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In 1809 the French general Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was made king of Sweden as Karl XIV Johan. There were hopes that he would be able to use his connections to Napoleon (which by the way were not that good at all, but nobody seemed to realize) to win back Finland from Russia. But, seeing this as a lost cause, he disappointed quite a few people and instead came to terms with Russia. He gave up Finland, and wanted to get Norway instead.

In 1812 France seized Swedish Pomerania. Sweden then allied with Britain and Russia in a reversal of her hitherto francophile policy - this became known as the "1812 års politik". Napoleon was beaten in Russia and at Leipzig, and Sweden forced the French ally Denmark to concede Norway in the Treaty of Kiel on January 14th, 1814. The Norwegians however wanted to become independent, and had to be forced into a union - which was therefore uneasy from the beginning. But nevertheless, this was Sweden's last war.

The Swedish participation in the Holy Alliance played an important role in the coming years, until Oskar I used the opportunity of the Crimean War to distance Sweden from Russia. Officially she remained neutral, but secretly supported the British in hope they would attack St. Petersburg and weaken Russia's grip on Finland. That did not happen, though, and all Sweden got was the demilitarization of the Åland islands and a determination to keep out of wars in the future. This was the beginning of the Swedish policy of neutrality.

Karl XV ascended to power in 1857. He was an avid follower of the Scandinavism movement of the time and promised to aid Denmark in it's struggles with Prussia. However, when it got serious in 1864 the Swedish government refused the military support, which was of course a great defeat for the king.

Karl XV also was a friend of France, which brought trouble with the Germans. Bismarck finally unified Germany in 1871, and Oskar II inherited the Swedish crown in 1872. Unlike his father, he sympathized with Germany and shifted the orientation of Swedish foreign policy. The focus on Germany as the most important partner remained also with king Gustav V.

Sweden stayed neutral in World War I, and in fact traded with both sides - which primarily profited the Germans and thusly angered the Allies. They blockaded Sweden, hunger riots broke out, the government collapsed and Sweden in the end made an agreement with the Allies.

After the war Sweden joined the League of Nations, even though participation in Security Council-mandated wars might have threatened her neutrality. But the rapid dissolution of the League of Nations made the question irrelevant anyway.

Finland became independent in 1917 and plunged into a brutal civil war, in which Sweden was on the side of the "Whites", albeit not with open support. After they had won, the conflict over the Åland islands once again erupted and temporarily tainted the otherwise splendid relations between Sweden and Finland.

The rise of Hitler made Sweden a bit unsecure in her neutrality, but proposals to Norway and Denmark were declined. Hitler's offer of a non-aggression pact, however, was also refused. In September 1939 World War II broke out. The Finnish refusal to allow a Soviet naval base on their territory caused an attack in November 1939 and the Winter War began. Sweden, in spite of all talk of Nordic solidarity, was ill-prepared to intervene directly, and they also refused to be implicated in the conflict by allowing Allied troops to travel through Sweden. However, massive material support was organized, and in March 1940 Sweden mediated the Peace Treaty of Moscow.

On April 9th, 1940 Germany occupied Denmark and Norway. Sweden was now encircled. During the fighting they had refused to allow the transport of German war material through Sweden, but after the conquest of France Germany was in such a strong position that Sweden complied with demands for a right of passage. The tides of war having turned, Sweden canceled the agreement in July 1943. The country also played an important role in the Norwegian and Danish resistance movements and took in thousands of Jews.

After the war, Sweden decided not to join the NATO. The guiding principle was "non-participation in alliances in peacetime aiming at neutrality in the event of war" (Weibull, p. 136). Sweden was very engaged in the UN, however, even with military units under UN command. The Swede Dag Hammarskjöld became Secretary General, and Sweden took definite stances on international issues, eg the Vietnam War, Afghanistan or Apartheid - especially under Prime Minister Olof Palme, who massively pissed off the US with his criticism and even went so far as to suggest they recall their embassador in Stockholm.

Sweden regarded itself as a sort of bridge between the two superpower blocs, as well as an important part of the "Nordic Balance" between NATO members Norway and Denmark and Finland with its special relations to the Soviet Union. But the Cold War ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in 1991, and everything changed.

The Swedish government reconsidered its position in the following years and outlined it in the carefully crafted phrase of a "policy with a European identity" and the weakened "non-participation in military alliances during peacetime, aiming at making neutrality possible in the event of war" (Bjereld, p. 192). The Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt declared neutrality to no longer be "a concept that correctly described the fundamental line in Swedish foreign policy" (Weibull, p. 139). Sweden joined the EU in 1995, but she does not want to get involved in any military cooperation. Still, it has become common that Swedish forces operate together with NATO units in maneuvers and peacekeeping missions. In 2000 they changed their motto yet again and removed any reference to neutrality, now it's "Sweden does not participate in any alliance".


(1) Bjerefeld, Ulf: Sweden's foreign policy after the end of the Cold War - from neutrality to freedom of action"; published in Lindahl, R. and Sjöstedt G. (ed.), New Thinking in International Relations. Swedish Perspectives, 1995
(2) Weibull, Jörgen: Swedish history in outline, 1993

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