The League of Nations' Work on Social Issues

The League of Nations' Work on Social Issues

Visions, Endeavours and Experiments You do not have access to this content

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31 Mar 2016
9789210577021 (PDF)

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This edited volume offers a fresh look into the history of the League of Nations. It uses the League of Nations' involvement in social issues as a unique prism for understanding the League's development, as well as the development of interwar international relations more generally. Off the beaten path of diplomatic history, this perspective allows the authors to trace less familiar actors and unexpected alliances. It enables contributors to reassess the League's impact on European societies, their colonial possessions, and non-European states. As such, it also marks a paradigm shift in the League's Eurocentric historiography toward one that acknowledges its global reach.
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  • Acknowledgements
    This book grew out of a 2013 symposium organised by Magaly Rodríguez García, in cooperation with Edith Siegenthaler and Elife Biçer-Deveci from the University of Bern, and Blandine Blukacz-Louisfert from the United Nations Officin Geneva (UNOG). Theinput of the UN personnel was truly great, not only for securing logistical and financialsupport for the symposium but also for the encouragement and coordination of the subsequent publication process. Without their professional and friendly assistance we would not have been able to arrange the symposium at the Palais des Nations in Geneva nor produce this volume in coordination with the UN Publications Officin New York. Many thanks to all those who participated in the symposium and whose interventions contributed to the further development of this publication.
  • Introduction
    The League of Nations was born out of the Great War. It was the belief of the national representatives who convened in Versailles in 1919 that the trauma of war required a new model for international relations and alternative mechanisms for international arbitration and negotiation. Promoting international cooperation and achieving international peace were central to the Covenant of the League of Nations. Indeed, upon the League’s foundation, diplomatic work and collective security initiatives were perceived as its raisons d’être. Conversely, social and humanitarian issues were considered marginal vis-à-vis the League’s “larger” political goals. Of the Covenant’s 26 articles, only Article 23 dealt explicitly with the former.
  • Race problems, social issues: The Portuguese empire and the racial equality proposal, Paris 1919
    In the aftermath of the Great War, the problems of race and race-based discrimination became particularly contested and internationalised as both social and political issues. In this context, Japan’s campaign for the recognition of racial equality as a guiding principle in world politics, as well as the political controversy it unleashed at the Paris Peace Conference and elsewhere, dramatized some crucial problems of the time, including the internationalisation of colonial affairsand related expectations regarding the European civilising mission. This chapter approaches these debates from the vantage point of a relatively marginal and still understudied player: the Portuguese Empire. Conversations within the Portuguese delegation, I argue, demonstrate that the problem of racial equality had to do not only with anxieties over Asian immigration to white countries, but was also crucially entangled with the politics of empire and concerns with the effects of colonialism on African populations. The defeat of the Japanese proposal, I suggest, points to some of the limitations of the League of Nations and the forms of internationalism it promoted in the interwar period – in particular, the neutralisation of racial equality (and inequality) as a social rather than political concern.
  • Negotiating “social progress”: German planters, African workers and mandate administrators in the British Cameroons (1925-1939)
    Using the case of the plantation area in the British mandated territory of Cameroon, this chapter argues that the League of Nations’ social policy proposals for the mandates were not implemented in a top-down process as intended, but rather interpreted and negotiated between diffeent institutional and non-institutional actors on the ground. While the British mandate administration translated the League’s generic principles into regulations, Cameroonian archive sources document how managerial effots by German planters as well as the contribution of African workers have played a key role in determining regulatory outcomes. Studying the mandate system from its margins, the chapter reveals how actors excluded from formal positions in the mandate authority structure have in fact been instrumental in the actual implementation of its social policies.
  • The league of nations and the Rockefeller foundation: International activism in public health
    The League of Nations Health Organization (LNHO) played a fundamental role in stabilisation policies during the interwar period. Public health became essential in this historical context due to the immediate consequences of the war, the post-war economic crisis and the Great Depression. The LNHO was the cornerstone of international action in several health fields:epidemics, the fightagainst malnutrition and infectious diseases, infant mortality, drug abuse, biological and dietary standard-setting, compilation of epidemiological records, and public health policies and professionalisation. In the process of shaping international health expertise, the LNHO’s collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Board/Division was extremely important, both in determining goals and programmes, and in terms of financialsupport. Thischapter analyses the areas and extent of collaboration between the two institutions.
  • Turf Wars at the league of nations: International anti-cannabis policies and oversight in Syria and Lebanon, 1919-1939
    The League of Nations’ social agendas frequently intersected with political issues. Agendas have dynamics of their own, but in promoting them, the League was constrained by other considerations, such as its refusal to combat colonialism. Thisdid not mean that social agendas were treated as subservient to colonial interests; rather, they reflectedthe emerging role of international organisations in policy-making alongside state policies. A case in point is the policies on cannabis in the mandatory French territories of Syria and Lebanon. Following the 1925 International Opium Convention, the League endorsed an anti-cannabis agenda, the enforcement of which placed the French administration under international supervision. Two League bodies were concerned with cannabis: the Opium Advisory Committee and the Permanent Mandates Commission. As Syria and Lebanon were becoming major cannabis producers, the two bodies competed for influence on mandate policy. In the face of French reluctance to prohibit cannabis in the mandate, this led to a hardening of the League’s stance, compared to other sovereign or colonial territories.
  • A league of its own? The league of nations’ child welfare committee (1919-1936) and international monitoring of child welfare policies
    This chapter deals with the transnational dimension which has governed the emergence of child welfare policies, focusing on the role played by international organisations in the dissemination and discussion of global child welfare measures and models. It traces the influenceof a specific agency – the League of Nations’ Child Welfare Committee – focusing on its genesis after WW1 in relation to a growing concern over the issue of child welfare among western nations, and its internal dynamics during the interwar years. Theanalysis of the committee’s work unveils the complex mechanisms of competition and collaboration between intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and their respective members and delegates in the effot to establish a centre of expertise on child welfare and circulate best practices at a global level. Grounded in the archival records of several organisations represented on this committee, the chapter shows how the League’s institutional framework offeed new opportunities to devise and promote Western standards of child protection, suggesting a re-evaluation of its influenceand impact on contemporary social and educational policy-making processes.
  • Illustrations
  • Inhabiting different worlds: The league of nations and the protection of national minorities, 1920-30
    In the wake of the First World War, at a time marked by the rise of national self-determination and government based on majoritarian democracy, national minorities emerged as a controversial socio-political issue and significantsecurity challenge in Europe. Thisessay examines how leading statesmen and League of Nations officialconceptualised and shaped the international minority protection regime in Geneva, which extended primarily to the new states in Central and Eastern Europe. Equally, it addresses how “national minorities” understood their own position in Europe and their relationship to the League. Thecase is made that members of both minority and majority populations (the latter including statesmen and League officialsdid not inhabit the same psychological space in the 1920s, with the result being that the minority question remained a proverbial time bomb ticking at the heart of international relations.
  • New York critics: The United States, the league of Nations, and the traffic in women
    The United States played a central role in the League’s investigation into traffiin women. The Report of the Special Body of Experts on the Traffiin Women and Children projected a vision of the problem and its solution, articulated by Rockefeller himself before the Great War. The Rockefeller grand jury investigation had established methods and concepts that would be taken up as the model for League’s investigation, from the use of undercover investigators to categorisation of traffickinvictims. In this sense, American control over the investigation was even deeper than suggested hitherto. At the same time, the American response was much more divided. In New York, the report’s publication led to a controversy over the identity of a notorious traffickeknown as 18-R. Theso-called “New York critics” of the League’s investigation – journalist John Balderston, federal prosecutor Charles Tuttle and their organisations – destroyed the credibility of the League’s campaign against the traffiin women in the US. Thiscontest led to the expansion of the American role in the League’s pursuit of international regulation of prostitution, but also reflectedrival interests over issues within national borders. Thecase of 18-R reveals the extent to which Geneva became a forum for local projects, whereby individuals and groups used the League not only to further internationalist ambitions but also more provincial or domestic concerns.
  • Regulated brothels in mandatory Syria and Lebanon: Between the traffic in women and the permanent mandate commissions
    French authorities operated regulated brothels in the Levant since the beginning of the French Mandate in 1920. The League of Nations’ interest in traffiin women and children and in monitoring the mandates brought these brothels to its committees’ attention. Thischapter compares and contrasts the League of Nation’s handling of prostitution in the Levant by the Advisory Committee on Traffiin Women and Children and the Permanent Mandate Commission to reveal how complicit both were with French colonial rule, and at the same time how they enabled anti-colonial criticism to slip through the cracks. More generally, it questions how they tried to reconcile the League’s commitment to social issues with the lingering influenceof colonial powers.
  • The league of Nations health organization: Water, health and development in colonial Africa, 1925-40
    This chapter uses water as a conceptual lens to examine how colonial and international health connected between 1925 and 1940, particularly in British-colonised Uganda and Sudan. It draws upon evidence from conferences sponsored in the 1920s and 1930s by the League of Nations Health Organization (LNHO) to illustrate the shift from an epidemic disease control focus in the 1920s to broader “social” conceptualisations of health in the 1930s. In light of contemporary developments within Uganda and Sudan, it argues that despite limited and uneven involvement on the African continent, the role of the “international” in formulating and shaping health agendas became more visible. Whilst colonial authorities succeeded in thwarting some LNHO attempts to coordinate health in Africa, it provided a unique forum for health debates. Reviewing conceptualisations of water in colonial and international health discussions aptly demonstrates the multiplicity of ideas that vied for attention in interwar medical policy. Guarding against transnational generalisations and questioning the use of the adjective “global” to describe the interwar period, this chapter also contributes to ongoing terminological and methodological debates.
  • An internationalist pioneer: Fridtjof Nansen and the social issues of the league of nations
    Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) played a major part in building international humanitarian operations after the First World War. He was the League of Nations’ High Commissioner for Repatriation of Prisoners of War (1920-22), led the Red Cross famine relief to Soviet Russia (1921-23), and became the first High Commissioner for Refugees in 1921. Nansen had some spectacular successes, particularly in his firstrole, but also experienced failures due in no small measure to the international balance of power: he did not manage to settle refugees in the Armenian Soviet Republic or to have the League take responsibility for famine relief in Russia. Thesesuccesses and failures serve as a micro-cosmos of the League and the formation of international civil society in general.
  • A category “easy to liquidate”: The league of nations, Russian refugee children in the 1920s and the history of humanitarianism
    This chapter looks at the work of the League of Nation’s High Commission for Refugees with child refugees from the Russian Civil War. It evaluates the HCR’s principles and working practices and addresses the debate on whether the interwar period contributed to or defineda new form of humanitarianism, which was a precursor of the human rights regime in the post-war era. Two diffeent schemes are examined: giving control over the children’s education to a British organisation, and sending them to France to work on farms, helping in the post-war reconstruction of agriculture. Thechapter suggests that the work of the HCR was often arbitrary, paternalistic and controlling, and little influencedby ideas of rights or respect for the agency and choices of refugees
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