. (1945): Dumbarton Oaks and the League: Some Points of Comparison. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 21 (2) 141-154.
Kissinger, Henry: Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
• Members of the Health and Social Questions Section of the Secretariat. (Secrétariat de la SDN: Section de l'Opium et des Questions sociales). [Photograph] Total Digital Access Project. League of Nations Archives, Geneva. Retrieved from https://lontad-project.unog.ch/idurl/1/9307
• Members of the League of Nations' Malaria Commission on the Danube delta, 1929. [Photograph] Licence: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). Retrieved from Wellcome Collection. https://wellcomecollection.org/works/et65r8fj/items
• The League of Nations Secretariat's Information Section. (Secrétariat de la SDN: Section d'Information) [Photograph] Total Digital Access Project. League of Nations Archives, Geneva. Retrieved from https://lontad-project.unog.ch/idurl/1/9201
• The portrait of F. P. Walters. [Photograph] Total Digital Access Project. League of Nations Archives, Geneva. Retrieved from https://lontad-project.unog.ch/records/item/9555-walters-f-p-gr-bretagne-secretariat-sect-politique-p392-g53-615-vol-1?offset=30
• TommL [Photograph] iStock. Retrieved from International Organizations Accountability Symposium: An Introduction. http://opiniojuris.org/2019/10/14/international-organizations-accountability-symposium-an-introduction/
TommL [Photograph] iStock. Retrieved from International Organizations Accountability Symposium: An Introduction. http://opiniojuris.org/2019/10/14/international-organizations-accountability-symposium-an-introduction/