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The Economic Boycott against Italy Declared by the League of Nations :
Why it Failed


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Hyun Kyu
Term Paper, AP European History Class, April 2008



Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Overview of the Policy
II.1 Synopsis
II.2 Complete Blockade October 1935 - December 1935
II.3 Reinforcements : December 1935 - June 1936
III. Criticism of the Policy
III.1 Synopsis
III.2 Magnitude
III.3 Probability
III.4 Timeframe
IV. What Could Have Been Done
V. Conclusion
VI. Notes
VII. Bibliography



I. Introduction
            The League of Nations was created to complete a single-most important task to the world. It was created to make sure that war never broke out again (1). By moving for international cooperation and stabilizing the world, the League attempted many times to stop disputes to evolve into the wars. There were some successful attempts such as stopping the Bulgaria-Greece Conflict at 1925 (2) and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The Kellogg Brian pact was especially important as 65 countries agreed to stop war all together. Despite these efforts however, there the League failed to keep peace in many other disputes, as in the Mukden incident (1931) and the Second Italo?Abyssinian War (the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1936.) Also, its ineffectiveness at many other functions lead it to dismantle, and which also played a role in failing to stop the Second World War. The failure of the League of Nations mostly came from the League's lack at cooperation, world politics and taking timeful actions. This paper will examine this through the case study pertaining to the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and the economic blockade policy that the League of Nations took. There will be first be an overview which sows how the policy came to being and its effectiveness. Next, there will be a critique on this policy in the aspects of magnitude, probablity, and timeframe. There will be a section explaining what kind of actions could have been taken that actually would have had an effect. Lastly there will be a conclusion about the overall of this policy


II. Overview of the Policy

II.1 Before the War
            There has been a long-standing animosity between Italy and the Ethiopian empire. The first Italo?Ethiopian War ended with a decisive victory for the Ethiopians at the battle of Adowa, which was complemented as a fundamental turning point in Ethiopian history (3). After Mussolini gained power in Italy, he found Ethopia to be the perfect place to start his conquest for several reasons. First, there was a historical loss to the region and Mussolini thought he could restore the old glory of the Roman Empire by conquering such a region. Secondly, it could serve as a land bridge between Somalia and Eritrea, two of the few colonies that Italy had. Third, it was in the stragetic point of horn of Africa. It was a strategic point as well as easily sccesible- it could be reached via sea easily through the Suez canal. Lastly, it was away in Africa, so there would be less fuss over the region than if it was in Europe.
            The direct cause of the second war because of, a skirmish at Wal Wal on December 5, 1934 (4)). This skirmish took the lives of 150 Ethiopian solders and 50 Italian solders and served as a pretext of the war which was to follow (5). Both sides blamed each other for the start of the skirmish (and therefore the reason to start the war), although it is generally believed that the Italians were the one who started the shooting. Italy began preparing for an invasion.
            At this point of time, there were some, although amounting to very little, actions done by the League of Nations. Hailie Selassie, the leader of Ethiopia appealed to League at January of 1935 (6). However, the League was unable to stop mobilization going on in both of the countries. The League had no power but to just verbally warn the parties at that point of stage, and it is clear that the verbal warnings were of no real effects.
            Major countries, such as United Kingdom, Germany, United States, and the USSR all were silent on this issue, and they took no individual action as a country to try to stop this war from happening. They continued their trade, including those of war supplies such as crude oil, coal, and other neccesities. France, on the other hand took one step further and actually allowed the invasion of Italy through agreement at January 7th 1935 with which gave Ethiopia to Mussolini (7). They explicitly gave Mussolini an ok-go to invade Ethiopia. Although this agreement was a violation of 1906 Anglo-French agreement which was that Italy would not take over Ethiopia. The United Kingdom made no formal response on this issue, even though their agreement were broken.

