WHEN the three kingdoms of Scandinavia settled down to formulate their foreign policies in the troubled aftermath of World War II it was found that, in spite of all new and trying experiences, the fundamental principles which determine policy had not changed. Norway and Denmark had been occupied, and had regained freedom through outside help. By luck and geography Sweden escaped invasion, but had found herself isolated within the German orbit and managed to safeguard her territorial integrity only by grave deviations from strict neutrality. For all of Scandinavia, however, one lesson seemed clear enough: in a world conflagration this corner of the globe could no longer safely consider itself outside the area of strategic importance to the great combatants.

The conclusion of those who waged the battle of resistance in Norway and Denmark was that the day of neutrality was over, and the idea was even voiced by some circles in Sweden. Whatever we do, it was reasoned, however much we try to keep a balance between conflicting Powers, nothing can prevent our territory from being involved if there is another major war. And to the logic of experience was added the moral feeling of those who had fought Nazism in the name of national honor and human decency.

The first major developments of foreign policy in the postwar period were an expression of this conclusion. Norway had been united with the Allied Powers ever since she took up arms against the invaders in 1940. Denmark was formally recognized as an Allied nation soon after V-Day, as a tribute to her resistance movement which had broken the spell of official collaboration in 1943. In view of what had gone before, this formal abandonment of neutrality was rather academic. So far as the future was concerned, the people of the north were at that time thinking of the danger of a revival of German power; friction between Russia and the western world still seemed to be a product of more or less natural jealousies exacerbated by the process of peacemaking. In Denmark and Norway, membership in the great coalition against Hitler seemed a sign of a new foreign policy which contrasted happily with the old Scandinavian isolationism.

Adherence to the United Nations organization by Norway and Denmark from the beginning, and by neutral Sweden in 1946, strengthened this belief. It was obvious that the Scandinavian democracies would be among the ardent supporters of the new international body; where can the countries with limited manpower and industrial production find security if not under international law? The decisions of the Scandinavian countries to join the United Nations were taken by unanimous vote of their parliaments (membership in the League of Nations was a very controversial matter in the Swedish Riksdag 25 years earlier) and ratification of the U.N. Charter was a formal abandonment of neutrality, in that the signatory Powers were thereby bound to join any collective action against an aggressor which was decided upon by the U.N.

Skeptical students of international affairs remembered, however, that though the Scandinavian countries had joined the League of Nations and committed themselves in the Covenant to a formal break with the policy of neutrality, the Scandinavian foreign ministers meeting in Copenhagen in 1936 repudiated Article 16 of the Covenant which obliged them to participate in collective sanctions. The explanation then given was that League sanctions against Mussolini's Abyssinian war had broken down, but the real reason, of course, was to be found in the growing power of Germany and the passive policy of the western Powers, which seemed to leave Hitler's smaller neighbors no choice save to arrange their relations with the Germans as best they could. One might say that the foreign policy of the Scandinavian states in the years between the wars operated on two planes, one in heaven and the other on earth. The line that connected with the League of Nations was unneutral, and binding in principle. The other line was understood as "balanced behavior" in all acts of foreign relations. It became more and more a neutral policy as the clouds gathered, and even took the form of benevolent neutrality toward Germany as the shadow of Nazism spread over Europe on the eve of the great war.


As the short period of rejoicing at the overthrow of Hitler gave way to the frustration at peace conferences and the growing antagonism between Russia and the western world, the same dual policy seemed in evidence on the Scandinavian borderline between east and west. All official declarations about the policies of the three countries stressed their adherence to the United Nations. The international organization was looked upon as the hope of the future, and collaboration with it was active and sincere. But the "second line" -- the maintenance of a careful balance between the opposing Powers -- emerged again, and the official absorption in the problems of the United Nations was perhaps sometimes a useful smoke screen, when ministers did not want to say much about the real problems of the moment. Some students of the U.N. Charter had even prophesied from the outset that the line of neutrality would recommend itself even more strongly to the Scandinavian countries than it did under the League Covenant, if the international scene became threatening. The U.N. at San Francisco was put on a more realistic basis than the League, in that the Charter explicitly recognized that the organization could not function without unity among the Big Five. This was at once pointed out by Mr. Östen Undén, then Chairman of Sweden's Foreign Affairs Committee. His Danish counterpart, Mr. Hartvig Frisch, said in parliament that when a conflict between the Great Powers materialized, "the old problem of neutrality would immediately and automatically turn up for the small Powers." It was also true that even an open conflict between members of the United Nations would not necessarily involve collective sanctions, since the right of veto was always there. Therefore a small country was likely to conclude that it should try to solve a local conflict with a Great Power through direct negotiations; and the implication was that it would do well to strive for good relationships with any possible big antagonist. From this realization sprang the often repeated phrases of Scandinavian statesmen that "we do not want to join any bloc or alliance," that "we want to be on equally good relations with the west and the east," and that "the quarrels between the Bigs are no concern of ours."

