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  • The United States and Neutral Countries in Europe, 1945–1991
  • Mikael Nilsson (bio)


A large and growing body of literature exists on U.S. policy toward neutral European countries during the Cold War. Jürg Martin Gabriel's seminal study of U.S. conceptions of neutrality from 1941 to 1970 provides a definitive discussion of the issue, but it is not a full-fledged history of U.S. policy toward the European neutrals. Up to now, no major historical study has appeared of U.S. policy toward Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Yugoslavia, and Ireland as a group of neutral countries.

Even though a vast number of books and articles about U.S. policy toward individual neutral countries have been published, they tend to be limited both thematically and chronologically. A notable exception is Thomas O. Schlesinger's book The United States and the European Neutrals, published just as the Cold War was ending.1 In the quarter century since his book appeared, a large body of cutting-edge research has drastically changed scholarly approaches to the subject. This article provides a survey of the latest research regarding U.S. relations with four democratic Western neutral countries—Finland, Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland. The article begins by discussing the concept of neutrality and then looks at the latest scholarship on U.S. policy toward the four countries.

What Was Neutrality?

All studies of neutrality and neutral countries are complicated by the fact that so many different conceptions and definitions of "neutrality" exist. Even though much of neutrality is codified in international law, it has remained an elusive concept. States have reserved the right to interpret the meaning of [End Page 208] neutrality in their own unique way in both war and peace. Sweden's concept of neutrality had very little in common with that of Switzerland and Austria, and perhaps even less with that of Finland. Even so, they all operated in the same precarious seas during the Cold War, trying to stay clear of major reefs and steer safely into port. Some basic common aspects of neutrality can therefore be specified.

Harto Hakovirta has provided a useful guide to the characteristics of a neutral state and its foreign policy, arguing that a country can be neutral only in times of war.2 He distinguishes between two types of neutrality: (1) permanent neutrality, which is guaranteed either by other states or by a neutral state's constitution (as in the case of Switzerland and Austria); and (2) occasional (or ad hoc) neutrality in the case of states that are not bound by international neutrality law in peacetime (such as Sweden and Finland). Of central importance to the success of a policy of neutrality, according to Hakovirta, is that it must be credible and capable of being respected. The leading powers must be convinced that the neutral state will actually remain neutral if war breaks out. Otherwise, the great powers would be inclined to take preemptive military steps to ensure that the neutral state's territory or resources cannot be used by a hostile power. Some flexibility is nonetheless necessary for the neutral state within which it can maneuver both prior to and during a conflict.

In light of this distinction, Gabriel's assertion that both Sweden and Switzerland were permanent neutrals is not entirely correct.3 Sweden's policy was a unilaterally declared, ad hoc neutrality (even though it seemed to have a semi-permanent status because of the consistency with which it was pursued), a Neutralitätspolitik explicitly formulated for the first time in 1956 as nonalignment in peacetime aiming for neutrality in wartime. The crucial difference between Sweden and Switzerland was that international law did not formally regulate Swedish policy in peacetime. In this sense, Swedish neutrality was more similar to the Finnish case than to the Swiss. However, there was a certain spillover effect, to use Hakovirta's phrase, from international law to the Swedish case, insofar as Sweden, too, could not conduct a policy in peacetime that undermined the credibility of its promise to stay clear of future conflicts.4 [End Page 209]

Sweden: The Gatekeeper in the North

Sweden came out of the Second World War...


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