II.2 Complete Blockade : October 1935 - December 1935
            The invasion began at October 2nd when Mussolini ordered the bombing of Adowa and the invading of Ethiopia by Marshal Badoglio. The use of mustard gas on civilians was approved on Oct. 3. The Ethiopians army consisited of 760,000 men, which only about a quarter of them wre trained. Their main equimentd were 200 antiqted artillery and 50 anti-artillery guns along with a small number of world war 1 era tanks. Their airforce consisted of 3 planes (8). The Italians had about 680,000 men, all of them fully trained. 9000 machine gunes, 2275 artillery, 800 tanks, and 355 airplanes were the equipments that the Italians employed, most of them up to date with the 1935 military technology (9). The Ethiopian army was quickly routed and Adowa fell at 6th, and the holy capital of Axum was captured at the 15th. In the southern front, Denan fell at December 21th (10).
            The League of Nations responded by exonerating both parties in September 1935 (11). On Oct. 7, 5 days after the invasion happened, the League declared Italy the aggressor. Although the Italians were declared the aggressor, all they got was a bad reputation. There were no immediate repercussions from this. The league sanctions took even longer. That was in part because of the League had to use a procedural device too avoid the Italy's veto power (12). League sanctions began in November 18th with arms embargo, financial embargo, nonimportation of Italian goods. However, this embargo was only limited to arms and capital. Many of the war materials and reinforcements, such as steel, oil, food, rubber were allowed. Those items were discussed but were still put on hold. This meant that the Italy could still get the war materials. It must be also noted that United States did not join this embargo. Suez Cannel, which was the main supply route the Italians used, owned by British, was also not blocked.
            The major countries around the world supported Italy, implicitly or explicitly. In Britain, the public supported Ethiopia but the politicians supported Italy. The Hoare-Laval agreement which was made between the ministers of France and England epitomizes this situation. The two ministers actually agreed to hand over more than 3/5 of Ethiopia to Italy (13). However, this secret agreement was leaked out and was quickly scraped because the majority of the people were against it. The public was for Ethiopia, as shown through this action and their support for the Tories at the British election on platform of League sanctions against Italian aggression (14) and their anger toward the Hoare-Laval agreement. The French government also supported Italy - Laval was a French Prime minister. The USSR and Germany also implicitly supported Italy by not cutting any foreign relationship. United States took a very interesting course. United States did not follow the League of Nations embargo, but set its own embargo of "moral embargo." Moral embargo meant that the manufacturers should "morally" stop exporting such materials. However, the exports to Italy actually increased (15) even though the president stated a "moral embargo."

II.3 Reinforcements : December 1935 - June 1936
            The Ethiopians finally slowed down the Italian offensive at the First Battle of Tembien at January 20th-24th (16). This was short lived as Amba Aradam feel on Febuary 15th and Worq Amba also fell because of the Italian victory (through the illegal use of mustard gas) (17) in the Second Battle of Tembien at 27th (18). The last counter offensive that Haile Selassie took was at the Battle of Maychew on March 31st. The Italian forces routed the Ethiopians, destroying ling the majority of the Imperial guards, the best Ethiopian solders. Haile Selassie fled on May 2nd. Addis Abba, the capital fell 3 days later. On May 7th, the war was officaly over as the Italians annexed the whole of Ehiopia into their coloinal empire. (19)
            League of Nations took no more actions. The Suez Canal was still open. No countries cut their diplomatic ties with Italy. The oil and coal were still being sold. Actually in Feburary, the League of Nations agreed NOT to sanction coal and oil because the British and the French government were against it (20). Only after Ethiopoia had fallen, and only after the exiled emperor himself gave a speech at the League of Nations did the League of Nations condemn Italy. Italy responded by leaving the League of Nations. Few weeks later on July 4th, the blockade was gone, and the League of Nations took no further action (21). There were two main reasons why the blockade was pulled off. First was that since Ethiopia had already fallen, there were no longer any need to continue the blockade. The second reason was the worsening of condition between the French and the British governments. Since the election of the French Popular Front, the British desire to protect British interests in Europe, which had strategic and economic implications for the empire (22) had increased dramatically. The British government feared that it might be isolated if a communist alliance of the USSR-France-Spain was created. The British therefore, actively sought to end hostilities to try to find new allies such as Italy. So the British worked to end the blockade, while the French Popular Front fully supported it, and the blockade was terminated on July 4th.
            The United States passed an act which did three things. Firstly, it put a mandatory arms embargo on countries which were i n war. Secondly, it put discretionary travel restriction on American Citizens. Lastly, mandatory ban on loans to belligerents but short-term credits were exempt. In short, this act only supported a blockade on arms to Italy and to Ethiopia. This act did nothing about the war materials (the vast majority of which the US gave) and the capital needed to sustain the war (because short-term credits were exempt.) Nor did any other nations took actions against this aggression. The only against action the world showed was through condemnation through the League of Nations (which was ultimately ignored because Italy left the League.) The empire of Japan even went as far as to actually recognize the Italian Empire.

