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The Art of Staying Neutral

The Art of Staying Neutral: The Netherlands in the First World War, 1914-1918

Maartje M. Abbenhuis
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    The Art of Staying Neutral
    Book Description:

    The Art of Staying Neutral offers a fascinating insight into the problems and challenges associated with neutrality in an age of 'total war'. It explains how the Netherlands upheld and protected its non-belligerency during the First World War despite constant interference from its warring neighbours. Staying neutral was an artform that the Dutch managed to master through clever diplomacy, conscientious adherence to international laws, comprehensive mobilisation of its armed forces, regular patrols of its territorial boundaries, careful policing of its citizens, and a decisive measure of good fortune. The Art of Staying Neutral makes important contributions to the study of neutrality and the domestic history of the Netherlands in this seminal world event. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0393-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. List of Tables, Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 11-12)
  5. Preface
    (pp. 13-16)
    Piet de Rooij
  6. Introduction: The War Knocked on Our Door, It Did Not Step Inside: The Netherlands and the Great War
    (pp. 17-22)

    Throughout the continent, Europeans met the coming of war in August 1914 with excitement, fear, and agitation. This was as true for residents of a small, neutral country in the northwestern corner of Europe as it was for the inhabitants of nations who were to fight and die by the millions. For over four years, the Dutch lived in the shadow of a war that was being waged violently in nearby Belgium and France. Throughout that period, they feared an invasion, mobilised the army and navy, and many prayed that their neutrality would be safeguarded. And it was. But neutrality...

  7. Chapter 1 A Nation Too Small to Commit Great Stupidities: The Netherlands and Neutrality
    (pp. 23-38)

    The essence of neutrality is the avoidance of war, namely, the avoidance of involvement in the wars of others. But despite its deceptively simple definition, neutrality is not a homogeneous concept. It has changed meanings over the centuries, reflecting the concerns of states adopting it as their foreign policy and those desiring to challenge its validity. Neutrality has a long history going back as far as the sixth century BC when Milesians abstained from supporting either Ionian Greece or Persia.² During the Middle Ages, it was common practice for warring parties to refrain from sinking ships of countries not involved...

  8. Chapter 2 A Pack of Lions: The Dutch Armed Forces
    (pp. 39-60)

    The Dutch armed forces – army, navy and air branch – were responsible for security and defence. They were also responsible for protecting the country’s international neutrality obligations ‘on the ground’. Proclaiming neutrality alone, of course, could not guarantee independence in wartime. Measures had to be put in place to protect the integrity of both land and sea borders, to supervise cross-border traffic, and to deal with any breaches of neutrality. At the same time, military preparedness was essential in case neutrality failed and one of the Netherlands’ neighbours invaded. In line with developments in other European states, the Dutch...

  9. Chapter 3 Api Api: The Mobilisation: July-August 1914
    (pp. 61-76)

    On 28 June 1914, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian militant. Rumours of war breaking out between Austria-Hungary and Serbia were rife after the assassination, plunging the already unstable Balkan region into turmoil. However, on the other side of Europe, in the Netherlands, the death of Franz Ferdinand caused little dismay. The Balkans had survived crises of similar magnitude before without causing serious repercussions elsewhere. In what should be seen as a reflection of its lack of concern, the Dutch government gave Snijders three weeks’ leave in July to holiday in Denmark and...

  10. Chapter 4 Calm Amidst the Raging Waves: Defending Territorial Neutrality
    (pp. 77-94)

    There are several ways in which states can declare their neutrality during wartime. In 1914, the Dutch government chose the most formal, it issued a declaration of neutrality for every pronouncement of war, to which were attached binding rules and conditions. Each declaration outlined the Netherlands’ neutrality obligations.² But the regulations were not all-encompassing. They focussed almost exclusively on external violations that could threaten national security and defence. Other, less pressing, neutrality concerns, such as censorship and contraband, received scant mention in the regulations. Of course, internal and economic neutrality violations were harder to safeguard and more ambiguous by definition;...

  11. Chapter 5 Fugitives of War: Refugees and Internees
    (pp. 95-116)

    Neutral countries offer attractive destinations for victims of war and conflict. The Netherlands during the Great War was no exception; it witnessed a major refugee crisis when, during the German siege of Antwerp in October 1914, around one million Belgians fled northwards across the Dutch frontier, increasing the population of the Netherlands by one-sixth virtually overnight. Alongside these civilian refugees, military personnel from various foreign armies, from various directions, and for various reasons also sought sanctuary in the Netherlands during the war. These soldiers, sailors, and airmen presented a potential threat to the territorial integrity and neutrality obligations of the...

