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  • Britain, Sweden and the Cold War, 1945–54: Understanding Neutrality
  • Patrick Salmon
Juhana Aunesluoma, Britain, Sweden and the Cold War, 1945–54: Understanding Neutrality. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. xx + 211 pp. £45.00.

Juhana Aunesluoma has written a succinct, fluent study of British-Swedish relations during the first phase of the Cold War. Based on extensive research in British, Swedish, and Finnish archives, his book highlights Sweden's importance to Western security in the Nordic region, as well as the dilemmas posed by Sweden's continued commitment to neutrality. Aunesluoma's central argument is that British policy was instrumental in enabling Sweden to reconcile its formal neutrality with a de facto orientation toward the West. Britain's efforts began with the attempt in 1948-1949 to find a middle way between Sweden's desire for a neutral Scandinavian alliance and Norwegian-Danish membership in what became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The attempt failed, but the British did not stop talking to the Swedes. From 1949 onward, secret military contacts, tacitly approved by the governments in both countries, enabled defense plans to be coordinated, and Britain continued to sell arms to Sweden at a time when the United States refused to do so.

Britain's pragmatic attitude toward Swedish neutrality mitigated the crude anti-neutralism of the United States in the early Cold War years. Nevertheless, a decline in British influence was evident by the early 1950s, in part for economic reasons: Britain's early postwar commercial ascendancy in Scandinavia was undermined by competition from West Germany. The outbreak of the Korean War accelerated moves toward West German rearmament and thereby mitigated Sweden's strategic importance for Western defense. The transition of the United States to a more balanced view of [End Page 166] Swedish neutrality after 1952 reduced and eventually eliminated Britain's role as intermediary between Sweden and the West.

Aunesluoma is thoroughly conversant with the scholarly debate on Scandinavia and the Cold War, and he takes it further in a number of respects. Previous research has tended to focus more on Norway and Denmark than on Sweden and has been preoccupied with the dramatic events of 1948-1949, when the rival solutions to Scandinavia's strategic dilemma—Sweden's non-aligned Scandinavian bloc and Norway and Denmark's Atlantic orientation—were most starkly juxtaposed. Aunesluoma joins a number of scholars, including Wilhelm Agrell, Karl Molin, and the late Mikael af Malmborg, who have asked more searching questions about Sweden's role, and he takes the story well beyond 1949. In doing so he not only does justice to Britain as a Cold War player but also makes clear the extent to which Sweden remained central to Western perceptions of the strategic situation in the northern sphere.

Aunesluoma provides a broader and more complex picture of British policymaking than one finds in many previous accounts, which have tended to focus disproportionately on the Foreign Office (and especially the Northern Department). Aunesluoma gives other ministries, notably the Treasury and Board of Trade as well as the Bank of England, their due share of attention. He displays a sophisticated understanding of the relationship between economic policy and foreign policy, as in the failure of "Uniscan" (a British-Scandinavian economic forum) to provide a credible basis for political cooperation, let alone fulfill British hopes that it might become a regional economic bloc. He also credits the 1945-1951 Labour government with a degree of autonomy and initiative that contrasts with earlier accounts stressing the continuity of British Cold War policy from one government to another. Aunesluoma demonstrates the importance of ideological affinities between leading British politicians such as Sir Stafford Cripps and Herbert Morrison and their Swedish counterparts. The Tory election victory in 1951 produced a government less interested in Scandinavia and more interested in Western Europe, thus contributing to the declining importance of the British-Swedish relationship.

The book also offers a nuanced interpretation of Swedish neutrality. Although the Swedish military was firmly pro-Western, government ministers' leanings varied widely, from the doctrinaire neutralism of Foreign Minister Östen Undén (the chief bête noire of British diplomats), to the more pragmatic, Western-oriented Defense Minister...