How far do you agree that support for the League of Nations was the main reason why Britain made so few commitments to maintain the peace of Europe in 1920's?
How far do you agree that support for the League of Nations was the main reason why Britain made so few commitments to maintain the peace of Europe in 1920’s?
To a certain extent Britain made so few commitments to maintaining the peace because of the League of Nations but however there were other factors which influenced Britain’s decision to stay out of European affairs. A Continental commitment was a binding military alliance with an ally, in Britain’s case France, which would have tied down British forces in the event of a war. The avoidance of such an agreement in the post WW1 years was a staple of Britain’s defence policy.
One reason for Britain’s few commitments to maintaining the peace was that of being overstretched by her Empire. Britain was trying to police too vast an area with highly limited resources. There were many uprisings taking place in different parts of the Empire. For example in India, the British passed the Rowlatt Acts to try to control protests. The acts attempted to restrict liberties and rights of Indians, but demonstrations against the government increased as a response to the acts. After the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 Indians demanded independence from British rule. In 1920 Ghandi persuaded the Congress to adopt his non violent non co-operation policy; Ghandi transformed Congress to a mass party with millions of followers. Similarly in Ireland the IRA waged a guerrilla war against the British army. All these uprisings meant that if there were problems defending the Empire, it would mean there would be inadequate forces to help defend Europe in a major conflict and maintain peace. This therefore made it crucial to avoid a Continental commitment.
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Another reason Britain avoided many commitments was the fact that Continental Wars were particularly expensive and necessitated raising taxes and government borrowing. Britain’s national and imperial interests could be better and more cheaply secured by avoiding entanglement in European wars and using diplomacy to resolve tension. Also Britain was a major exporting nation with important markets in North America, the Pacific and parts of Africa had to be protected by the navy. A peaceful Europe which Britain had few commitments to contributed towards the ability to fund the navy.
A brief reason for Britain’s lack of commitments was also the fact that America was the up and coming power in the world and that relations between Britain and America were going to be increasingly important, thus Europe was less important. However in the 1920’s America was isolationist and it was not clear how America was going to come on the world stage.
Public opinion was a factor for Britain making so few commitments to Europe. WW1 had seen over 750,000 British soldiers die, and most families had lost a loved one. Many in the public felt that the government should strive to avoid a similar catastrophe. The 1920’s saw a mass amount of anti-war literature such as “The Death Bed.” Running through the literature is outrage at the façade of war being chivalrous or heroic; this illusion had been shattered after the mechanised nature of war on the Western Front. Thus public opinion had a large sway over government policy which is another reason why Britain made so few commitments in order to avoid any future wars.
The League of Nations was a government means of accommodating different interests. The League represented the extension of liberal values to the practise of international relations. Liberalism fostered the notion political compromise was reached by discussion and assured peace. The League inspired people to believe the nations could co-operate peacefully and resolve differences through negotiation not violence.
Throughout the 1920’s, disarmament conferences were held to try and reduce arms and size of armies so that violent war could be avoided. An example of this was at Locarno in 1925, where the major powers of Western Europe reached an agreement that was designed to assure the peaceful maintenance of the Franco-German borders. Britain and Italy acted as guarantors of the maintenance of the border between the two continental rivals, with both France and Germany accepting any future border alterations had to be achieved diplomatically. There was a feeling that a European war had been averted. Locarno is the pivotal point in interwar diplomacy, the moment when the spirit of goodwill and international conciliation was at its highest, it became known as the Locarno spirit. Britain was able to take a minor role in European commitments without being too involved.
The Kellogg Briand Pact of 1928 said that war should be outlawed as a way of settling international disputes so force appeared to be prohibited as a way of settling international disputes. It represented a multilateral renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy.
The League was committed to avoiding balance of powers politics and rival alliance systems which were believed to make war more likely. It is easy to see how governments were encouraged to avoid war by the influence of public opinion. However it is also easy to see there is a link between British foreign policy and the mood for multilateral settlements. Britain refused to make a military alliance with France but did make a limited guarantee of security through Locarno, thus showing they did use the League as a means of avoiding commitments.
To conclude, Britain I believe mainly focused on other aspects rather than the League for her reasons of not making too many commitments in Europe during the 1920’s. Although the League is one of the reasons partly I do not believe it is the main reason.