  12. Chapter 6 Shifting Sand and Gravel: Military and Economic Neutrality
    (pp. 117-138)

    According to the historian Nils Ørvik, the ‘essence of the neutral problem can in fact be compressed into one gross oversimplification”, namely the complicated matter of trade.¹ A major reason why European states adopted neutrality in the nineteenth century was the commercial benefits it provided in wartime. The Declaration of Paris in 1856 was one of the first international laws that recognised the immunity of goods aboard neutral ships.² It also legalised the principle of contraband, and, thereby, restricted neutral trade only in terms of ‘articles destined for a belligerent state which are useful for the conduct of war and...

  13. Chapter 7 Somewhere Between War and Peace: The States of War and Siege
    (pp. 139-156)

    TheOorlogswet(War Law) of 1899 provided that in time of war, or when war threatened, the government could declare that parts of the country were in astaat van oorlog(state of war) orstaat van beleg(state of siege).² In both the ‘state of war” and ‘state of siege”, military authority overruled local civil authority, with the powers granted in the ‘state of siege’ decidedly more comprehensive than those of the ‘state of war’. The extraordinary emergency powers assigned to the armed forces enabled them to take almost any action required to safeguard the security of the nation...

  14. Chapter 8 Ash-Grey with Neutrality: Safeguarding Neutrality in the State of Siege
    (pp. 157-176)

    The ‘state of siege’ existed to protect the country’s neutrality. As a consequence, much of what the military did within ‘state of siege’ areas was justified in terms of neutrality and national security. Neutrality had as much to do with protecting the country from external threats as it did with presenting an appropriately ‘neutral’ face to the world. In this respect, how the Dutch behaved as a people and as individuals influenced how strongly the government could proclaim the country’s neutrality. The government was unable to prevent its citizens from participating in ‘unneutral’ activities, like smuggling, and this was significant....

  15. Chapter 9 The War for Bread and Guns: Supply and the Fate of a Small Nation
    (pp. 177-198)

    The duty of any armed force is to prepare itself for a military invasion. The complicating factor in the Dutch strategic directives of 1911 and 1913 was that the armed forces were to protect the country’s neutrality alongside maintaining the best defences. Obviously, in 1914, they mobilised with both ends in mind.² However, the war would prove that armed defence and armed neutrality were incompatible strategies. Rather than maximising the security of the nation, the needs of neutrality overshadowed the equally pressing demands of defence and, ultimately, witnessed the decline of the country’s defence capabilities. By the close of war...

  16. Chapter 10 No More War! The Furore over Leave and Demobilisation
    (pp. 199-218)

    During the first few months of war, the Dutch feared an invasion and were willing to do almost anything to protect their country: supporting the mobilisation, billeting soldiers in their homes, and accepting emergency military budgets in parliament without objection. However, once the western front became deadlocked late in 1914, the threat of invasion seemed to pass, and many believed it unnecessary to remain fully mobilised. Despite widespread interest in the war, the population did not on the whole understand the intricacies and hazards of neutrality politics, nor did many comprehend why it was necessary to keep soldiers, sailors, and...

  17. Chapter 11 This Dreary War: Expressions of Popular Frustration
    (pp. 219-236)

    By 1917, war weariness had set in; most Europeans were thoroughly tired of the conflict, a sentiment that contributed to the onset of the Russian revolutions; numerous protests, riots, and strikes in Germany; and a burgeoning international peace movement. The Dutch were similarly frustrated, a clear indication of how ubiquitous the war experience had become, affecting neutrals and belligerents alike. The supply situation was dire in the Netherlands during the last two years of the war. This certainly contributed to a sense of impending social crisis. There were several outbursts of public anger and dismay in 1917 and 1918. In...

  18. Chapter 12 All Hell Has Broken Loose: The Year 1918
    (pp. 237-260)

    The first eleven months of 1918 marked the pinnacle of wartime crises for the Netherlands and witnessed the culmination of its neutrality compromises. Between January and May of that year, the Netherlands came closer to becoming a belligerent than at any time previously or subsequently in the conflict. The requisitioning of Dutch ships by American and British authorities in March, followed by Germany’s threatening stand on the transport of sand and gravel demonstrated that the danger of war was all too real. The exclamation by H.T. Colenbrander in February 1917 rang even more ominously a year later: ‘all hell has...

  19. Conclusion: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The Paradox of Neutrality
    (pp. 261-268)

    Between 1914 and 1918, the Netherlands remained neutral. But it could not escape unscathed from the war waged on its doorstep. The Great War challenged and impeded upon many of the concerns which neutrality was supposed to safeguard for the Dutch, including their economic stability, sovereignty, defence, and security. In the period 1917-1918, the domestic economy slowed down, trade slumped, links with the colonies were cut, and the population dealt with severe shortages of essential goods. In these last two years of the war, the government came under considerable pressure from both belligerent sides to give in to their demands,...

  20. Appendices
    (pp. 269-280)
  21. Illustrations Credits
    (pp. 281-282)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 283-352)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 353-404)
  24. Index
    (pp. 405-424)