Armed neutrality

De man in't hembd, of de gefnuikte hoogmoed.
'The man in the nightshirt, or the smothered hubris
Print shows a man in a nightshirt (representing England) being attacked by several men (representing the countries of the armed neutrality league and the allies), he is held by a Swede and a Dane, a Frenchman places a foolscap on his head, a Dutchman places shackles around his ankles, an American runs away with his clothes, and a Russian is about to hit him with a club; in the background, a merchant fleet sails out to sea (British Cartoon Prints Collection).

Armed neutrality, in international politics, is the posture of a state or group of states which makes no alliance with either side in a war, but asserts that it will defend itself against resulting incursions from all parties.[1] This may include:

Historic examples of armed neutrality

Leagues of Armed Neutrality

The phrase "armed neutrality" sometimes refers specifically to one of the 'Leagues of Armed Neutrality'.

Key participants

Sweden and Switzerland

Switzerland and Sweden are, independent of each other, famed for their armed neutrality, which they maintained throughout both World War I and World War II.[10] The Swiss Confederation has a long history of neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and did not join the United Nations until 2002. It pursues, however, an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world.[11]

United States

The United States had proclaimed a position of armed neutrality from the beginning of World War I, in the summer of 1914. This became an increasingly unpopular stance, especially after the German forces sunk the British passenger ship RMS Lusitania in May 1915, which killed 1,201 people, including 128 Americans.[12] In early 1917, German forces took the conflict to new levels by engaging in unrestricted naval warfare. This resulted in the sinking of the American cargo ship, the Housatonic. Wilson broke off diplomatic ties with Germany that same day. The final straw is said to have happened on April 1, 1917 when German naval forces torpedoed the U.S. steamer Aztec. Twenty Eight of its crew members drowned.[12] American forces maintained neutrality during World War I until President Woodrow Wilson's War Message on April 2, 1917. Wilson delivered his historic war message before Congress.

"Neutrality is a negative word. It does not express what America ought to feel. We are not trying to keep out of trouble; we are trying to preserve the foundations on which peace may be rebuilt.”
Woodrow Wilson


Spain also maintained neutrality throughout both World War I and World War II. While Spain did lean slightly towards the Axis, as evidenced by the Blue Division, it did not join World War II.


During World War II, it was believed that Ireland would take the German side if the United Kingdom attempted to invade the State, but would take the United Kingdom's side if invaded by Germany; historically, it is now known that both sides had in fact drawn up plans to invade Ireland (see Irish neutrality).[13] Ireland was outwardly neutral during the conflict, but did make some concessions to the Allies by sharing intelligence and weather reports, as well as repatriating downed RAF airmen.[14][15]


  1. Oppenheim, International Law: War and Neutrality, 1906, p. 325.
  2. "Armed Neutrality". Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  3. "Armed Neutrality Law & Legal Definition". USLegal. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  4. "Armed Neutrality". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  5. See, generally, Scott, The Armed Neutralities of 1780 and 1800: A Collection of Official Documents Preceded by the Views of Representative Publicists, 1918; Karsh, Neutrality and Small States, 1988, p. 16-17; Jones, Crucible of Power: A History of American Foreign Relations to 1913, 2009, p. 15-17.
  6. Vinarov, Mikhail. "The First League of Armed Neutrality". CiteLighter. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  7. Kulsrud, Carl. "Armed Neutralitys to 1780". American Journal of International Law.
  8. See, generally, Scott, The Armed Neutralities of 1780 and 1800: A Collection of Official Documents Preceded by the Views of Representative Publicists, 1918; Karsh, Neutrality and Small States, 1988, p. 17.
  9. Bienstock, The Struggle for the Pacific, 2007, p. 150.
  10. Bissell and Gasteyger, The Missing link: West European Neutrals and Regional Security, 1990, p. 117; Murdoch and Sandler, "Swedish Military Expenditures and Armed Neutrality," in The Economics of Defence Spending, 1990, p. 148-149.
  11. "Switzerland - Knowledge Encyclopedia". Knowledge Encyclopedia. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  12. 1 2 "Woodrow Wilson asks U.S. Congress for declaration of war.". The History Channel website.
  13. John P. Duggan, Neutral Ireland and the Third Reich Lilliput Press; Rev. ed edition, 1989. p. 223
  14. Burke, Dan. "Benevolent Neutrality". The War Room. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  15. Joe McCabe (1944-06-03). "How Blacksod lighthouse changed the course of the Second World War". Retrieved 2016-04-21.


External links

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