Sweden and World War I

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Sim, Chi-Kyu
Term Paper, AP European History Class, April 2007

Table of Contents

I. Introduction - The Political Setting of Spain (1931-1936)
II. The Outbreak of the War
III. Rights of a Neutral Nation
IV. The Middle Years of the War
V. The Final Year of the War and the Aftermath
VI. Conclusion
VII. Bibliography

I. Introduction

            Throughout the late nineteenth century and early 1900s, there was an atmosphere for peace in Sweden. In 1883, Klas Pontus Arnoldsson, a member of Sweden's second chamber of parliament, proposed a permanent neutrality of the Scandinavian countries (though not accepted). In 1896, the pacifist inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Peace Prize in his testament. With many people supporting pacifism, Sweden pursued a policy of neutrality, a policy which would last even during World War I and World War II. While formally pursuing neutrality, many Swedes also had great sympathies for Germany as they looked up to and depended on Germany in many aspects including political structure, military, and trade. Only a few free traders and free thinkers objected to German militarism and looked up to Great Britain for inspiration. Although it also experienced some hardships during the World War I, Sweden's neutrality benefited Sweden in terms of providing it the foundations for becoming the welfare state.

II. The Outbreak of the War

            In 1912, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark declared neutrality, corresponding to the prevailing sentiment well-described later in 1922 by the poet Birger Sjöberg in his collection of poems: I want to remain neutral until I die. Such promotion of neutrality came mainly as a consequence for the recognition of Sweden's weakness as well as sympathy with Finlanders' oppression under imperialistic Russian rule.
On July 28th 1914, the World War I broke out. In Sweden, the owners of vessels remained in the harbors out of fear and the industry was at a standstill. In a few days, multitudes of refugees began to pour in from Russia and Germany. In the threatening national calamity, perhaps even loss of independence, the contending factions hastily took measures for the defence of the country in case it should be attacked, putting aside their differences to unite their forces.
Out of dominant sentiment of the vast majority of the nation favoring a policy of strict neutrality and a vigorous defence of the country's rights as a neutral state, the Swedish government declared absolute neutrality on August 3rd 1914, six days after the outbreak of World War I. Moreover, a truce was established between the parties and the defense problem was solved to the satisfaction of the military with the military reinforcement, Sweden adopted a policy of armed neutrality.
Sweden's decision of neutrality came as a result of the counterbalancing of feelings towards the nations at war, commercial relations with them all, and traditional association with certain countries. For both France and England, there was some degree of Swedish sympathy as Sweden had admiration for France's culture and traditional policy of friendship and appreciation for Great Britain's democratic and popular government. Only few desired a military defeat from such great country. However, as long as Russia was a leading member of the Entente group, it was difficult for Sweden to feel any inclination favorable to the Entente since one-half of Sweden's former territory had been lost to Russia through wars. On the other hand, there were many and strong ties, both sentimental and economical, which bound Sweden to Germany. Swedish theological thought, science, literature, art, industry, and social legislation had been enormously enriched by Germany. Sweden had been buying more goods from Germany than from any other country, and as buyer of Swedish wares Germany was outranked by Great Britain alone. Thus, only a small group of people including few free traders and thinkers who objected to German militarism and looked up to Great Britain for inspiration and workingmen sympathized with England and France.
The conservative element, especially the official and military classes, were, no doubt, as a group inclined to favour Germany as against her opponents in the great conflict. A group known as the "activists," in the beginning of the struggle, clamoured for Swedish participation on the side of Germany. Writer Sven Hedin published "From the western front" and "War against Russia" respectively in 1914 and 1915, enthusiastically supporting the war on German side. Then the prime minister of Sweden, Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, though pursuing a policy of keeping Sweden out of the war, was seen friendly towards Germany. A number of social democrats also sympathized with the Germans out of their admirations for German social democracy. When in November 1915, Prince Max von Baden, German chancellor, invited the king of Sweden to join the Central Powers on his visit to Stockholm, many Swedish supporters of Germany pleaded to the king to join the war in order to prevent the victory of republicanism and parliamentarism. Though tending towards Germany, the king Gustav V was cautious not to intervene in the war as the position of neutrality proved somewhat helpful for Sweden, especially in the early phase of the war.

III. Rights of a Neutral Nation

            Through the Paris Declaration of 1855, the Hague Agreement of 1907, and the London Compact of 1907, the rights of neutrals and restrictions upon belligerents had been defined. The international agreement made it unlawful for any belligerent state to proclaim a blockade of any coast or harbour unless the state making this declaration had an adequate military force to make it effective. Neutral ships which defied such orders in case blockade was not effective were not subject to confiscation. A neutral ship within the blockaded zone, but destined to a port outside of this zone, could not be confiscated. Mines, when laid, must be so placed that they did not hinder neutral trade. Distinguished international lawyers and statesmen had solemnly declared that the right of neutrals to use the open sea and carry on legal trade took precedence over the claims of the belligerents to use the area for conflict. Sweden insisted on her rights as a neutral nation. According to these rules, Sweden had the legal right to import freely the things which she needed and to supply the civil population of belligerent countries with necessities, and such right would bring the country certain temporary advantages. Sweden benefited from the increase in world-wide demand for Swedish steel, ball bearings, wood pulp, and matches.