The situation seemed a sinister duplication of the old one, save that in the new balance of power Russia had stepped into the position of Germany and the United States into the place of Great Britain. Fundamental principles for the behavior of small countries seemed to be unaltered through all the tides of history. "The politics of a weak and threatened state cannot achieve the standards open to those who enjoy security and wealth. . . . The oak may butt the storm, but the reeds bow and quiver in the gale and also survive." Thus once wrote Winston Churchill, speaking of the dilemma of England in the seventeenth century. When Scandinavian statesmen spoke in this tone they simply sought to emphasize the necessity of a policy of caution by these border-states of Russia, in defense of their national existence. It was the policy all had tried toward Germany -- Sweden with success, Norway and Denmark in vain. I do not attempt to say whether some other line would have been feasible in the immediate postwar period, and whether the reversion to the traditional course was due to a lack of foresight and imagination, or was the inevitable product of the position in which the Scandinavian countries found themselves. But in justice it must be said that the return to an attitude of neutrality was tacitly accepted by parliaments and by practically all organs of public opinion in these countries.


Scandinavian policy is now in process of alteration, and the new orientation is undoubtedly toward the west. The new chapter began, of course, last summer when Secretary Marshall interrupted the series of moves and countermoves between east and west by suggesting the reconstruction of Europe on the basis of American-European collaboration. The Scandinavian countries have taken active part in all the conferences which resulted in the establishment of the European Recovery Program. Their Governments joined the Marshall Plan countries with full support of public opinion -- except, of course, from the Communists. (In Sweden, Norway and Denmark alike the Communists speak with one voice on every detail of the Plan, and that the voice of Moscow.) The Soviet Union's animosity to the Marshall Plan has not lessened the eagerness of the Scandinavian countries to participate, though at the beginning it somewhat affected the formalities. Thus at the first preparatory conference in Paris, the three countries were represented only through their local ambassadors, while most other countries sent their foreign ministers. At later Marshall Plan conferences they have, however, been represented by their executives for foreign affairs. Correspondingly, Scandinavian ministers have regretted the non-participation of Eastern Europe and Russia when discussing ERP in public, and, in accordance with the Paris plan, have stressed the importance of continued commercial relations with Eastern Europe. They have also taken pains to explain that the ERP is purely an economic plan with no political implications. Only Denmark was formally represented in the preparatory committee for a European customs union; Sweden and Norway sent observers. These qualifications -- reflections, of course, of geography -- appeared on a diminishing scale as time went on and Russian countermoves gained in strength. Soviet manœuvres have simply made the Scandinavian response to the ERP more positive.

The distinction made by Scandinavian statesmen between the economic and political aspects of the Plan may be said to be merely a bow to diplomacy, if by "political aspects" are meant the integration of Western Europe which may result from the successful realization of the economic program. Obviously, the two are closely related. But economic integration is clearly the door through which Scandinavia is most likely to enter the political partnership of Western European nations. This also is the only possible meaning of the declarations made in the spring, when on different occasions the three Foreign Ministers, Östen Undén of Sweden, Gustav Rasmussen of Denmark and Halvard Lange of Norway, said in effect that their countries were prepared to discuss Mr. Bevin's suggestions about further collaboration among the nations of Western Europe, in so far as they constituted an elaboration of economic coöperation within the framework of the European Recovery Program. They stressed the desire of their countries to keep clear of alliances or blocs, Scandinavia "not wanting for her part to add to the deterioration of the world political atmosphere." The attitude toward Western European military coöperation as realized in the Pact of Brussels among Great Britain, France and the Netherlands is, in the words of Halvard Lange, that "it is perfectly clear that neither the British Government nor any other partner of the Brussels Pact has any scheme for asking us to join them, as long as we do not ourselves explicitly state our wish to do so." One could perhaps say that the Scandinavian Governments are prepared to join the long-term journey toward European Union, initiated from the west, as fellow-travellers. But they want to start at the bottom, so to speak, in the practical economic phases of an objective pursued in peace, not at the top in the military phase. Events may, of course, overtake such a course and make the Scandinavian line illusory. But this is where matters stand today.