III. Criticism of the Policy III.1 Synopsis
            In a policy, there are three factors to consider. The first is the magnitude, which is about how much of an effect would the policy have to solve a problem. The magnitude is higher when it is more strictly enforced, attacks the problem from the root, or just what is usually called more of an effective policy. Probability deals with another part of a policy. Even if the policy's magnitude is great, it simply does not work if it is not probable. The final point is the timeframe. No matter how effective a policy may be, it simply does not work if it is implemented too late or too early (23). This criticism will focus on how the three issues and how the policy failed in all of the three issues presented.

III.2 Magnitude
            The main problem of this policy was its lack of this was the lack of magnitude. From the start, the economic blockade pertaining only to the League of Nations was not that great from the start. The League of Nations did not include United States of America or the Nazi Germany (24). This alone showed that the blockade was very ineffective. There are various sources citing the lack of magnitude of this blockade. Cristiano Andrea Ristuccia writes on this topic, and concludes that there even if the blockade was to include oil and coal, there would have no real impact (25). This is because the United States controlled over 50% of the oil trade (26). Also, the Nazi Germany did not help in blockading Italy. This lack of magnitude was even further emphasized by France and England¡¯s actions at the League of Nations, when they argued actually not to blockade oil and coal exports to Italy (27). Their statements were similar reportedly to have stated that since United States would not join anyway so the blockade on oil and coal would have had little effect, so the League of Nations should not impose such measures.

III.3 Probability
            Another problem that this blockade faced was probability. Even if this blockade was imposed, would everybody keep it ? This drew another big question mark for several reasons. No diplomatic ties were cut, which meant there was no communication shortage. .There were also strong doubts whether the Great Britain and the France strictly enforced this policy. The Suez Canal, the gateway to Ethiopia was not sealed The Horace-Lavel agreement shows that French and the British wanted to appease Italy - and were trying to make many concessions to them (28). Italy was even invited to join the Stresa front, an anti-German Agreement of April 1935 (29), which was after the Wal-Wal incident and when the Ethiopian emperor pleaded to help Ethiopia before the League of Nations. The Nazi Germany even left the League of Nations to support Italy, and no further action was taken against Germany. This shows that there was little enthusiasm for this blockade, and that many countries were trying to get Italy on their side of the alliance.

III.4 Timeframe
            Too add insult to injury, the blockade was not even timely done. It was done way too late in order to do anything. The League of Nations failed to take any actions from January, where the emperor officially appealed to the League, till September when the blockade was taken action. The blockade, however untimely and ineffective it may have been, was even taken too late. This is not just about the blockade. The British were informed beforehand about the tensions going on in Ethiopia. However, they again took no action (30). A timely action at that period of time might have stopped the war, or at least delayed it. There were many times where the League of Nations could have taken action, but since they took it late, they could not help Ethiopia.

IV. What Could Have Been Done
            The result of this blockade is simple. Although it did damage the Italian economy to a certain degree (31), it could not stop Italy from taking over Ethiopia. The League of Nations should not have a blockade alone. A timely blockade starting right after the war with United States blockading all war materials including oil and coal would have been an effective measure. The blow would have been crucial to Italy as most of the world would not sell them oil or coal. Nor could they export around the world. Blocking the Suez Canal for Italian ships was another measure that should have been taken. Instead of simply using the Suez Canal to transport the supplies, The Italian supply line would have been much longer if they were not allowed to pass the Suez. Since the Italians did not have any land connections to Ethiopia, they would have to go all the way around Africa to reach Ethiopia. These measures might have saved Ethiopia however these measures would surely drive Italy out of hands of the Allies and straight to Germany (which eventually took place anyway.)

