League of Nations: The Covenant: The Basis of the League

The Covenant: The Basis of the League

At the close of World War I, such prominent figures as Jan Smuts, Lord Robert Cecil, and Léon Bourgeois advocated a society of nations. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson incorporated the proposal into the Fourteen Points and was the chief figure in the establishment of the League at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The basis of the League was the Covenant, which was included in the Treaty of Versailles and the other peace treaties.

The Covenant consisted of 26 articles. Articles 1 through 7 concerned organization, providing for an assembly, composed of all member nations; a council, composed of the great powers (originally Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan, later also Germany and the USSR) and of four other, nonpermanent members; and a secretariat. Both the assembly and the council were empowered to discuss “any matter within the sphere of action of the League or affecting the peace of the world.” In both the assembly and the council unanimous decisions were required.

Articles 8 and 9 recognized the need for disarmament and set up military commissions. Article 10 was an attempt to guarantee the territorial integrity and political independence of member states against aggression. Articles 11 through 17 provided for the establishment of the Permanent Court of International Justice (see World Court), for arbitration and conciliation, and for sanctions against aggressors. The rest of the articles dealt with treaties, colonial mandates, international cooperation in humanitarian enterprises, and amendments to the Covenant.

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