League of Nations Union
The League of Nations Union (LNU) was an organization formed in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 to promote international justice, collective security
Collective security
Collective security can be understood as a security arrangement, regional or global, in which each state in the system accepts that the security of one is the concern of all, and agrees to join in a collective response to threats to, and breaches of, the peace...

 and a permanent peace between nations based upon the ideals of the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

. The League of Nations was established by the Great Powers
Great power
A great power is a nation or state that has the ability to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength and diplomatic and cultural influence which may cause small powers to consider the opinions of great powers before taking actions...

 as part of the Paris Peace Treaties
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities...

, the international settlement which followed the First World War. The creation of a general association of nations was the final one of President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

’s Fourteen Points
Fourteen Points
The Fourteen Points was a speech given by United States President Woodrow Wilson to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. The address was intended to assure the country that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for postwar peace in Europe...

. The LNU became the largest and most influential organisation in the British peace movement
Peace movement
A peace movement is a social movement that seeks to achieve ideals such as the ending of a particular war , minimize inter-human violence in a particular place or type of situation, often linked to the goal of achieving world peace...

. By the mid-1920s it had over a quarter of a million registered subscribers and its membership eventually peaked at around 407,775 in 1931. By the 1940s, after the disappointments of the international crises of the 1930s and the descent into World War II, membership fell to about 100,000.


The LNU was formed on 13 October 1918 by the merger of the League of Free Nations Association and the League of Nations Society, two older organisations already working for the establishment of a new and transparent system of international relations
International relations
International relations is the study of relationships between countries, including the roles of states, inter-governmental organizations , international nongovernmental organizations , non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations...

, human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 (as then understood) and for world peace through disarmament
Disarmament is the act of reducing, limiting, or abolishing weapons. Disarmament generally refers to a country's military or specific type of weaponry. Disarmament is often taken to mean total elimination of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear arms...

 and universal collective security rather than traditional approaches such as the balance of power
Balance of power in international relations
In international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. The concept describes a state of affairs in the international system and explains the behavior of states in that system...

 or the creation of power blocs through secret treaties.

Internal structure

The headquarters of the LNU were located variously at Buckingham Gate and Grosvenor Crescent, Westminster
Westminster is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames, southwest of the City of London and southwest of Charing Cross...

. In the 1940s they moved to smaller premises in St Martins Lane, WC2 for reasons of economy. The top organ of administration in the LNU was its General Council. The Council met twice a year and was responsible for LNU policy under its 1925 Royal Charter of Incorporation. Beneath the General Council sat the Executive Committee, which met every two weeks and co-ordinated all activity such as the LNU’s campaigns and educational programmes, received reports from branches, monitored the output of specialist sub-groups and had responsibility for the LNU’s staff. LNU branches had their own independent management structures.


The LNU played an important role in inter-war politics. According to one source it had been successful in converting the mainstream of British society, including labour, the churches and the principal newspapers to the cause of the League of Nations. It also carried great influence in traditional political circles and particularly in the Liberal Party. One historian has gone so far as to describe the LNU as “a key Liberal pressure group on foreign policy” and to call Liberal Party members the “true believers” of the LNU. Its first President was Edward Grey
Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon KG, PC, FZL, DL , better known as Sir Edward Grey, Bt, was a British Liberal statesman. He served as Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916, the longest continuous tenure of any person in that office...

 the Liberal foreign secretary during the First World War. Other leading Liberal lights in the LNU included Geoffrey Mander
Geoffrey Mander
Sir Geoffrey Le Mesurier Mander KB , was a Midland industrialist and chairman of Mander Brothers Ltd., paint and varnish manufacturers in Wolverhampton, England, an art collector and radical parliamentarian....

Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 MP for Wolverhampton East
Wolverhampton East (UK Parliament constituency)
Wolverhampton East was a parliamentary constituency in the town of Wolverhampton in Staffordshire, England. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.-History:...

 from 1929-1945 and Professor Gilbert Murray
Gilbert Murray
George Gilbert Aimé Murray, OM was an Australian born British classical scholar and public intellectual, with connections in many spheres. He was an outstanding scholar of the language and culture of Ancient Greece, perhaps the leading authority in the first half of the twentieth century...

, who was Vice-President of the League of Nations Society from 1916 and Chairman of the LNU after 1923. The recruitment of Conservative
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 politicians to support the LNU and the League of Nations itself was more problematic for the LNU but they pursued it to demonstrate the cross-party nature of the Union, which was important for the credibility of an organisation which was active politically in pursuit of international goals. High profile Conservatives did then come into the LNU, notably Lord Robert Cecil
Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood
Edgar Algernon Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood CH, PC, QC , known as Lord Robert Cecil from 1868 to 1923, was a lawyer, politician and diplomat in the United Kingdom...

 and Austen Chamberlain
Austen Chamberlain
Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain, KG was a British statesman, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and half-brother of Neville Chamberlain.- Early life and career :...

 who were both members of the LNU Executive Committee. However, most Conservatives were deeply suspicious of the LNU’s support for pacifism and disarmament – an analogous position to the opinions held by Conservatives in the 1980s in respect of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is an anti-nuclear organisation that advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty...