Compared with the official Scandinavian attitude of a year ago, this is a large development. The northern countries are moving with the general trend of world affairs. Not only has public expression of opinion on problems of peace and war been more lively than at any time in memory; governmental policies have been expressed with similar vigor. Full-scale debates on foreign affairs took place in the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments in the beginning of February, and in the Danish parliament some weeks later. Declarations on concrete problems of high policy were carefully worded, but the foreign ministers in all three countries were unambiguous in their declarations of principles. Their pledges to western democracy may be thought obvious, but some months earlier they would not have been uttered by a state executive.

Mr. Östen Undén in the Swedish Riksdag pointed out that the present Swedish Government represents a party which throughout its history has fought for a democratic form of government and for civil rights; and that it has always opposed the Communists because they reject the fundamental principles of political democracy. In the Norwegian Storting Mr. Halvard Lange said that there cannot be the slightest doubt that Norway is part of Western Europe geographically, economically and culturally, and that she is a Western European democracy and wants to remain one; and he insisted that Norway's attitude toward conflicts of values is clear, and that she will not be indifferent toward the ideological fight between democracy and totalitarianism. Mr. Gustav Rasmussen in the Danish Folketing was explicit. Danes are against regimentation in every form, he declared, and their whole conception of life is the same as that of the other northern countries, and of the Netherlands, France and Switzerland and the Anglo-Saxon nations. The Scandinavian statesmen made plain that Russian dislike of the Marshall Plan and opposition to Western European collaboration and closer relations among the Scandinavian countries would not deflect the northern Governments from their course; the international background was frankly analyzed in the light of developments since the creation of the Cominform. With the usual exception of the Communists, spokesmen of all parties in the three Scandinavian parliaments supported their Governments; when the support was qualified it was because the speakers advocated a still sharper western orientation.

In the midst of all this came the coup in Czechoslovakia. The news of Jan Masaryk's death broke during the foreign affairs debate in the Danish Rigsdag, and all members rose while the foreign secretary spoke in commemoration. The Soviet demand on Finland showed that the Russians were renewing their interest in the northern flank, and there were many rumors of a similar "offer" to Norway, and of overtures to Denmark. There was tension, and during the Easter holidays the Governments of Denmark and Norway took certain military precautions. These were officially explained as a product of the general uncertainty of the international situation, but, more precisely, were due to reports emanating indirectly from the State Department in Washington to the effect that Denmark and perhaps Norway might soon be objects of Soviet attention. The crisis lasted until after the Italian elections. Details of the background are not publicly known and the apprehensions, as it proved, were not fulfilled. But the episode brought certain aspects of the problems of freedom and independence for the Scandinavian peoples distinctly into the foreground. How acute is the threat of Communist plots, on the Eastern European model? What is the likelihood of direct Russian intervention? And, in the face of danger of a third world war, should the Scandinavian nations make prior military commitments? These are the concrete questions.


The reaction to events in Czechoslovakia was partly a product of plain democratic indignation and partly fear of similar domestic uprisings, which the Communists did everything to justify in their enthusiasm for the coup in Prague. The Communist parties do not represent more than about 10 percent of the voters in any of the three Scandinavian countries. At the last general election in Sweden in 1944 they obtained 320,000 out of a total electorate of about 3,000,000, or just about 10 percent. In the second chamber they hold 15 seats out of 130. At the last general election in Norway, in 1945, they got 168,000 votes out of a total of 1,480,-000 -- 11 percent -- and 11 members out of 140 in the Storting. In the 1947 general election in Denmark they received 140,000 out of a total of 2,000,000, or about 7 percent, and nine members out of the Rigsdag's 149. In Denmark, where the elections were the second after the war, the Communist vote was halved in comparison with 1945. Later local elections in Norway show that Communist strength is declining, and indications are that the general election in Sweden this year will reveal the same trend.

