Neutral Nations in World War II

Neutral Nations in World War II

Choosing Neutrality: Spain, Sweden, Switzerland


Although most European countries chose to support either the Allies, or the Axis Powers in World War II, a handful remained neutral for various reasons. Often those reasons were economic and political. In addition to the few European nations, most Latin American countries also countries also chose neutrality in World War II.


Learning Objectives

  • Identify the nations which were neutral durling all or part of World War II, explain the reasons for the neutrality of each, outline the course of the neutrality of each, and assess the historic impact and significance of the neutrality of each.


Key Terms / Key Concepts

Francisco Francoa Spanish general who ruled over Spain as a dictator for 36 years from 1939 until his death (He took control of Spain from the government of the Second Spanish Republic after winning the Civil War, and was in power until 1978, when the Spanish Constitution of 1978 went into effect.)

Thirty Years War: a series of wars in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648, growing out of the Protestant Reformation

NATO: an intergovernmental military alliance signed on April 4, 1949 and including the five Treaty of Brussels states (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom) plus the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland

Warsaw Pact: a collective defense treaty among the Soviet Union and seven other Soviet satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War




Although Spain was under the fascist government of General Francisco Franco, it remained neutral during the Second World War. Neither the Allied nor the Axis Powers in the European Theater relished the prospects of opening another front in order to force Spain into action. Moreover, after the Spanish Civil War Franco’s fascist government was in no position to participate in the war as a belligerent.

At the beginning of World War II,  Franco had considered joining the Axis Powers, but his demands for an alliance with Germany proved too much for Hitler. Franco favored Hitler’s and Mussolini’s governments ideologically and believed that Italy and Germany that would protect Spain.

Through 1943 the Allies treated Franco’s government delicately.  The Allies provided Spain with the food and raw materials needed to keep its economy running. In return, Franco’s government did not threaten British access to Gibraltar on the southern tip of Spain. British possession of Gibraltar allowed the Allies to maintain control over the Mediterranean Sea and win the Battle of the Atlantic against German U-boats. Both were necessary for Allied victory in the European Theater.


Map of Countries in World War II.  The dark green represents the Allies from 1939-1945. The light green represents the Allies from 1941-1945, the blue represents the Axis, and the gray represents the neutral nations.




Geography, iron ore deposits, and the imperatives of the Allied Powers and Germany were the reasons for Swedish neutrality. Ideologically Sweden supported the Allies, but with the German conquest of Denmark and Norway in the spring of 1940; and because of its own small military at that time, Sweden had to accept neutrality and even provide Germany with iron ore.

As the Allied war effort progressed against Germany after 1944 and as the Swedish military grew more powerful, the Swedish government acted more assertively in dealing with a weakening Germany. This included denying German military demands in the last year of the war. After WWII, Sweden maintained its neutral and non-aligned orientation in the Cold War.




Swiss neutrality was guaranteed in part by its mountainous geography, which served to partially isolate it from its neighbors. Switzerland had been neutral in the First World War and had a tradition of neutrality in European wars going back to the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century. In addition, Switzerland had a small but effective military, which would have made conquest by either side costly. Despite these advantages Swiss leaders feared a possible German invasion throughout the war 

Both sides tolerated Switzerland as a venue for covert intelligence operations and secure banking transactions. Throughout the war refugees streamed into Switzerland, including Jews escaping Hitler’s genocide, members of the French resistance to Hitler’s occupation of France, and various groups of partisans from Italy. After the war Switzerland continued its policy of neutrality in the Cold War between NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact alliance. 

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