Issues in Swedish Foreign Policy

IN order to understand Sweden's foreign policy and, generally speaking, its attitude towards the world at large, one must bear in mind two facts--its long period of peace and neutrality, and its exceptionally calm internal political development. Since 1814 Sweden has not participated in any war, nor has it entered into any alliance.

It is true that on a few occasions Sweden has either been threatened by war or has manifested a marked inclination to take part in one. This was the case during the Crimean War, when many leading Swedes were disposed to join forces with England and France for the purpose of regaining Finland from Russia; however, the war ended before these plans matured. When Prussia and Austria invaded Denmark in 1864, a pan-Scandinavian movement urged that Sweden come to the aid of that country; but due to the strength of the attacking powers and the rapid course of the war this "activist" movement never became important. In 1905, when Norway dissolved the union with Sweden, certain circles recommended war as a means of reëstablishing it; but the government and the political leadership worked for a peaceful solution and an agreement was reached which in time became the foundation for good relations between the two nations. During World War I, another "activist" movement urged that Sweden join Germany to liberate Finland; but public opinion overwhelmingly supported peace and neutrality. After the war, when the population of the Aland Islands, situated between Sweden and Finland, demanded annexation to Sweden, some politicians and newspapers made vehement statements; but the question was referred to the League of Nations and its 1921 judgment in favor of Finland did not strongly disturb Swedish public opinion. World War II from time to time brought danger of war to Sweden; the government was pressed to make certain dubious concessions which were strongly criticized (particularly the transfer of a German division from Norway to Finland through Sweden during the summer of 1941). In this period Swedish defenses were reorganized and the nation was prepared for armed resistance to more extensive German demands. Sympathy for the Allies was dominant, and particularly for the occupied neighbors, Norway and Denmark, but this did not lead to the formulation of serious plans for military intervention.

Register Now
Non-Subscriber
Register now to get three articles each month. Join us as a paid subscriber and get unrestricted access to all of Foreign Affairs, including on our iPad app.
Please note that we will never share your email address with a third party. Read our privacy policy.
Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis