Neutral Countries in World War I

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  • 0:00 What Is A Neutral Country?
  • 1:35 Perfectly Neutral
  • 2:27 Neutral But Invaded
  • 2:59 Imperfectly Neutral
  • 3:20 Sided But Non-Participating
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

In this lesson, you'll learn what a neutral country is and how the neutral countries of World War I, including Switzerland, Belgium, and Venezuela, fared in the fighting and trading that took place during the war.

What Is a Neutral Country?

The word neutral means you don't take sides. In a war, it's reasonable that you can't take an army or its supplies into a neutral country or recruit from there. That's all true, but there are also many things a neutral country can do that aren't exactly neutral. It can hide refugees or prisoners-of-war for instance. Neutral countries can also sell weapons and transport the wounded. Also, a country is still considered neutral if it is invaded and its military fights back.

However, what it really means, or is supposed to mean, is that a neutral country cannot be attacked or even threatened by either side in a war, but is free to help whichever side it chooses. Think of it like a competition between two computer companies, each undercutting the other for lower prices and better products, with the people and business of Silicon Valley being neutral in the competition. They sell to both sides equally or help one company over the other without actually getting involved.

During World War I, many different countries remained neutral in a variety of ways. Some countries were perfectly neutral and didn't side with either the Allies or the Central Powers, though some of these were still invaded. Others were neutral but favored one side over the other. Still, others took sides but behaved as though they were neutral and some took sides but didn't participate in the fighting in any major way.

Perfectly Neutral

Let's take a look at some examples for each of these scenarios.

Switzerland had declared its permanent neutrality in 1815 and wasn't invaded during the war. In fact, its location and neutrality made it the perfect place for both sides to go for loans and diplomatic meetings. Switzerland was also a famous place for information gathering during the war. Denmark, Monaco, and Sweden were also perfectly neutral European countries.

In Central and South America, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, and Paraguay were perfectly neutral. In Africa, it was Ethiopia that wouldn't take sides. Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Mongolia were some countries in Asia that never declared war, making them perfectly neutral as well.

Neutral But Invaded

The countries of Europe at the start of World War I
Neutral Europe

Several countries declared their neutrality but were invaded anyway. Belgium was neutral at the start of the War, but the French put up an impenetrable wall along their German border, and the only way the Germans could circumvent it was by going through Belgium. The Belgians offered the Germans free passage in an official government document, but the Germans tossed away the 'scrap of paper' and occupied the country anyway. Albania and Luxembourg are two other examples of neutral countries that were also invaded by the Central Powers.

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