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The end of the League of Nations

The League hands over The end of the League of Nations
  • The last Assembly

At the end of the war, 43 States were still Members of the League of Nations, though for all intents and purposes it had ceased to exist. However, the formal termination of the organization was necessary. A final and official disposition had to be taken concerning the transfer of the League of Nations’ properties to the United Nations: its concrete assets in the form of its buildings and grounds, its Library, and last but certainly not least, its archives and historical collections.

In 1945, the San Francisco Conference set up a Preparatory Commission that met in London with the Supervisory Commission of the League of Nations in order to do this. At the initiative of the British Foreign Office, the last Assembly (the twenty-first) was held in Geneva on 8 April 1946. In his final speech, Lord Robert Cecil, one of the League of Nations’ founders, proclaimed that the efforts of those who had established the League of Nations were not lost, because without them the new international organization, the United Nations, could not exist. Lord Cecil closed the Assembly with the words: “The League is dead, long live the United Nations!”

The final act of transfer was signed in Geneva on 18 April 1946 by Sean Lester, the last Secretary-General of the League of Nations, and Wlodzimierz Moderow, the representative of the United Nations.

Thus, having handed over all of its assets to the United Nations, and having granted the new Secretariat full control of its Library and archives, the 43 Members attending this last Assembly declared by unanimous vote that as of 20 April 1946, the League of Nations would cease to exist.

  • The creation of the United Nations

Although the League of Nations did enjoy some remarkable political success in the 1920s, the increasing economic strife and militant nationalism which characterized the 1930s led not only to the breakup of cooperation between States but also to several conflicts which could not be easily resolved.

Powerful States such as Germany, Italy, and Japan left the organization, and by the time the Second World War broke out in 1939, many had abandoned the League of Nations and its unfulfilled promise of collective security, and had instead returned to the traditional system of defensive alliances and power blocs.

However, the efforts of the League of Nations were not completely in vain; during the intervening war years, the Allies established plans to create a new organization, the United Nations. Signed on 26 June 1945 in San Francisco, the Charter of the United Nations came into force on 24 October 1945.

Similar in many ways to the League of Nations, the United Nations sought to continue many of the operations already in place. For example, economic activities were transferred to the new Economic and Social Council; the Health Organization evolved into the World Health Organization (WHO); the Nutrition Committee became the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the Committee of Intellectual Cooperation became the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Permanent Mandates Commission was replaced by the Trusteeship Council; and the work of the Nansen Office was continued by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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