The Countries That Remained Neutral In WWII

By Antonia Čirjak on July 4 2020 in History

Lancaster bombers from Battle of Britain in World War II.
Lancaster bombers from Battle of Britain in World War II.
  • Although more than fourteen countries tried remaining neutral throughout World War II, many decided to join in the war inspired by different events.
  • Vatican City is the only country that was explicitly forbidden to join in the war by the Lateran treaty which ordered the Pope to always remain neutral.
  • Many microstates chose to remain neutral, possibly because their impact in the war would not be big enough to matter.

The countries that remained neutral during World War II are referred to as the neutral powers. For the most part, these countries had plenty of economic power and many colonies abroad. These countries did not take an official side during World War II. The main reason for doing that was to avoid attacks from the countries that took part in the war. Spain just went through a civil war months before the start of World War II. Some of these countries did end up helping the Allies by sending help through voluntary brigades. These countries were Sweden, Switzerland, and Portugal.

On the other hand, Spain tried its best to avoid the Allies and favored the Axis. The United States is a special example of a country that remained neutral until midway through the war. They officially joined the World War on December 8th, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Countries That Tried To Remain Neutral

Out of all the countries that remained neutral, only one was required to stay that way by law, and that was Vatican City. The country signed the Lateran treaty with Italy in 1929, and according to it, the Pope needed always to remain neutral when it came to international relations. Some countries tried to remain neutral but ended up being invaded after all. Denmark and Norway were both invaded by Nazi Germany on April 9th, 1940, followed by the invasion of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium on the following day. 

World War II fighter airplanes in flight
World War II fighter airplanes in flight.

On the same day, April 10th, the British forces invaded Iceland, and they managed to establish an occupying force there. Further east, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were invaded by the Soviet Union in June of 1940. Other countries that were also attacked during this period were Yugoslavia and Iran. Most of these countries lost their neutrality once they were attacked and joined the war in one way or another. Only fourteen countries remained neutral throughout the entire war. 

The Completely Neutral Countries

Ireland was one country that remained neutral throughout World War II, which was a decision made by the Irish Parliament. Despite several air raids by the German forces, the country managed to remain neutral until the end of the war. Although Portugal was officially neutral, it did keep a close relationship with the United Kingdom, since they did have a long-lasting alliance. The country also allowed the United States to use one of its secret military bases, which violated its neutrality. As we already mentioned, Spain tried to maintain neutrality for the majority of the war. However, they did help the Axis forces but turned neutral again once the Allies started winning the conflict.

American soldiers on Field of Second World War Battle.
American soldiers on Field of Second World War Battle. 

Like all of the Nordic countries, Sweden planned to remain neutral throughout the war. However, when the Soviet Union invaded Finland, Sweden changed its status from neutral to non-belligerent. Since international laws do not officially recognize this status, the country could support Finland freely, while technically remaining neutral.

Later on, Swedish intelligence helped the Allies by cracking a German code and sharing the decrypted information. Switzerland also maintained complete neutrality for the sole reason of protecting its banking interests. Still, Swiss soldiers would sometimes open fire on Axis forces, mostly the bombers that were invading the airspace. Adolf Hitler was planning to occupy Switzerland, but the military thwarted his plans that the country managed to amass. 

Other countries that remained completely neutral throughout the war include Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Vatican City, which are all microstates who could not make a difference in the war, and Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. Out of these countries, Saudi Arabia maintained an official stance of neutrality, but it did help the Allies by providing them with oil. Turkey was also neutral until the very end of the war when it joined the Allies, although Turkish troops never actually entered combat.

More in History