Scandinavia belongs to the part of Europe which is the most stable politically. Public authorities are loyal and disciplined. Arms from the time of underground resistance against the Nazis are to a certain extent in the hands of Communists, who might of course constitute a dangerous fifth column in case of Russian intervention or war. But the Communists do not offer a constitutional danger to the state in any of the three Scandinavian countries. It may be added that events in Czechoslovakia have led to certain measures in Sweden and Denmark to exclude Communists from vital posts in the armed forces and the organs of public security.

The danger that the U.S.S.R. might intervene in the Scandinavian countries to subdue them one by one -- the "artichoke method" made famous by Hitler's tactics -- had never seemed an actuality to the people of these nations. Perhaps one lasting result of the Easter crisis is to make this appear a real possibility. Responsible people in Scandinavia still discount such an eventuality, but they realized more sharply than before that their own preparations for self-defense have much bearing on the problem of avoiding it. There are no illusions that a Scandinavian country could resist Russia in open conflict, but the will and the power to put up a fight in the national defense would certainly influence western opinion and augment the chances for help. The prospect that a local action in Scandinavia would spread into world war is perhaps the factor most likely to prevent it from being begun. Scandinavian statesmen have on several recent occasions stressed the determination of their nations to defend themselves. New steps have been taken to strengthen the national defenses, which, especially in Denmark and Norway, are not impressive. And in April, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, speaking to the Military Society at Oslo, declared that Norway would not enter any separate military arrangement with the Soviet Union, if one were proposed.

This new western orientation, which opens the way for economic integration and the political consequences that follow peaceful developments based on free negotiations, means that Scandinavia is becoming a partner of the west in the diplomatic struggle. But it hopes that the result of this struggle will be a new equilibrium which ends the ever-increasing tension between Russia and the United States. When the question of a third world war is raised, the Scandinavian answer, as reflected in the attitude of the three Governments, is still that these countries will claim their right to neutrality and will not in advance make any commitments outside those which might result from their adherence to the United Nations Charter.

This cautious response is, of course, challenged by a part of public opinion, which either considers that the hope of Scandinavian neutrality in a new world war is completely illusory, or thinks that participation in a western military alliance backed by the United States is the best possible way to preserve the peace. No political party in the northern parliaments takes so strong a position, but the parties of the Right in Norway and Denmark are in sympathy with it, even if they have not yet embraced it publicly. It is held by many individuals, including representatives in the parliaments, and by several newspapers, some of them among the most influential. Its most eloquent spokesman is Professor Herbert Tingsten of Sweden, editor of the liberal Dagens Nyheter, the biggest newspaper of the region. The adherents of this school of thought argue that the old fear that the formation of a western bloc will increase Russian aggressiveness has been displaced by the evidence that only a firm attitude can prevent Soviet expansion. Only in such a bloc can the Scandinavian nations find security, they say, and only thus can there be an eventual relaxation of international tension. It is further pointed out that the uncertainty about American foreign policy, which once caused small countries to fear another Munich, need no longer be entertained; the risk of being drawn into war as a result of collaboration with the west is less than that of standing alone and unprotected; and since the independence of the smaller states ultimately depends upon the Anglo-Saxon Powers, it is logical for those states to coöperate in their own defense. And behind these arguments, of course, are the moral and ideological issues which arise from the plain fact that the Scandinavian countries belong to western society.

The most astute and important spokesman for the other view is the Swedish Foreign Minister, Östen Undén. He maintains that if the United Nations is undermined by a political bloc or is otherwise paralyzed, Sweden must be free to take the path of neutrality. He admits that the choice will not be wholly in Sweden's hands, and that the prospects cannot be gauged in advance. But he maintains that Sweden must not make commitments in advance that will deprive her of the right and opportunity to keep out of war. The possibilities of neutrality differ in the Scandinavian countries, but, in general, the view which Mr. Undén expresses on behalf of Sweden is accepted as valid by supporters of isolationism in Denmark and Norway.

Scandinavian rejection of the idea of binding military arrangements with the west -- or, to say the least, its hesitancy about it -- is motivated to some extent by a concern for Finland's position, though for diplomatic reasons this does not figure much in official statements. That Finland should be within the "Russian sphere" is accepted as an inevitable result of the war; but special Soviet treatment of Finland (which is not without precedence from Tsarist days) has hitherto permitted the Finnish people a good deal of freedom in internal politics and national life. Should the rest of Scandinavia become part of a western military system, it is expected that Russia's grip on Finland would tighten. The outcome of the recent negotiations for a Finnish-Russian pact which, broadly speaking, confirmed the status quo, strengthens this line of thought.

