Sweden's Neutrality during Two World Wars


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Park, Jihyeon
Term Paper, AP European History Class, July 2008



Table of Contents


I. Introduction
II. General History and Tradition of Sweden
III. Sweden during World War I
III.1 Sweden before the War
III.2 Political Strife
III.3 Economic Strife
III.4 Conclusion
IV. Sweden during World War II
IV.1 The Situation of Sweden in World War II
IV.2 Sweden's Relationship with Germany during World War II
IV.3 Humanitarian Efforts
IV.4 Conclusion
V. Final Comments
Notes
Bbliography



I. Introduction


            Many countries were involved in both of the World Wars. There were defenders, and there were aggressors. These two sides played most important roles on the stage of such massive European warfare. However, there was also the third party which included the neutral states. Although belligerent countries of both sides attempted to drag many neutral countries to their sides with the promise of land expansion, they were not deceived by the allurement. Sweden was one of them.

II. General History and Tradition of Sweden
            The Swedish Empire was one of the most influential empires during Imperial times around the Baltic Sea and in northern Europe. The mid 1600s and the early 1700s were Sweden's most successful years as a great power (1). During the rule of Charles X (1654-1660), the empire attained the largest territory in its history, and subsequent kings Charles XI (1660-1697) and Charles XII (1697-1718) continued to hold Sweden's position as a great power. However, after the Battle of Poltava (1709) scarcely populated Sweden lost its position as a great power and never regained it.
            Such circumstance had led Sweden to take a neutral position in most of the major wars on the European continent. Although Swedish king Charles XIII launched yet another campaign on Norway (1814), it could never recover the military dominance in the northern Europe from the Russian empire. The 1814 campaign was also the last war in which Sweden participated as a combatant (2).
            Sweden was slow to industrialize. Even as Denmark and many other western European countries introduced machinery and industrialization in production, Sweden remained mainly an agricultural nation, where 75 to 80 percent of the population participated in agricultural pursuits (3) in late 18th century. The figure did not change much even after a hundred years. This accounts for the fact that Sweden had to remain neutral during World Wars. It did not have enough power to side with one side because losing the war could mean total deterioration in such agriculture-dependent country as Sweden (4). Sweden was dangerously close to the Germany, which meant that it would have had to side with Germany in World Wars if it wanted to engage in the World War. However, such act would have evidently incurred severe blockade from Britain, which was not favorable for Swedish economy. The Industrialization of Sweden began roughly between 1870 and 1914 (5).

III. Sweden during World War I

III.1 Sweden before the War
            Two years before World War I, on December 21, 1912, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway issued a declaration of agreement on the principles of neutrality. This cooperation between the Nordic countries was close, but independent from each other. Knut A. Wallenberg, the foreign minister of the time, attempted to accelerate the war threat by obtaining Norway's agreement to a defensive alliance. However, his idea faced opposition in Stockholm, whose people thought that the independence of two countries, which was so lately achieved (Norway and Sweden separated in 1905.), should be honored.
            Nevertheless, the three nations cooperated closely to prevent being dragged into the war. The three kings of Nordic countries came together in Malmo in December 1914 and in 1917 in Kristiania (Oslo) to maintain and firmly established their stances as neutral nations. Sweden, often with other two Nordic countries, called the United States for common action to uphold the principles of neutrality and to intervene ¡°against every attempt, whenever they come,¡± to nullify the international rules built up through centuries (6). Of course, America took a favorable position toward Allies from the beginning, and generally did not agree with Sweden on the idea of neutrality. After the United States became a belligerent country itself, it formed even worse response toward Sweden and other Nordic countries.

III.2 Political Strife
            While Entente (Allies) sympathizers called only for neutrality, the many interventionists among the Swedes were pro-German. Although numbering few, they had much influence in Swedish politics and intentionally tried to get Sweden engage in the war on Germany's side. The marshal of Sweden, Ludwig Douglas was strongly in favor of a German alliance. The queen was a great granddaughter of Gustav IV Adolf and a granddaughter of Kaiser Wilhelm I, and this strong filial association with Germany led her to become thoroughly German in her orientation. Although H. Branting, the head of social democrats, was pro-English, a number of social democrats were outspokenly pro-German because of its well developed social-security programs in Germany and scientific and industrial achievements of that country. Excommunicated radical activists from the Social Democratic party Otto Jarte and Yngve Larsson contributed in publishing a book in 1915 by Adrian Molin, Sveriges Urikespolitik I världskrigets belysning (Sweden¡¯s foreign policy in the light of the world war), which advocated "courageous lining up on Germany's side." (7) In 1916, Sweden even mined the Kogrundsrännan, the main shipping passage; thus, virtually blocking the Entente fleet from accessing the Baltic Sea (8).
            In order to utilize the favorable circumstances to them, Germans offered the Åland Islands and the establishment of a Scandinavian Bundesstaat (Federation) under Sweden's leadership if Sweden were to fight against Russia. The fact that Swedish royalty had much relationship and sympathy with Germans and that the Russians were the traditional enemy constituted much of the reason why it was so likely for Sweden to actually forfeit her neutrality and get involved into the war. Many nationalists supported the chance for expansion and haltering dangerous Russian expansion in northern Europe.
            On the other hand, the parliamentary and cabinet leadership held quite different views on aligning with Germany. The Prime Minister Hjalmar Hammarskjöld supported firm neutrality, (although a bit more favorable toward the Central Powers) and foreign minister Wallenberg supported Allies but not the direct participation. Overall, the people of Sweden did not want to fall into the worldwide quagmire. Eventually, the brutality and cruelty of the war that people had never experienced before led them to oppose the direct involvement in the war.

