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, Colombia, and Switzerland all helped the Allied Powers by supplying "voluntary" brigades to the United Kingdom, while Spain avoided the Allies in favor of the Axis. The Irish government generally favoured the Allied side.
Several 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.
- Ireland 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.
- Portugal In the case of Portugal, over 10,000 men were sent to battle the Germans in Northern France under the banner of the United Kingdom. The reason for which this occurred was twofold. Firstly, Portugal wanted to continue to maintain its alliance with the United Kingdom 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.
Colonies of Portugal:
- Sweden 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 Switzerland maintained its neutrality so as to protect its own banking interests from plunder by the Axis. It was also dependent on German coal with 10 million tons imported during the war making up 41% of Swiss energy supplies. 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 the United Kingdom rather than engage in a costly war with Switzerland.
The following colonies/countries remained neutral during World War II:
- Tibet (unrecognised; claimed by China but de facto independent)
Some countries didn't declare war on the Axis until the last few weeks of the war:
- Argentina was ruled during the period of World War II by a series of nationalist governments and dictatorial military juntas. Neutralist feelings prevailed in the military, which saw the war as a potential source of economic benefit for the country, by exporting supplies and agricultural products to both sides of the conflict. The government of Edelmiro Julián Farrell eventually caved in to international pressure, and declared war on Germany and Japan, one month before the war was over, on 27 March 1945. See also Argentina during World War II.
- Chile initially chose to remain neutral in the war, having close trading links with Germany. Later in the war, however, Chile distanced itself from the Axis powers, and the Chilean government took steps to dismiss pro-German military officers. Relations with Axis countries were broken in 1943, and on 11 April 1945, Chile declared war on Japan, being the last nation to join the war.
- Peru Declared war on 12 February 1945.
- Venezuela Declared war on 15 February 1945.
- Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic contacts with Germany on 11 September 1939, and with Japan in October 1941. Although officially neutral, the Saudis provided the Allies with large supplies of oil. Diplomatic relations with the United States were established in 1943. King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud was a personal friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Americans were then allowed to build an air force base near Dhahran. Saudi Arabia declared war on Germany on 28 February 1945 and Japan on 1 April 1945, but no military actions resulted from the declaration.
- Turkey was neutral until several months before the end of the war, at which point it joined the Allies. Prior to the outbreak of war, Turkey signed a Mutual Aid Pact with France and Britain in 1939. After the German invasion of France, however, Turkey remained neutral, relying on a clause excusing them if military action might bring conflict with the USSR, which, after the division of Poland, Turkey feared. Then, in June, 1941, after neighbouring Bulgaria joined the Axis and allowed Germany to move troops through to invade Yugoslavia and Greece, Turkey signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. Turkey was an important producer of chromite, a key ingredient in the manufacture of stainless steel and refractory brick to which the Germans had limited access. Sale of chromite to Germany or to the Allies (who had access to other sources and mainly bought in order to preclude sale to Germany) was the key issue in Turkey's negotiations with both sides. Turkey halted its sales to Germany in April 1944 and broke off relations in August. In February 1945, after the Allies made its invitation to the inaugural meeting of the United Nations (along with the invitations of several other nations) conditional on full belligerency, Turkey declared war on the Axis powers, but no Turkish troops ever saw combat. See also: Single-party period of the Republic of Turkey#1938–1950: İnönü (National Chief) and History of the Republic of Turkey#World War II.
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.
- Participants in World War II
- Allies of World War II
- Axis powers
- Declarations of war during World War II
- Latin America during World War II
- Karsh, E. "Neutrality and Small States." 1989.
- Gabriel, J. M. "The American Conception of Neutrality After 1941." 1989.