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The League of Nations and grand strategy: A contradiction in terms?

Webster, A.ORCID: 0000-0002-9727-9516 (2012) The League of Nations and grand strategy: A contradiction in terms? In: Taliaferro, J.W., Ripsman, N.M. and Lobell, S.E., (eds.) The Challenge of Grand Strategy: The Great Powers and the Broken Balance between the World Wars. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 93-119.

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The League of Nations has been ridiculed by historians and political scientists since its collapse in 1945. They note that the institution failed to keep the peace in Europe, Africa, and Asia, failed to punish transgressors, that its promises of collective security and disarmament went unfulfilled, and that revisionist states largely ignored its injunctions. In this chapter, I do not dispute the realities of these failures; rather, I argue that the too-common attitude of casual ridicule overlooks the League's genuine contributions, particularly in two areas of relevance to international security. First, the League's efforts at disarmament embodied characteristics with direct relevance to the post-Cold War arms control environment: a multilateral process with a central role played by international organizations; a focus on a range of armaments, including conventional and chemical weapons; consideration of the enforcement of disarmament upon recalcitrant states and the implementation of international inspection and verification of agreements; and, very prominently, attempts to manage problems such as the international trade in arms. Second, the League - at least for a time - played an important role in the grand strategies of Britain and France. In the 1920s, the french hoped to use its multilateral framework as a means of securing a British security guarantee. In the early 1930s, the British hoped to utilize the league disarmament negotiation as a means of restraining the inevitable growth of German power without the need for a renewed and expensive British rearmament program. In both cases, these great powers attempted to utilize the League as the cornerstone of an alternative to traditional balance-of-power grand strategies. Although this effort did not bear fruit, it is not possible to understand the evolution of grand strategy in the interwar years without reference to the role played by the League of Nations.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: 2012 Cambridge University Press
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