The League of Nations 101 is a series of historical analyzes made specifically in connection with 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 has 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's aim is to examine the system-level operation, the possible strategies used by state representations, the activities of the persons operating the system or intend to prevail in it, and to find the place of the League of Nations in the history of diplomacy and international institutions.
The series diveded into the following chapters:
1. A New Spirit
6. The League's Specialised Agencies
7. Biggest successes of the League of Nations
8. Biggest failures of the League of Nations
9. The League of Nations VS the United Nations
10. The League of Nations' place in the history of international institutions and burocracy
The League of Nations was the first international organization that has aimed to control international affairs and in order to achieve that it has 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 1920s. This task, however, could not be achieved without the formation of a complex system in which the different areas of science and expertise have got their specialised agancies as well.
Thus, in addition to the organs of the League of Nations, there were specific or auxiliary organisations under the General Assembly and the Council, giving them an almost impossible task (Siotis, 1983). According to the covenant of the League of Nations, international organisations that were formed before the birth of the League of Nations could be placed under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations with their consent, while the ones formed after the League of Nations were established and operated under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations (Vladár, 1930).
These subsidiary bodies were technical organisations and permanent or temporary Advisory Committees, whose task was to investigate problematic issues in detail and to propose solutions. The key technical (financial, economic, transport and health) or advisory committees were made up of internationally renowned experts and dealt with issues that could even lead to political concerns. They did not operate on a political basis, so their members were not delegated by states, but consisted of invited experts (senior officials, bank managers, statisticians, etc.) and were divided into additional commissions that met publicly several times a year, usually in Geneva. The number and composition of these committees varied as necessary. There were many standing committees including military matters, international intellectual cooperation, child protection, opium, mandates, finances of the League of Nations, and the committees monitoring the Member States' financial contributions; and also temporary committees e.g. disarmament (Faluhelyi, 1931).
These organisations have held conferences and coordinated the certain tasks within their particular remit. The data collection and analysis they have carried out has provided information on a wide range of issues, covering all Member States, and has greatly helped to address a wide range of scientific, economic, social, health and other issues. Participants in international conferences, who acted as its driving force, were generally the same from each state, which made it possible to build a well-functioning system based on individual networks (Vladár, 1930). This not only made the work smoother and produced a favourable breeding ground for further international cooperation, but also created a transnational environment in which members often promoted their governments for jointly agreed priorities (Guieu, 2012).
Regarding the specific organisations, the Permanent Court of International Justice (Cour permanente de Justice Internationale de La Haye) was amongst the most important ones. It was established under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations on 16 June, 1920, with The Hague as its headquarters (David, 2000). Its task was to make a judicial decision on the international disputes submitted to it and to make a resolution in the cases brought by the bodies of the League of Nations.
The covenant of the League of Nations provided only in broad terms for the Permanent Court of International Justice; thus, the elaboration of the details was entrusted to the Council, which set up a committee to prepare for this. The detailed plan was adopted by the General Assembly in the December 1920, and the court began its work with 15 members (Irk, 1926).
However, the practical operation of the organisation has deviated from the principles: it was not laid down in writing exactly which cases should be a matter of the Court, so referrals were generally not made. Instead, the Council sought the opinion of Legal Committees, who were composed of legal advisers to council members and, therefore, were not independent. Thus, although the court could have been an excellent forum for appeal, in relation to minority issues, these cases have hardly ever been presented before it (Vladár, 1930).
Another important organisation was the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which still exists (now under the protection of the UN). The ILO was responsible for developing and monitoring international standards for working conditions. The need for these was reinforced by the rapid spread of Bolshevism after the First World War, so states had an interest in taking work protection measures that would help the integration of labour into the particular political and social system. In addition, the new organisation became responsible for enforcing the labour protection provisions set out in the peace treaties (Bódy, 2014).
Within the ILO there were country delegates, officers who run the council and professionals who perform the duties of the office. Although the organisation was established under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1919, its history dates back decades and its first staff already knew each other from meetings held on similar topics in the previous years. The organisation has successfully regulated issues such as working time, the protection of women and child workers, the restriction of work to a minimum age and the management of unemployment issues (David, 2000).
The International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (ICIC) was established to examine key international scientific and cultural issues. The twelve-member Commission was composed of members such as Albert Einstein or Marie Curie, and was set up in 1922 as an advisory body to the General Assembly and the Council. In practice, it examined the possible international collaborations between scientists, researchers, teachers, artists and other intellectuals. It also made recommendations to libraries, universities, public education, heritage protection, etc. Its aim was to establish scientific and cultural links in order to help Member States to better understand each other and be truly able to maintain peace (Intellectual Cooperation, 2021)
The Committee, which made recommendations to the League of Nations, was a purely advisory body which was unable to implement its own decisions. The French Government, which objected to this, set up an office in 1924 (with Paris as its headquarters) to provide the Commission with the organisational background and to implement the Commission's recommendations. This executive body begun its operation in January 1926, and it was chaired by the Geneva-based Commission (Intellectual Institute, 2021).
With the birth of this organisation, the role of cultural and scientific cooperation in political life was legitimised which led to the emergence of such well-known concepts as 'cultural peace' and 'soft power' for political gain.
All in all, the specialised agencies of the League of Nations were quite successful in their areas of speciality and made huge achievements, from culture through rights to law enforcement. Some of these agencies are still working today (e.g. the ILO), while most of them have been renewed and partly restructured, creating such well-known and respected organisations as the UNESCO.
1. Siotis, Jean (1983): The institutions of the League of Nations. In: The League of Nations in retrospect – La Société des Nations: rétrospective. Geneva: United Nations Library.
2. Vladár, Ervin (1930): Mi is az a Népszövetség? Magyar Külügyi Társaság, Budapest: Gergely R. Könyvkereskedése.
3. Faluhelyi, Ferenc (1931): A Nemzetek Szövetsége célja és szervezete. Nemzetek Szövetsége, Genf – Magyarországi bizományos: Grill-féle Udvari Könyvkereskedés, Budapest.
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5. David, Paul (2000): L’Esprit de Genève – Histoire de la Société des Nations. Vingt ans d’efforts pour la paix. Genève.
6. Irk, Albert (1926): A Nemzetek Szövetsége. Tudományos Gyűjtemény 24. II. Danubia, [Pécs]
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8. International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. League of Nations: Intellectual Cooperation. United Nations Research Guides. Retrieved from https://libraryresources.unog.ch/lonintellectualcooperation/ICIC
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