The Armed Neutrality Paradox: Sweden’s Dependence on U.S. Military Technology and Arms Transfer during the Cold War

During the Cold War Sweden professed to a policy of neutrality that meant that the government aimed for neutrality in war through non-alignment in peace. The Swedish government opted for so-called armed neutrality; a strong Swedish defense would make neutrality in wartime both credible and plausible. While a lot of the armaments that was to fortify the small Scandinavian neutral were of domestic origin, a large part simply had to be imported. This large-scale technology transfer came from Britain and, after 1952, mainly the United States, and has previously been viewed as largely unproblematic and apolitical by historians. However, I argue that this trade was highly political in both intent and content, and that the Swedish government implicitly acknowledged this by not importing any arms from the Soviet Bloc. The Western bias in Sweden’s arms technology purchases in fact made the non-alignment policy much less credible in both the East and the West. The Swedish case is thus a paradox-armed neutrality demanded external connections that risked the very credibility it was intended to secure. In order to remain non-aligned Sweden had to align with the West.

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