Sweden: a Case Study in Neutrality

Courtesy Reuters

AFTER two world-scale wars in one generation the possibility that neutrality can again be made the permanent basis of foreign policy of a Great Power seems to be precluded. Some go further and predict the end of small states, thus of all neutrality. In this view, small states are destined to become appanages of their most immediate Great Power neighbors, enjoying, perhaps, a cultural autonomy but without effective control of their foreign affairs or their own defense. This assumption of the "withering away" of small states, suggesting at least the partial obliteration of the identities of peoples with long traditions of freedom and independence, plus the discard of the institution of neutrality which once served as a refuge for small nations -- such a prospect must make the historian pause to search for proof or disproof of the contention.


The nation-states system, comprising the European family of nations, came into being in response to the realities and needs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The end of feudalism and the emergence of nation-states were hastened by the Reformation which broke the unity of Christendom and fragmented the Holy Roman Empire. In that historic struggle to gain the right to particularism the regions which were to become small states in western Europe assumed a disproportionate share of the total effort (e.g. Switzerland, the Low Countries, Sweden). They then rated high. And their important functions in the community were duly recognized in the precepts of the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648, which ended the religious wars and made the first great architectural blueprint of the European nation-states system.

It was in this period that international law, already formulated by Grotius and his predecessors, became recognized as the desired guide for the behavior of the relatively new state sovereignties. Rules were imperative to replace the repudiated restraints of the Church upon secular princes. Also, the doctrine of Balance of Power, emerging from the condition of shifting political affinities in the

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