Neutrality and Peace

The View of a Small Power

Courtesy Reuters

WHEN the world was preparing in 1898 for the first Peace Conference at The Hague, the Norwegian Government put forward as one plank of their country's program a claim to obtain permanent neutrality, this to be formally recognized by all foreign governments. A petition supporting this program was quickly signed by fifty thousand names. Four years later, in 1902, the same claim was unanimously adopted by the Storting. At that time, however, the union with Sweden still prevailed, so that Norway could not carry on an independent foreign policy; and the Government and the Riksdag of Sweden refused to agree with the Norwegian desire. The question therefore did not appear on the agenda of the Hague Conference nor did it attract attention in any of the international discussions of the day. But the program was in keeping with the traditions of Norwegian policy, and it even helped to strengthen Norway in her struggle to take into her own hands the control of her foreign affairs.

It was in those days that the uncrowned king of Norway, the poet-politician Björnstjerne Björnson, put forth the slogan that when the time came for the country to set up an independent foreign office the object of that office ought to be to have no foreign policy at all. Of course, Mr. Björnson, perfect poet though he was, had too much insight in international affairs to propose such a program literally. What he intended was to set himself against the tendency in contemporary politics to seek security by means of military alliances with foreign countries. In fact, there was a current belief at that time -- unfounded, I am inclined to think -- that the Swedish Government (and particularly the King) was striving to bring the two United Kingdoms into a defensive alliance with Germany. What Björnson wanted for Norway was absolute neutrality. He wanted her not to take sides in the formation of opposite blocs then proceeding in Europe, and so to keep

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