In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The League of Nations

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • The Versailles Settlement, the Covenant, and the Birth of the League of Nations
  • League Membership: Accession, Exclusion, Expulsion
  • Collective Security and the Use of Force
  • The Permanent Court of International Justice and Its Work
  • The Political Economy of International Law under the League
  • Theories of the Interwar International Legal Order
  • Big Personalities at Geneva
  • Legacies of the League of Nations

International Law The League of Nations
Rose Sydney Parfitt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0151


The League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, was formed in 1920 in the wake of the First World War, aspiring to “promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security.” In light of its failure to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War, itself the culmination of a long series of aggressive acts, the League is usually dismissed as an international legal failure. It is perhaps for this reason that relatively little has been published on the character and work of the League in the field of international law since the institution’s termination in April 1946. The tendency among international lawyers to view the League merely as a source of early precedents for the discipline’s post-1945 innovations is certainly starting to change, as many of the books and articles presented here reveal. Nonetheless, when contrasted with the storm of analysis and doctrinal innovation that burst from the minds of international lawyers during the interwar period, the output of present-day scholars of international law on that phase in their discipline’s history is slim. This bibliography therefore includes a great deal of interwar literature, in addition to a selection of some of the most interesting and innovative new literature on the League. The interwar entries can be understood as falling into two groups. On the one hand, the bibliography includes a selection of the most important theoretical contributions to League-era international law, such as George Scelles’s Precis de droit des gens: principes et systemqtique (Scelle 1932–1934, cited under Theories of the Interwar International Legal Order), Hersch Lauterpacht’s “The Covenant as the Higher Law” (Lauterpacht 1936, under Versailles Settlement, the Covenant, and the Birth of the League of Nations) and Hans Kelsen’s Peace through Law (Kelsen 1944, under Theories of the Interwar International Legal Order). On the other hand, it offers a collection of texts that can all, themselves, be understood as sources of international law in the form of items of state practice and/or opinio juris. These include Woodrow Wilson’s famous “Address on the Fourteen Points” (Wilson 1918, under Versailles Settlement, the Covenant, and the Birth of the League of Nations), together with historical works based on extensive archival research, such as Susan Pedersen’s recent reexamination of the Mandates System in The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Question of Empire (Pedersen 2015, under Mandates System). The aspiration of this bibliography is therefore not only to provide a guide to existing international legal literature on the League of Nations, but also to facilitate the production of new international legal examinations of this truly groundbreaking institution and its legacy.

Reference Works

The works listed in this section point the reader in the direction of a rich archive of primary sources on the League of Nations from the point of view of international law. Several of the entries are journals, such as the American Journal of International Law, the Advocate of Peace through Justice, International Conciliation, and the British Yearbook of International Law. All of these journals were in print during the League era, when they dedicated themselves to publishing some of the most important and controversial contemporary international legal sources, in addition to scholarly articles. The website of the International Court of Justice includes an online database of all the decisions of its predecessor, the Permanent Court of International Justice, an essential resource for scholars of League-era case law. The League of Nations also published its own monthly journal, the League of Nations Official Journal and Special Supplement, together with a Special Supplement, in which the policy and decisions of its various organs were laid out and analyzed in detail on a monthly basis. In terms of present-day publications, the Avalon Project, a website run by Yale Law School dedicated to digitizing and uploading primary documents relevant to the fields of law, history, economics, politics, diplomacy, and government, includes a great many documents of relevance to the League, such as the text of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles with Germany (which included the Covenant itself), to give only one example. The Journal of the History of International Law, founded in 1999, continues to publish many excellent scholarly articles on the League of Nations and its impact on the discipline.

  • Advocate of Peace through Justice. Washington, DC: American Peace Society, 1920–1932.

    Published between 1920 and 1932, and including a great deal of American scholarship on the League as well as relevant primary sources. Available on the JStor database by subscription. (A continuation of The Advocate of Peace, published on and off by various American publishers from 1847).

  • American Journal of International Law. New York: Baker, Voorhis & Co. for the American Society of International Law, 1907–.

    Published four times a year since 1907. Its archives from the interwar period contain a great deal of excellent scholarship on international law and the League of Nations.

  • The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy.

    Includes not only the text of the Covenant, but also many other documents whose impact on the League period was profound, such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, subsequently incorporated into the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine (also included), the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo, the 1926 Slavery Convention, the 1925 Locarno Treaties, and the Tripartite Pact of 1940.

  • British Yearbook of International Law. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1920–.

    Published annually since 1920. A very useful source of contemporary international legal scholarship on the League.

  • International Conciliation. New York: Association for International Conciliation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1907–1972.

    Offers a rich seam of primary sources for international legal historians of the League. Published between 1907 and 1972 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, it was, before the outbreak of the Second World War, concerned primarily with the publication of official documents, speeches and commentaries by officials, heads of state, and intellectual authorities. Only after 1945 did it come to focus more exclusively on scholarly analysis. The journal is available from HeinOnline by subscription.

  • International Court of Justice. Publications of the Permanent Court of International Justice.

    The International Court of Justice’s current website contains not only all of the ICJ’s cases and advisory of opinions, but also all of the PCIJ’s. The website also contains other interesting elements, such as a video of the PCIJ’s inaugural sitting, on 22 February 1922.

  • Journal of the History of International Law. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999–.

    This excellent journal, edited and peer-reviewed by the world’s leading historians of international law, frequently publishes new research on or related to the League of Nations.

  • League of Nations Official Journal and Special Supplement. London: Harrison, 1920–1940.

    Contains the procès-verbal of the League Council; treaties and other documents, such as letters and telegrams to and from the Secretary General; reports of Council committees; updates on “situations” of international concern, and much else. The Journal’s Special Supplement contains documents relating to the League Assembly, including resolutions and recommendations, records of plenary meetings and committees. Available online from HeinOnline by subscription.

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