The Law of International Institutions

By D. W. Bowett | Go to book overview

A. ORGANISATIONS OF GENERAL COMPETENCE

CHAPTER 2
THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS

THE creation of a league of States, dedicated to the maintenance of peace, had long been advocated in philosophical and juristic writings 1 and in the aims of private organisations. The immediate source of the League of Nations was, however, a proposal introduced at the Peace Conference of Paris in 1919. In the drafting of the Covenant of the League the major powers played the decisive role; it emerged as a fusion of President Wilson's third draft and the British proposals emanating from the Phillimore Committee.

The League's objective was "to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security". The system of collective security envisaged in the Covenant rested, essentially, on the notions of disarmament (Art. 8), pacific settlement of disputes and the outlawry of war (Arts. 11-15), a collective guarantee of the independence of each member (Art. 10), and sanctions ( Arts. 16 and 17). The League's disarmament programme failed dismally. As envisaged in the Covenant, the pacific settlement of disputes likely to lead to a rupture of the peace was obligatory; parties to the dispute could choose to go to arbitration, judicial settlement or to the Council of the League. It was obligatory to accept the award or a unanimous report of the Council and an obligation on all members not to go to war with any State so accepting. The members agreed to respect and preserve the "territorial integrity and existing political independence" of all members against external aggression. War, as such, was not made illegal but only where begun without complying with the requirements of the Covenant with regard to prior resort to pacific settlement of the dispute. A State resorting to war in violation of its undertaking with regard to pacific settlement was deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members. Yet it was left to each member to decide whether a breach had occurred or an act of war had been committed, so that even the obligation to apply economic sanctions under Article 16(1)

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1
For a brief review of the growth of the idea, see Leonard, International Organisation ( 1951), Chap. 2; or Eagleton, International Government ( 1948), p. 247.

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