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This article uses the case of Ethiopia to illustrate how the League of Nations refracted approaches to statehood. It shows the League 'making' states in multiple ways, formulating new standards for admission, but also changing the context in which such standards could be debated, applied, and contested. The article looks beyond intellectual debates about the nature of the state, into exchanges within foreign ministries and League committees, as well as state-making projects pursued in Addis Ababa. This illuminates the fragility of interwar definitions of the state, and challenges narratives that locate the pathologies of 'peripheral' statehood in the post-1945 era.