III.3 Economic Strife
            Unlike the United States of America, which participated in World War I by indirectly selling and lending armament to the Allies, Sweden sought for a firm stance as a neutral nation by trading with both sides. However, such movements incurred hostility from both sides. German submarines sunk over 200,000 tons of shipping with 800 lives over the course of the entire war. Britain began the restriction of trade as early as August 20, 1914. Because each side wanted to benefit from neutral Sweden as well as to prevent the opposing side to benefit, both Germany and Britain destroyed as well as welcomed Swedish ships. For example, Britain held a strong trade restriction along the Baltic Sea, but began the practice of holding each Swedish ship until another arrived, because it feared that the ships would stop coming altogether.
            For the first two years of the war, Sweden benefited a lot in trade with both sides. Germany desperately needed much foodstuffs and iron ore, which was traded with a very profitable price. However, as the war intensified and the strongest neutral nation, the United States, entered the war, rules of neutrality that favored neutral commerce began to be ignored. For the Allies, Sweden could be regarded as an enemy because Sweden supplied the essential foodstuffs and iron ore for Germany to keep the war. In one incident, Rear Admiral M. W. W. P. Consett asserted that Nordics neutrals should rather be regarded as enemies and Britain should close their coasts (9). For Germany, Sweden could not be viewed favorable because Germans believed that Sweden should have sided with them. Therefore, any shipments toward the Allied forces could not be tolerated.

III.4 Conclusion
            Overall, Sweden went through the war relatively well. Shipping losses were quite large but did not significantly influence the economy, and its neutral stance helped Sweden to increase its exports and decrease imports, thereby creating favorable international trade balance. Sweden, after its glory of the 17th century, had always been a weak country. However, by maintaining a delicate balance with the warring nations, Sweden successfully kept their independence in times of great crisis. Most importantly, Sweden achieved all this without 'conditional partiality' of neutrality, which was the case for the neutrality of the United States.

IV. Sweden during World War II

IV.1 Situation of Sweden in World War II
            Sweden was the only one of the Nordic countries that avoided direct involvement from Nazis. Of course, all the Nordic states declared neutrality at the onset of the war, but such declaration was disregarded as they did not have proper defensive measures to keep the Nazis and Soviets off their territories. Among the 20 nations that declared the neutrality, only five were able to remain neutral by the end of the war, including Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. An important thing to note here is that Sweden was able to maintain neutrality despite harsh conditions. Ireland, Portugal, and Spain were regionally distant from Germany. Switzerland possessed the natural fortress the Alps. However, Sweden had none of such regional advantages in defending the nation. All the countries around the Sweden were under German occupation (Norway, Denmark) or under Soviet influence (the occupied parts of Finland). Therefore, it is easy to understand that Swede could not have maintained its neutrality through its own power.
            Before the onset of the war, Sweden feared and prepared for the war. Sweden drastically increased its military spending beginning in 1936 and by the end of the 1942, military spending mounted up to USD 527.575 million. It also drafted conscriptions and trained many soldiers to prevent any attacks that could shake the foundation of neutrality. In 1940, the Swedish Home Guard (Hemvärnet), was created, and The Swedish Women's Voluntary Defence Service, or Lottorna, had been created in 1924. In the World War I, Sweden barely retained the position as a neutral nation by carefully balancing between aiding one side and the other side. After such experience, Sweden now sought for active neutrality which could allow Swedes to remain neutral despite the situation when power between the two warring sections becomes unbalanced.