. Even Austen Chamberlain remarked that the Executive Committee contained ‘....some of the worst cranks I have ever known.’

Peace Ballot

One example of the significance of the political impact the LNU could have was its organisation of the Peace Ballot
Peace Ballot
The Peace Ballot of 1935 was a nationwide questionnaire of five questions attempting to discover the British public's attitude to the League of Nations and collective security....

 of 1935, when voters were asked to decide on questions relating to international disarmament and collective security. The Peace Ballot was not an official referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

 but more than eleven million people participated in it, representing strong support for the aims and objectives of the League of Nations, influencing policy makers and politicians. The results of the Peace Ballot were publicized worldwide. It has been suggested that one outcome was the interpretation of the result by the Axis powers
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 as an indication of Britain’s unwillingness to go to war on behalf of other nations , although those voting in favour of military action against international aggressors as a matter of last resort was almost three-to-one.

Educational programmes

The LNU other main activity was education and awareness raising. It provided publications, speakers and organised courses. Some of its programmes had a lasting impact on British schools.

The end of the LNU and the establishment of the United Nations Association

The failure of the League of Nations to ensure collective security during the international crises of the 1920s and 1930s in prominent conflicts such as Manchuria
Mukden Incident
The Mukden Incident, also known as the Manchurian Incident, was a staged event that was engineered by Japanese military personnel as a pretext for invading the northern part of China known as Manchuria in 1931....

, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia
Second Italo-Abyssinian War
The Second Italo–Abyssinian War was a colonial war that started in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war was fought between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy and the armed forces of the Ethiopian Empire...

, the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 and the Russian invasion of Finland
Winter War
The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland. It began with a Soviet offensive on 30 November 1939 – three months after the start of World War II and the Soviet invasion of Poland – and ended on 13 March 1940 with the Moscow Peace Treaty...

 diminished public faith in the League and its principles. In addition the withdrawal, exclusion or expulsion of key nations from its counsels -the USA refused to join, Germany and Japan left in 1933, Italy went in 1937 and the Soviet Union was expelled in 1939 -made clear the limitations of collective security without full and active participation of all the powers.

It was plain a new international settlement would be needed after the Second World War and in 1948 the United Nations Association (UNA) was founded to promote the work of the United Nations Organisation, which was established in 1945 following the Dumbarton Oaks Conference
Dumbarton Oaks Conference
The Dumbarton Oaks Conference or, more formally, the Washington Conversations on International Peace and Security Organization was an international conference at which the United Nations was formulated and negotiated among international leaders...

 of the previous year. As a result the LNU arranged for the transfer of its complete organisation and membership to the UNA. However, under the provisions of its Royal Charter, the LNU was able to continue until the mid-1970s in a limited capacity, to handle bequests, and administer the payment of pensions to former employees.

Papers and records

The papers, records, minute books, pamphlets, reports and leaflets of the LNU are deposited at the British Library of Political and Economic Science
British Library of Political and Economic Science
The British Library of Political and Economic Science is the main library of theLondon School of Economics and Political Science, and the world's largest political and social sciences library .-Description:...

 at the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

 in Westminster.

See also

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  • Henry Wilson Harris
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  • Joseph H. Hertz
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  • Charles Herbert Levermore
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  • Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough
    Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough
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  • Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray
    Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray
    Weetman Dickinson Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray GCVO, PC , known as Sir Weetman Pearson, Bt, between 1894 and 1910 and as The Lord Cowdray between 1910 and 1917, was a British engineer, oil industrialist, benefactor and Liberal politician...

  • Gerald Sharp
    Gerald Sharp
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  • Jessie Street
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    Jessie Mary Grey Street was an Australian suffragette, feminist and human rights campaigner....

  • The Streit Council for a Union of Democracies

  • Evian Conference
    Evian Conference
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  • International African Service Bureau
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    The International African Service Bureau was a pan-African organisation founded in London in 1937 by West Indians George Padmore, C. L. R. James, T. Ras Makonnen and Sierra Leonian labor activist and agitator I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson.Chris Braithwaite, aka Jones, was Secretary of this...

  • Pacificism
    Pacificism is the general ethical opposition to war or violence, except in cases where force is deemed absolutely necessary to advance the cause of peace....

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