The most serious challenge to the League of Nations came in December 1934 when Italian and Abyssinian troops clashed in Walwal. This incident gave Italy the opportunity to send troops into Abyssinia under the guise of ‘precautionary and defensive’ action. (1) Mussolini had made no secret of the attraction of Abyssinia for Italian expansion in East Africa and Abyssinia was ideally situated between Italian Somaliland and Eritrea. The Emperor of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, made a personal appeal to the League of Nations in January 1935 to arbitrate in the dispute. However, skirmishes continued and by March Italy had expanded its military presence in the area. The Emperor again appealed to the League.
In Britain at his time the results of the Peace Ballot were announced giving overwhelming support for the League. Stanley Baldwin realised that he must support the League in his public rhetoric but privately he feared the Abyssinian crisis would expose the weakness of the League and encourage Germany to flout the Covenant. (2) On 2 October 1935, in contravention of Article 16, Italian troops invaded. (3) The League declared Italy to be the aggressor and on 10 October economic sanctions were imposed. However, these were limited as oil was not included. Italy could continue its military build up. The failure of the League to deal with Italian aggression exposed its weakness and paved the way for further challenges, in particular, from Hitler in Germany.
(1) The Times, 12 Feb 1935.
(2) Stanley Baldwin Papers, ca. 1922-1945. Archive ref: MS.Baldwin 123, Cambridge University Library.
(3) Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations states that any Member of the League resorting to war shall be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League.