Armed neutrality

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As armed neutrality efforts of one or more States is generally considered his neutrality thus armed and independence to defend (eg. Switzerland or Sweden ) - as opposed to unarmed neutrality, the price usually a demilitarization in return a recognition of independence by Third is.

In European history there have been at least two special cases in which the powers bordering the Baltic Sea tried to protect their maritime trade during Franco-British disputes through a Nordic coalition officially known as "armed neutrality", especially between Russia, Denmark and Sweden.

First "armed neutrality" 1780–83

In 1778 France had allied itself with the 13 colonies in North America fighting for independence from Great Britain and thus enabled the turning point in the US War of Independence . In response, Great Britain tried to cut off France and Spain, which had been allied with it and the USA since 1779 , with a naval blockade - not only to prevent enemy supplies to North America, but also by preventing trade between France and Spain with its own To exert economic pressure on colonies overseas as well as with third parties. The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Prussia and Russia in particular suffered from the hindrance of trade with France and the landing of merchant ships from neutral states, while Britain's ally Portugal in particular suffered from the hindrance to trade with Spain.

The Russian Empress Catherine II therefore passed a declaration in 1780 that claimed the right to free trade and announced that she wanted to protect Russian and neutral merchant ships by force of arms. Prussia, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal followed suit. The Danish Foreign Minister Andreas Peter von Bernstorff , who hurried to assure Great Britain that neutral resistance to British privateering was not a hostile act and thus aroused Russia's displeasure , now also emerged as a pioneer of an armed neutral trade policy . The result was an informal, formally neutral defensive alliance to protect trade, but in fact an alliance of states directed primarily against Great Britain, which thus exercised benevolent neutrality towards France . The Netherlands, a supporter but not a formal member of the league, became increasingly involved in the Franco-Spanish-British conflict from 1780 ( Battle of the Dogger Bank ) and also allied with the USA.

Since Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and Russia, as sea ​​powers at least united over Great Britain, had rudimentary fleets of war, a short pirate war led to a stalemate. After Great Britain and France, Russia had the third largest fleet, at least quantitatively, and patrols were undertaken together with Danish and Swedish warships. The consequence of the stalemate was that Great Britain recognized the free trade of the neutral states, if not formally, but at least accepted it in fact. With the Peace of Paris (1783) between Great Britain, France, Spain and the USA, the conflict over the award right was ended for the time being, in 1784 the Netherlands also made peace with Great Britain. By 1783 Austria, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and even the Ottoman Empire had agreed to the principle of armed neutrality.

Instead, a war broke out in 1788 between the former coalition partners Russia and Sweden . Denmark initially sided with Russia, but stopped its attacks on Sweden in 1789 under pressure from Great Britain, the Netherlands and Prussia and declared itself neutral. After the peace agreement, Sweden's King Gustav III allied himself . even with Russia, Prussia, Austria and Great Britain against France, which had become a republic through the revolution. However, after Gustav's assassination in 1792, Sweden remained neutral, while the Netherlands in 1795 and Spain in 1798 rejoined the war against Great Britain on the French side. Despite the Franco-American treaty of alliance, the USA declared itself neutral in 1793 and even hijacked French ships.

Second “Armed Neutrality” 1800–1801

As the successor to his father, the next Danish Foreign Minister, Christian Günther von Bernstorff , also tried to maintain an armed neutrality during the coalition wars against revolutionary France . Because of the war that broke out again between France and Great Britain in 1793, Denmark and Sweden renewed their neutrality pact in 1794, and from 1798/99 there were trade conflicts between Denmark and Great Britain and incidents at sea.

Bernstorff was encouraged in this policy by Katharina's son and successor on the Russian throne, Paul I , when he left the coalition of opponents of France because of a dispute with Great Britain over Malta in 1800. Together with Denmark, Sweden and Prussia, which had also withdrawn from the war in 1795 and rejoined the League of Armed Neutrality in 1800, Paul demanded that Great Britain surrender Malta and respect the trade of neutral states with France, and even threatened to do so if one did continued British blockade and capture policy, the Russian fleet occupy the Azores (belonged to Great Britain's allies Portugal) and from there in return to have British ships in the Atlantic. British ships in Russian ports were confiscated, Denmark refused British warships entry into the Baltic Sea.