V. Conclusion
            There was an invasion. There was a wrong done. The League of Nations tried to stop this, but failed. Their actions were ineffective, weak, and not really kept. This was the limit of the League of Nations. Without the United States (the economical power) nor the military power to stop this, they could not take any real actions. Their hands were tied and did only thing they could do; take an ineffective blockade. Enraged, the emperor of Ethiopia said (other sources state it was the delegate of Haiti) this after his country fell. "Big or small, strong or weak, near or far, white or black, you will someday be somebody's Ethiopia." This became true, after a few years, when Czechoslovakia called for help when Hitler imitated Mussolini. Another call for help, another ineffective measure, another war, another loss happened. It was the limit of the power of the League of Nations.


VII. Notes

(1)      League of Nations, from History Learning Site
(2)      Greco-Bulgarian Border Clashes 1925, from Wars of the World
(3)      Article : Second Italo-Abyssinian War, from Wikipedia
(4)      Schoenherr 2007
(5)      Article : Second Italo-Abyssinian War, from Wikipedia
(6)      Schoenherr 2007
(7)      ibid.
(8)      Article : Second Italo-Abyssinian War, from Wikipedia
(9)      ibid.
(10)      ibid.
(11)      ibid.
(12)      Nye 2001 p.141
(13)      Schoenherr 2007
(14)      ibid.
(15)      Schoenherr 2007
(16)      Article : Second Italo-Abyssinian War, from Wikipedia
(17)      Emperor Haile Selassie, from Ethiopian Treasures
(18)      Article : Second Italo-Abyssinian War, from Wikipedia
(19)      Needham High School 2002
(20)      Schoenherr 2007
(21)      Nye 2001 p.142
(22)      Loi 1994
(23)      Nye 2001 p.131
(24)      Ristuccia 1997
(25)      ibid.
(26)      Needham High School 2002
(27)      Nye 2001 p.138
(28)      ibid. p.140
(29)      Article : Second Italo-Abyssinian War, from Wikipedia
(30)      Needham High School 2002
(31)      Nye 2001 p.141


VII. Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in September 2007.
1.      Cristiano Andrea Ristuccia, 1935 Sanctions against Italy: Would coal and crude oil have made a difference ? (Oxford College, Discussion Papers in Economic and Social History, March 1997) http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/economics/history/paper14/14paper.pdf
2.      Joseph S. Nye, Understanding International Conflicts, (2001) - Korean version
3.      "League of Nations", from History Learning Site, 2008 http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/leagueofnations.htm
4.      "Greco-Bulgarian Border Clashes 1925" , Wars of the World, 2008 http://www.onwar.com/aced/data/bravo/bulgariagreece1925.htm
6.      Article : Second Italo-Abyssinian War, from Wikipedia, 2008 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Italo%E2%80%93Abyssinian_War
7.      Steven Schoenherr, ¡°Ethiopia invaded by Mussolini¡±, 2007 http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/ww2timeline/Prelude05a.html
8.      The Italian invasion of Ethiopia, from Needham High School's World History Website, 2002 http://nhs.needham.k12.ma.us/cur/baker_00/03/baker-mc-03/ethiopia.htm
9.      Emperor Haile Selassie, from Ethiopian Treasures, 2008 http://www.ethiopiantreasures.toucansurf.com/pages/selassie.htm
10.     Timeline of the Second Italo?Abyssinian War, Wikipedia, 20 December 2007 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Second_Italo%E2%80%93Abyssinian_War
11.     A completely immoral and cowardly attitude : The British Foreign Office, American neutrality and the Hoare-Laval plan, Micheal L Loi, Canadian Journal of History, August 1994 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3686/is_199408/ai_n8716608/pg_14


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