To include a discussion on the neutrals in a book investigating Europe’s descent into war in September 1939 might seem rather perverse. How can states that tried to stay aloof from the war be held in any way responsible for its outbreak? The choice between peace and war surely lay with the Great Powers, whose statesmen paid precious little attention to the wishes of the Czechs, let alone those of their small, neutral neighbours. Yet, for many contemporaries, the concept of neutrality was far from irrelevant to the diplomacy of the 1930s. The drift towards neutrality in the mid-1930s inevitably affected the complexion of European politics at a time when the international system was already strained by the demands of the revisionist powers. ‘Far from discouraging war,’ insisted Quincy Wright, America’s leading international lawyer of the time, ‘neutrality has tended to encourage aggression of the strong against the weak. Neutral rights have themselves provided the basis for disputes which have drawn non-participants into war.’1 This chapter tests these claims by investigating three areas in which the neutrals might be held to have contributed to the destabilisation of the international system before 1939: their ‘rejection’ of collective security, their influence on the operation of the European balance of power, and finally their impact on western defence planning after 1936.
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