IV.2 Sweden's Relationship with Germany during World War II
            Although King Gustav V was pro-German during the World War I, he called for firm neutrality in World War II. The generally sentiments of Swedes were that they wanted to remain neutral as they were in the First World War. However, in the early periods of the war, German victory was quite probable, so it had to make many concessions toward Germany. For an example, iron ore provided much of the iron supply for Germany. Germany was heavily dependent on this Swedish iron ore in producing armaments, so Sir Ralph Glyn, a British Member of Parliament, even claimed that if Sweden stopped their exports it could lead to an end of the war within six months (10). Among other important Swedish exports toward Germany were ball bearings, which were intensely used to make German military vehicles. SKF, a Swedish company which has been dominated ball bearing market even until now, produced the largest number of ball bearings, most of which was sold to Germany. Swedes also allowed Germans to use the railway to transport supplies and German soldiers on leave through Sweden. Later, as the situation becomes unfavorable toward Germany, Sweden is forced by the Allies to limit the usage of railroads and import of iron ore to end the war quickly. However, it is clear to observe that Sweden could maintain its neutrality because it accepted many of Germany's requests. Sweden had to do whatever Germany wanted them to do, otherwise suffer the consequence. Although Swedes prepared a lot for self-defense, the reason that Nazi gave up the idea of striking Sweden was not the Swedish defense itself. The 1942 plan for striking Sweden was flouted by the Allied invasion of Italy.

IV.3 Humanitarian Efforts
            Aids of Sweden to other nations, warmly supported by the majority of the citizenry, included shipments to Norway of food, prefabricated houses, hospital supplies, maps, and other necessities. Swedes helped about 8,000 Jews and 7,000 Danes from Denmark to escape to Sweden. From the Baltic states, especially Estonia, some 35,000 refugees fled to Sweden. About 70,000 Finnish children were received in Swedish foster homes. Count Folke Bernadotte arranged near the end of the war for the release of 19,000 Danish and Norwegian prisoners from German concentration camps. Because Sweden was the only neutral country in NorthernEurope, it could serve as a haven for refugees and Jews, saving numerous lives.

IV.4 Conclusion
            Sweden generally suffered from the World War II even less than it did during World War I. Although many people might blame Sweden for leaning too much toward Germany for such opportunistic move, Sweden had to make such choice because otherwise it would have suffered from German occupation, making it impossible to provide people of the place to escape. "Everything boiled down to the fact that in the spring and early summer of 1941 it looked quite probable that Germany would win the war, and Sweden dared not defy it." (11)

V. Final Comments
            Sweden has been a scarcely populated country throughout the history, and even its heyday could not last long because the foundation of the country could not be firm. The country is located in the cold northern region of Europe, and industrialization was slow to develop. Consequently, it had to face the two World Wars without many resources. In order to maintain her independence, however, Sweden chose to hold neutrality and sought to be perfectly impartial to both sides. While most European nations were fighting for more dominance and land in the continent, Sweden remained neutral to the warring nations and faithful to people who desperately needed a place to live. Although weak and small, Sweden survived to serve as a stronghold for independence and freedom of refugees, in time when no one accepted them.


Notes

(1)      Article : Swedish Empire, from Wikipedia
(2)      ibid.
(3)      Koblik, Steven (1975). Sweden's Development from Poverty to Affluence 1750-1970, University of Minnesota Press, p.8-9: Quoted after Wikipedia
(4)      Koblik 1975 p.11, quoted after Wikipedia
(5)      Koblik 1975 p.90, quoted after Wikipedia
(6)      United States Naval War College, International Law Situations, (1932), 132-133; Philip C. Jessup in Neutrality: Its History, Economics and Law, 4: 166-170 Quoted after Wikipedia
(7)      Torsten Gihl, DSUH, 4: 109, 113-114; Elis Hastad, Sveriges historia under 1900-talet, 20-24. Quoted after Sweden: The Nation's History.
(8)      Sim, Chi-Kyu ¡°Sweden and World War I.¡± World History at KMLA
(9)      Montagu William W.P. Consett, The Triumph of Unarmed Forces (1914-1918), 109.Quoted after Wikipedia
(10)      J. F.L. Ross Neutrality and International Sanctions: Sweden, Switzerland and Collective Security Greenwood Press ISBN 978-0275933494 Quoted after Wikipedia
(11)      Ake Thulstrup, ¡°Gustav V:s roll under midsommarkrisen 1941, ¡± HT, 92 (1972): 72-79; Quoted after Sweden: The Nation's History.


Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in July 2008.
1.      Article : Charles XII, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_XII
2.      Article : Swedish Iron Ore during World War II, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_iron_ore_during_World_War_II
3.      Article : Sweden during World War II, from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden_during_World_War_II.
4.      Article : Sweden, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden
5.      Franklin D. Scott, ¡°Sweden: The Nation¡¯s History.¡± Southern Illinois University Press. Enlarged Edition. 1988
6.      Penguin Classics, "The Penguin Atlas of the World History."
7.      Sim, Chi-Kyu : Sweden and World War I. World History at KMLA http://www.zum.de/whkmla/sp/0708/chikyu/chikyu1.html