The main brake on military union with the west is, however, simply the fear that such action would offend Russia and that Western Europe and the United States are not now willing to undertake obligations to defend the Scandinavian nations or prepared to carry them out. It is sometimes forgotten, in popular discussions of this matter in the west, that no offer of military guarantee has been made to Norway, Sweden or Denmark. Neither Great Britain nor the Brussels Union, for example, has yet invited the Scandinavian nations to join, and it is very doubtful whether they intend to do so. A Western Union of any strength is also dependent upon American backing, and while the farsighted economic initiative of the European Recovery Program has been greeted with enthusiasm in Scandinavia, there is less confidence about the possibilities of an American military guarantee for Western Europe. A "guarantee" raises not only the question of willingness to wage war, but of the probabilities of preventing military occupation by the Soviet Union. Responsible Scandinavians do not believe in the theory that war is inevitable, but they are aware that it might come from some miscalculations either on the part of the Kremlin or the United States. And in contrast to the general public, they try to distinguish carefully between American congressional and constitutional realities, and the gossip of certain American commentators who seem to find the material for their pocket-diplomacy in the Stork Club in New York.


For the sake of simplicity, I have spoken here as if these three nations were somewhat more of an entity than they actually are. It is true that no important decision on foreign relations is taken without consultation among the foreign ministers of the three states, often joined by their Icelandic colleague. They meet at regular intervals, as do also the three prime ministers; and they try to act on the same lines within the United Nations and at such international conferences as those which have accompanied the European Recovery Program. Nevertheless, Denmark, Norway and Sweden are separate and sovereign states with no constitutional bond. Their problems of security and defense are different, and so are their diplomatic traditions and political backgrounds. The tradition of neutrality is much stronger in Sweden than in Denmark and Norway. Sweden has not been at war for 134 years and, since she managed to keep out of the two world wars, the Swedish people naturally think that the idea of neutrality has a future. Strategically, too, the Swedish position seems better than that of her western and southern neighbors. It is sometimes a little cynically thought that even if Denmark and Norway are invaded, Sweden may again preserve une neutralité à la suédoise -- as her suave course during the last war is called.

After their recent experience of German invasion, Denmark and Norway are more inclined to doubt the value of neutrality, and this is subtly reflected in declarations on foreign policy. But there are differences of another nature between Denmark and Norway. Geographical position makes Denmark more alert to continental realities; Norway, with her western outlook on the sea, is more "Atlantic-minded." Traditions of diplomacy, too, make Denmark more inclined to follow old patterns, while Norway often takes a fresher view. Of the three, Norway is the most definitely oriented toward the west; then comes Denmark; and, last, Sweden.

But the three Scandinavian peoples greatly desire to play a common rôle in international affairs. The old idea of Northern Union is very much alive today, as always in times of world crisis. Last year the Northern Customs Union was again put on the agenda at the Foreign Ministers Conference at Copenhagen. The Administrations are working on it through an inter-Nordic committee under the chairmanship of Mr. C. W. Bramsnaes, head of the Danish National Bank. But since the economies of the three countries are supplementary, political considerations are more likely to forward the project of Northern Union than are the possibilities of immediate economic benefit.

The "spiritual union" of Scandinavia is a reality manifested in a thousand ways -- in culture and language, in social and legislative collaboration, in personal ties and friendships. Pressed from east and west, the Scandinavian countries may now be ready to unite. Union would somewhat strengthen their feeling of security, and would increase the sense of solidarity, so important psychologically in the troubled state of the world. It would not counter that movement toward greater European integration which is the urgent task of high policy for the present generation of Europeans, but would expedite it.

In evaluating the words and the actions of Scandinavian statesmen, public opinion in the west may in fairness be asked to remember that different laws do indeed control the behavior of great states and small nations. The Great Powers, among which the United States today occupies a predominant position, make decisions by their own will and of their own strength. In foreign policy, small nations are often enough subject to circumstances which they neither create nor desire. It is under the compulsion of this natural law that Scandinavian statesmen must seek their way.

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  • ERIK SEIDENFADEN, co-Editor of Information, Copenhagen; during the war, chief of the free Danish Press Service
  • More By Erik Seidenfaden