League of Nations and the crisis in Abyssinia and Manchuria

One of the main functions of the League of Nations was to prevent war. The League acted as an arbitrator in disputes. It would establish commissions to investigate problems. Agencies could tackle specific issues. Where aggression was found, sanctions could follow that would deter nations from engaging in war. Manchuria and Abyssinia put the ability of the League of Nations to the test. In both cases, the shortcomings of the League were highlighted.

Chinese delegates address the League of Nations commission into the Manchurian Crisis, 1932

How well did the League of Nations deal with aggressive actions?

The League of Nations was supposed to deal with armed conflict through the use of sanctions and collective armed response when required. The following is a brief summary of how they dealt with the Manchurian Crisis and the Abyssinian Crisis:

Manchurian Crisis:

Initially attempted Arbitration.

A Commission was established. It took a year to report, during which time the Japanese continued to expand into Manchuria.

Sanctions were not used.

A Special Assembly voted that Japan should withdraw from Manchuria.

When the Japanese refused and left the League of Nations, the League responded by doing nothing.


Arbitration and negotiations following the Wal Wal incident.

Franco-Italian agreement that granted Mussolini some of the things he wanted to achieve.

League determined that neither side was to blame for the incident at Wal Wal.

Imposed an arms embargo on Italy and Abyssinia.

Following the Invasion, limited sanctions were imposed on Italy. However these were not applied by all member nations and did not include some key products such as oil.

The League did not put things in place that would have limited the Italians ability to wage war. For example, the Suez Canal could have been closed to Italian Shipping.

Britain and France negotiated in secret with Italy and were willing to make large concessions to them, at the expense of the aggrieved member nation.

Sanctions were dropped following the Italian conquest of Abyssinia.


It became clear that the League of Nations was not willing or able to use collective force to prevent conflicts.

It became clear that the League of Nations was not united in its approach to dealing with conflict.

It suggests that the major powers were willing to make concessions at the expense of smaller nations in order to prevent wider conflicts.

It was clear that the major powers who were not members of the League of Nations (The USSR and the US) would not intervene unless their own interests were threatened.

International Relations in the Interwar years
Impact of the Great DepressionManchurian CrisisAbyssinia Crisis
League of Nations response to Abyssinia and ManchuriaHitler's Aims: Lebensraum and GrossdeutschlandReoccupation of the Rhineland: International Response
AnschlussChamberlain and AppeasementSudetenland plebisite
Munich AgreementPre-War policy towards PolandNazi Soviet Pact
Pact of Steel
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