IV. The Middle Years of the War

            The proclivity towards Germany in Sweden, especially by high officials such as the prime minister Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, spawned several pro-German policies. In 1916, Sweden mined the Kogrundsrannan, the main shipping passage; thus, virtually blocking the Entente fleet from accessing the Baltic Sea.
In 1917, Hjalmar Hammarskjöld rejected the proposal for a common trade agreement with Great Britain that Marcus Wallenberg, brother of the foreign minister Knut Wallenberg, had brought home from London. This event made the split between the prime minister and the foreign minister conspicuous. As a result, many leaders of the right-wing in the parliament revoked their support for the prime minister.
Although Sweden, as a neutral nation, served as a place for negotiation and establishing contacts between belligerent nations, it was now in bad terms with the Entente. For Great Britain, the blockade of German ports was an important weapon, but Sweden's right to import freely favored Germany exclusively. As a result, the Entente began to stop a large percentage of Sweden's trade. English interference with her commerce became increasingly active as the war went on, and soon huge quantities of goods of every kind assigned for Sweden were held in England. England next declared all of the North Sea a military zone, designating merely certain lanes for neutral trade.
This, however, not only affected Sweden's exports to Germany, but from 1916 caused a severe shortage of food in Sweden. The situation was worsened by unrestricted submarine warfare and by the entry of the United States into the war in 1917. An armed neutrality also turned out costly for Swedes as state expenses rose considerably throughout the war. Sweden's overseas exports and imports plummeted with 290,000 register tons of Swedish shipping lost. Furthermore when a poor harvest aggravated the situation, the food rationing set in for the Swedes.
The Swedish government tried to pay for its extraordinary expenses by printing money. The central bank of Sweden was now free to make up for its shortage of money supply by printing money without holding equivalent amount of gold. As a consequence, Sweden experienced an inflation, which undermined the Scandinavian currency union. In 1917 election, social democrats gained a lot of votes. The sale of alcoholic beverages was made a state monopoly to discourage excessive alcohol consumption and to use profits from the sales to finance the state policies.
The Entente indignation against Sweden reached a climax in September 1917 when the Luxburg affair broke out. The Swedish embassy assisted the German minister in Argentina, Graf K.L. von Luxburg to send a message to Berlin, in which he called for Argentinian merchant ships carrying supplies for the Entente to be "should, if possible, be spared or else sunk so as to leave no trace." The message was intercepted by the Entente and published by Mr. Lansing, the American secretary of state. The event caused storm of angry criticism against Sweden in the allied nations as well as a huge embarrassment for the Hammarskjöld administration right before elections to Sweden's second chamber. The prime minister Hjalmar Hammarskjöld was forced to submit his resignation by the Swedish liberals and the new administration was formed under prime minister Carl Swartz, followed shortly after by prime minister Nils Eden, a liberal, in 1917.

V. The Final Year of the War and the Aftermath

            Only in 1918, Sweden somewhat regained its position as a neutral state. In May 1918, an agreement was reached with Great Britain and the US that allowed Sweden again to import produce from the West on some conditions.
The Spanish Disease, the influenza epidemic of 1918, aggravated the social unrest by dramatically raising the mortality rate. In November 11th 1918, Germany and Entente finally concluded Armistice, which formally ended the World War I. Meanwhile, after the general election of 1917, the left-wing parties (the Social Democrats and Liberals) secured a further increase in their majority in the second chamber, and the king was obliged to choose a Liberal-Social Democratic government. Under Nils Eden, the new government, as one of its first measures, amended the constitution. The main issues were suffrage for women and the introduction of a universal and equal franchise for elections to the first chamber and for local elections. Reforms continued to make Sweden as a welfare state as it granted universal suffrage, abolition of death penalty, and 8-hour workday.

VI. Conclusion

            Sweden declared an absolute neutrality at the outbreak of the World War I. However, in reality, Swedes, especially those in high government offices, tended towards Germans resulting in several pro-Central Powers policies. Such tendency towards Germany might have been inevitable in terms of Sweden's economic ties with Germany as Germany was one of the biggest trading partners of Sweden and of Germany being the model for Sweden in many ways. Although Germany's disputed neutrality brought about some bad consequences to Sweden by the Entente, such neutrality may also have been the key for Sweden's post-war prosperity which provided the foundations for social welfare policies of modern Sweden.

VII. Bibliography

1.      Article Sweden, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15thedition, Micropaedia, Vol.11, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc, London et al. 1998
2.      Article Sweden, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15thedition, Macropaedia, Vol.28, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc, London et al. 1998
3.      Ganse, Alexander. Sweden, 1890-1914, at World History at KMLA.
4.      Ganse, Alexander, Sweden, 1914-1918, at World History at KMLA.
5.      Stomberg, Andrew. A History of Sweden. New York: Macmillan, 1931
6.      "Sweden." The Columbia Encyclopedia. "6th ed". 2004
7.      Article Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, from Wikipedia.
8.      Article Carl Swartz, from Wikipedia
9.      Article History of Sweden, from Wikipedia
10.    History of Sweden, from K 12 Academics