The mandate system was created as part of the overall machinery of the League of Nations in an attempt to ‘promote world peace’ in the aftermath of the First World War. The ‘A’ mandates, with which this article is concerned, were the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire that had been occupied and conquered by France and Britain by the end of the war.
Was the mandate system in any sense an improvement on colonialism? To the extent that the period of foreign rule was rather short in comparison with other colonial regimes, one can perhaps say that it was. On the other hand, however high-minded its stated aims, the mandate system was a product of the imperial framework of its day, in which the white races were regarded as superior to the brown or black races.
The supervisory instruments of the League (specifically the Permanent Mandates’ Commission) were inadequate to deal with any shortcomings on the part of the mandatory, and there are a number of examples of situations where, for example, the legitimate interests of minorities were ignored to suit the wider interests of the powers. In general, the mandated states lacked institutional underpinning, and their immediate legacy was a string of weak states throughout the Arab world, where many of the institutions of civil society were destroyed in the course of military coups in the 1950s and 1960s.