Neutral powers during World War II
The neutral powers were countries that remained neutral throughout the Second World War. Some of these countries had large colonies abroad, or had great economic power. Spain had just been through its civil war, which ended on 1 April 1939 (five months prior to the Invasion of Poland)—a war that involved several countries that subsequently participated in World War II.
During World War II, the neutral powers took no official side, hoping to avoid attack. However, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland all helped the Allied Powers by supplying "voluntary" brigades to Great Britain, while Spain avoided the Allies in favor of the Axis. The Irish government generally favoured the Allied side.
Several other countries suffered invasion in spite of their efforts to be neutral. These included Nazi Germany's invasion of Denmark and Norway on 9 April 1940—then Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg on 10 May 1940. On the same day, 10 May 1940, the British invaded Iceland and established an occupying force (subsequently replaced by the then-neutral United States). In the Balkans, the Italo-Greek War began in November 1940 and Yugoslavia was invaded in April 1941.
The policy of Irish neutrality during World War II was adopted by the Oireachtas (parliament of Ireland) at the instigation of Éamon de Valera, the Taoiseach (head of government) upon the outbreak of hostilities in Europe. It was maintained throughout the conflict, in spite of several German air raids (understood to be by aircraft that missed their intended targets in Britain or Northern Ireland) and attacks on Ireland's shipping fleet by Allies and Axis alike. De Valera refrained from joining either the Allies or Axis powers.
In the case of Portugal, over 10,000 men were sent to battle the Germans in Northern France under the banner of Great Britain. The reason for which this occurred was twofold. Firstly, Portugal wanted to continue to maintain its alliance with Great Britain as it had for the last six hundred years (that is, supplying troops in times of need and when invaded by a foreign power). The second reason for which Portuguese soldiers fought under the British flag was because Portugal wanted to help Britain without officially removing itself from a state of declared neutrality. However, Portugal continued trading with countries from both sides of the conflict throughout the war. In the second half on the war, it let the Allies use bases in the Azores to fight German submarines.
Franco sent the Blue Division to fight on the Eastern Front.
The Swedish government supported Finland during the Winter War. At the end of the war it was preparing to invade Norway with the Allies should the occupying Wehrmacht forces refuse to accept a general German armistice.
Switzerland maintained its neutrality so as to protect its own banking interests from plunder by the Axis. Often, Swiss soldiers opened fire on Axis bombers invading their airspace. On several occasions, Switzerland also shot down Allied planes to appease the Germans. Throughout the war, cities in Switzerland were "accidentally" bombed by both Axis and Allied airplanes. Hitler did indeed plan to invade Switzerland, but Switzerland had formed complex fortifications and amassed tens of thousands of soldiers in the mountains to thwart any Axis invasion. Because of the extreme mountainous conditions in Switzerland, Hitler decided to bombard Great Britain rather than engage in a costly war with Switzerland.
Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland held to the concept of armed neutrality, and continuously amassed soldiers to defend their nation's sovereignty from potential invasion. Thus, they maintained the right to become belligerent if attacked while in a state of neutrality. The concept of neutrality in war is narrowly defined and puts specific constraints on the neutral party in return for the internationally recognized right to remain neutral. A wider concept is that of non-belligerence. The basic international law covering neutral territories is the Second Hague Convention. It is important to note that a neutral country takes no side in a war between other parties, and in return hopes to avoid being attacked by either of them. A neutralist policy aims at neutrality in case of an armed conflict that could involve the party in question. A neutralist is an advocate of neutrality in international affairs. The concept of neutrality in conflicts is distinct from non-alignment, i.e., the willful desistance from military alliances in order to preserve neutrality in case of war, and perhaps with the hope of preventing a war altogether.
The following colonies/countries remained neutral during World War II:
- Kingdom of Iceland (occupied by the United Kingdom)
- San Marino (briefly occupied by Germany, 17–20 September 1944)
- Tibet (unrecognised; claimed by China but de facto independent)
- Vatican City
In addition, many Latin American nations remained neutral until after the Japanese attack on United States forces at Pearl Harbor in December 1941; some did not declare war on the Axis Powers until the war was nearly over in 1945, as did Turkey. See Participants in World War II and Latin America during World War II.
Colonies of Portugal
- Cape Verde
- Portuguese Guinea
- Portuguese India
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Portuguese Timor (Occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1944)
- Karsh, E. "Neutrality and Small States." 1989.
- Gabriel, J. M. "The American Conception of Neutrality After 1941." 1989.