The League of Nations was the development of an international movement to free nations from the demon of war. The World War had taken a toll of ten million dead and $386,000,000,000 of wasted wealth. It also brought in its wake famine, pestilence and hunger for millions of people. There was consequently a strong demand for some permanent international organisation for the promotion of peaceful international cooperation. But it was mainly due to President Woodrow Wilson’s eloquent advocacy and insistent endeavour that the League came into being, although the United States of America could not join the League as it was feared that it would involve a departure from its traditional policy of non-involvement in non-American affairs. There were other urgent problems, too, demanding the existence of a permanent international organisation. World War I was fought largely on the principle of nationality.
Many nationalities became nations after the Treaty of Versailles. Some of them required guarantees against aggression and freedom for development. Finally, the management of the territories lost by the Central Powers accelerated the establishment of this world-wide organisation. Organisation of the League of Nations: The League of Nations came into existence in 1920. Its original membership was restricted to 32 allied and associated powers, 13 neutral States, and the newly created States which had signed the Peace Treaty. For new entrants to the League, it was provided that any sovereign State or Colony could become a member if the admission was agreed to by two-thirds of the members of the Assembly. No State could withdraw from the membership unless two years’ notice to that effect had been given, and it had fulfilled all its international obligations under the Covenant. There were four organs of the League.
The Assembly was the supreme body and it consisted of the representatives of the various member-States including the Dominions of the British Commonwealth and India. Each State could send not more than three representatives, but it was entitled to only one vote. The functions of the Assembly embraced any matter within the sphere of action of the League or affecting the peace of the world. All decisions of the Assembly were to be unanimous. Unanimity was insisted on in order to prevent dissension among sovereign States who, it was apprehended, might act by commanding a bare majority in a way repugnant to some of them. The Assembly adopted the budget of the League, approved the work of the Council, Secretariat and other organs, and adopted draft conventions to be referred to the member-States for ratification. To facilitate and expedite the work of the League, a smaller body, called the Council, was formed.
Originally, it was to contain five permanent members from the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan, and four non-permanent members elected annually by the Assembly. Since the United States had not joined the League, it was not represented in the Council, which contained eight members in all, four permanent and four non-permanent. The Council normally met three or four times in a year but could be summoned as often as necessary if emergency required. The Council was competent to deal with all matters concerning the sphere of action of the League or affecting the peace of the world.
Its decisions, like those of the Assembly, were to be unanimous, except for a few minor matters expressly specified in the Covenant. The Council, thus, acted as a commission of inquiry and conciliation in any dispute referred to it, and to recommend action to enforce the obligations of the Covenant. The Secretariat, headed by the Secretary-General, was the administrative organ of the League. The Secretary-General was appointed by the Council with the approval of the majority of the Assembly.
The staff of the Secretariat was appointed by the Secretary- General and the Council. The expenses of the Secretariat were apportioned among the member-States of the League. Its functions were to keep all records of the proceedings of the League, to secure the necessary information required by the League, and to conduct correspondence on its behalf. All treaties concluded or international agreements entered into by the member-States were required to be published by the Secretary-General, otherwise they were not valid. , The main object of the League was to check all future possibilities of war and to evolve a scheme for the settlement of international disputes.
A permanent Court of International Justice was set up at The Hague. It consisted of nine Judges and four Deputy Judges elected for nine years by the Assembly and the Council respectively, and settled such disputes as were referred to it and required judicial settlement. It was also empowered to give opinions on matters referred to it either by the Assembly or by the Council. The Covenant of the League of Nations included important clauses relating to future and existing treaties, and conditions of labour. An International Labour Organisation — an autonomous body within the League — was created in order to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labour throughout the world.
The International Labour Organisation consisted of the International Labour Conference, a representative body of delegates of governments, employers and workers meeting at least once a year at Geneva. Besides this, there was the International Labour Office controlled by a governing body.