In the spring of 1801 a British fleet was sent to the Baltic Sea, which reached the Danish capital unmolested by Russian warships stationed in Jever and sank a large part of the Danish fleet in the sea ​​battle off Copenhagen . In the meantime Paul had been murdered in Petersburg. His son and successor Alexander I showed no interest in further hostilities against Great Britain. Armed neutrality collapsed.

Although the Peace of Amiens was signed between France and Great Britain in 1802 , war broke out again in 1803. After Prussia, which was neutral in 1805 during the Franco-Russian-Austrian war despite an alliance with Russia and Austria, was defeated in isolation from France in 1806, Great Britain feared that neutral Denmark would soon fall into French hands and looted another attack on Denmark in 1807 the hastily re-armed Danish fleet. Because of the catastrophic effects of his policies, Bernstorff was forced to resign in 1810.

Sweden, which had initially also adhered to armed neutrality, had joined the anti-French alliance under British pressure in 1805 and remained allied with Great Britain even after the Russian-Austrian and Russian-Prussian defeats. After another Russian change of sides, Tsar Alexander invaded Finland with French support in 1808, and another Russian-Swedish war broke out.

Third “Armed Neutrality” 1854–55

Karl Marx saw the diplomatic efforts of the Tsarist Empire during the Crimean War as a continuation of the Russian policy of isolating Great Britain through armed neutrality and at least neutralizing the Baltic Sea and thus protecting Petersburg . While Russia faced an alliance made up of France, Great Britain, Italy (Sardinia) and the Ottoman Empire, in 1855 Prussia, Sweden and Denmark again declared “armed neutrality” to protect their trade with Russia, thus effectively adopting a favorable attitude towards Russia. However, they did not prevent British warships from entering the Baltic Sea and shelling Russian ports.

Austria took an opposing position of armed neutrality. It deployed troops on the border with Russia and the contested Danube Principalities and thus pursued a de facto anti-Russian policy of benevolent neutrality towards the Allies.


Despite the failure of the second Nordic coalition for the protection of neutral trade it had come to a compromise in 1801, the principles for naval warfare until about the "Unrestricted submarine warfare were increasingly used worldwide" in World War I: The Dutch claim "Neutral Flag protects enemy property ... " the British condition " ... except banned goods "was added. Great Britain recognized the right of neutral states to trade freely with opponents of war, but insisted on a ban on trade in contraband or war-essential goods and reserved the right to control merchant ships.


  • Johann Eustach von Görtz : The secret history of the armed neutrality. Together with memoirs, official letters & state-papers, illustrative of that celebrated confederacy. Never before published . J. Johnson and R. Folder, London 1792.
  • Carl Bergbohm: The armed neutrality 1780–1783. A phase of development of international law in naval warfare . Puttkammer & Mühlbrecht, Berlin 1884, p. 134 f . (Also: Dorpat, University, dissertation, 1883).
  • Erwin Beckert, Gerhard Breuer: Public maritime law . de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1991, ISBN 3-11-009655-2 , p. 327 .
  • Robert Christian van Ooyen: Swiss neutrality in armed conflicts after 1945 (= European university publications. Series 31: Political Science. Vol. 203). Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1992, ISBN 3-631-45207-1 (at the same time: Bonn, University, dissertation, 1991).
  • Wilhelm G. Grewe (Ed.): Fontes Historiae Iuris Gentium. = Sources for the history of international law. = Sources relating to the history of the law of nations. Volume 2: 1493-1815. de Gruyter, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-11-010720-1 , pp. 543f.
  • Harm G. Schröter: History of Scandinavia (= Beck'sche series 2422 knowledge ). CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-53622-9 .
  • Enciclopedia Microsoft Encarta 2004: Liga de la Neutralidad Armada

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