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Why did the League of Nations fail? Respond in terms of these three international relations perspectives: realist, liberal, and identity.

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In terms of realism , the League failed because states always act in their own self-interest, no matter the ruling from an independent body. After the turmoil of WWI, many of the Western powers in the League of Nations were quite vulnerable, and they acted in order to ensure that...

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In terms of realism, the League failed because states always act in their own self-interest, no matter the ruling from an independent body. After the turmoil of WWI, many of the Western powers in the League of Nations were quite vulnerable, and they acted in order to ensure that they would never be attacked again. Britain and France took care to ensure that they maintained their colonial holdings and extracted as much as possible from their Middle Eastern mandates.

In terms of liberalism, the United States never joined the League because it was defeated in the US Senate. This meant that the League had no enforcement mechanism for the states that would choose to address their grievances through war. The League was a liberal idea, but it failed to take into account that Japan and Italy felt lied to in order to join the war and that Germany was nearly destroyed economically as a result of the conflict. Without any effort to acknowledge the hardships brought upon these three nations, Japanese, Italian, and German militarists started plotting revenge as early as the beginning of the 1930s.

In terms of identity politics, the League arbitrarily redrew national borders without regard to the people who lived there. Despite the best efforts of ethnographers of the time, many of the League's redrawn borders were created to mollify already existing states. The Balkans remained as volatile as they had under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hitler was able to use self-determination as an argument for annexing German speakers in Austria and Czechoslovakia as well as for his invasion of Western Poland. Theoretically, the League could make some foreign policy for states and take this power away from their elected officials. This led many leaders to largely ignore the League, as they wanted to control their own foreign policies.

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Realism: The League of Nations failed because it didn't take into account the realities of international relations. High-flown rhetoric is all very well, but when it comes right down to it, nations are motivated by self-interest, and as the League didn't take this into consideration, it was pretty much doomed to failure right from the outset.

The Senate, in rejecting the United States' membership in the League, understood this point all too well. Its crucial vote should've been taken as a sign that the League had no chance of success, especially without the power and authority of the United States behind it.

Liberalism: Yes, the Senate vote was crucial in preventing the effective working of the League of Nations. But it didn't change the simple fact that an international order based on commonly-agreed rules is necessary to maintain stability and avoid conflict. Had the US Senate voted in favor of the League, then the United States would have been the guarantor of a rules-based system that could well have prevented the numerous acts of aggression that led directly to the outbreak of World War Two. The League's failure was the result of a lack of foresight and political will; it had nothing to do with any inherent weakness in liberal ideas.

Identity: The League of Nations, as with any supra-national body, didn't acknowledge the fundamental importance of ethnic and cultural identity in shaping international affairs. By constructing an artificial internationalist identity, the League willfully ignored the natural ties that bind people and communities together. It was difficult for too many people to feel any kind of real connection or loyalty toward a large bureaucratic organization that seemed distant and remote. Decisions relating to the conduct of foreign affairs should be made, wherever possible, at the state-wide level, bringing them closer to the people whose interests they are supposed to serve. For obvious reasons, the League of Nations couldn't do this, thus creating a huge gulf between itself and the people of its signatory states.

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Realists tend to regard international relations as lacking in any guiding principle or ethos and are skeptical of the ability of international organizations such as the League of Nations to establish order without the use of force. Because the League of Nations lacked coercive power, it was unable to stop violations of international law by such aggressor states as Japan, Italy, and later Germany. A quote from Henry Kissinger's book Diplomacy provides a good summary of the realist perspective on the League of Nations:

In the end, collective security fell prey to the weakness of its central premise—that all nations have the same interest in resisting a particular act of aggression and are prepared to run identical risks in opposing it. Experience has shown these assumptions to be false.

Liberals (at least in the 20th century sense of the word) would point to the specific failings of the League and argue that it failed because the world's leading power, the United States, did not enter the League. In other words, the theoretical premise behind the League of Nations, collective security based on cooperation, was sound, but the United States, rejecting this premise in favor of the illiberal stance of isolationism, weakened it to the point that it could not withstand the pressures placed on it by the actions of the aggressor states mentioned above. In other words, the League was doomed from its birth, but not because it was based on false assumptions about international relations.

There are probably a number of different ways that identity theorists could view the fall of the League of Nations, but one reason might be that it contradicted the spirit of national identity that was still strong after World War I. Thus it could not command the kind of loyalty and willingness to sacrifice that the nation-state could. So in the face of international crisis, politicians saw no advantage in rallying their populations to deal with a threat to an international order that most people might not have seen as worth saving.

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Realists would say that the League failed because things like that will always fail.  States will pursue their own interests rather than wanting to help others in the way that the League would have wanted them to.

Liberals would argue that it failed largely because it did not have time.  Organizations like the League cannot prevent war immediately.   Instead, they are more likely to promote peace in the long term by encouraging peaceful interactions between various countries.

People who focus on identity would argue that the League failed because not enough countries identified with one another.  The French, for example, did not identify with Ethiopia or with China and therefore were not willing to do anything to help those countries when they were invaded.

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