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Title: Norway's relations with belligerent powers in the First World War
Author: Riste, Olav
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1963
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The thesis represents an attempt to relate and analyse the relations between neutral Norway and the major belligerent powers in the war of 1914-1918. Part 1 consists of an introductory survey of the position of neutrality as a legal status at the outbreak of war, illustrating the illusoriness of trying to regulate the position of neutrality without some measure of foresight into the nature of the coming conflict. The main body of the thesis is chronologically arranged and divided into two parts - Part II and Part III - roughly corresponding to the first and second halves of the war period. The belligerent measures that directly affected Norway, and most othar neutral states as we11, were the attempts of the two parties to interrupt commercial intercourse with the enemy. On the psrt of the Central Powers this aim was chiefly pursued through tue use of mines and submarines The Entente, by their ability to control oversees supplies to the neutral nations around the North Sea, sought to obtain the desired effect through agreements with the neutrals, achieved by economic pressure. The development of the measures referred to was rather slow and hesitant, and their effect on the political relations between the belligerents and Norway did not attain considerable dimensions until after the middle of 1916. Part 11 opens with an account of the foundations of Norwegian foreign policy, as it developed during the nine years between the dissolution of the union with Sweden and the outbreak of the First World War; a period marked by concentration on internal tasks and issues and a consequent lack of concern for international affairs. Also described is the strategic situation of Norway as the constellations of the war were formed at tbe beginning of August 1914, as well as the immediate steps taken by the government to avoid involvement. The economic warfare of the belligerents began on a modest scale through German mine-laying and Allied attempts to control neutral trade with Germany through the visit and search of merchant ships. The resulting inconveniences to neutral trade led the Scandinavian countries to attempt a closer co-operation in defence of their common interests. ln February 1915 the Germans attempted to institute a blockade of the British lsles by submarine. It was met with protests from the neutral governments and its extent was soon reduced both for this reason and because the submarines were insufficient for a blockade of the intended dimensions. The German declaration however provided a point of departure for more extensive Allied measures to prevent trade with the enemy. By using their command of the seas and their control over overseas supplies they sought to convince or press the neutrals to co-operate with their methods of economic warfare. Norway, highly vulnerable to pressure both against her imports and her shipping, was thus gradually brought to acquiesce and in particular to allow agreements to be signed between the British Government and private Norwegian business interests. So far the Entente's economic pressure on Norway was aimed mostly at preventing re-export to Germany of goods received from overseas. Late in 1915, however, the first attempts were made to obtain control of the trade in the country's own products. Germany had by then already shown an increasing interest in the products of the Norwegian fisheries. These functioned mainly on supplies and tackle received from foreign sources under the control of the Entente, and in the sumiaer of 1916 the British by using this control as well as the promise of a purchasing agreement got the Norwegians to consent to a severe reduction in fish exports to Germany. At about the same time the British Government also obtained Norway's agreement not to export her valuable copper and pyrites except in exchange for equivalent amounts of refined copper, most of which could only be obtained via Britain. Both these agreements had been arranged with the connivance of the Norwegian Government, and resulted in radical cuts in German imports of goods that were vital to the German war effort. The political conflicts that ensued from the conflicting demands of the belligerent parties form the subject of the more detailed account in Part III of the thesis, covering the period 1916-1918. In the autumn of 1916 Norway's relations with Germany, already severely tested by the reduction in Norwegian exports, were brought to a critical point as a result of the activities of German submarines in tha Arctic Sea. Replying to public outcries against the sinking of several Norwegian merchant ships, the Norwegian Government by decree banned submarines from territorial waters, and a German protest was followed by strained re- lations through the autumn and winter months. At the same time exports of fish and pyrites from Norway to Germany led the British Government to suspect that a deal had bean arranged in violation of Norway's obligations to Britain. Failing a satisfactory explanation the British Government atopped coal exports to Norway, and bitter exchangee ensued. The crisis between Norway and the two main belligerents was only solved in February 1917. With Germany an understan- ding was reached on the basis of a temporary arrangement of trade relations together with certain changes in the submarine decree. The situation concerning the Anglo-Norwegian dispute had in the meantime been altered by the start of the unrestricted submarine campaign. Tha coal embargo was lifted after the Norwegian Government had agreed to suspend further pyrites de- liveries to Germany. The traffic across the North Sea was now resumed, but with enonormous casualties due to the German submarines. In order to prevent continued losses the Norwegian shipowners with the knowledge of the Norwegian Government arranged with the British for a transfer of tonnage, mostly on charter basis, to British and allied service. The situation in the wake of the submarine campaign, together with other incidents during the spring and early summer of 1917, led to another critical period in German-Norwegian relations. At times the British Government thought a breach was imminent, and appealed for American promises of co-operation if necessary to assist Norway. The crisis, however, passed soon after a coincidental exchange of German envoys at Kris- tiania. To Norway, the main significance of America's entry into the war was the possibility that the blockade might be strengthened, so as to endanger Norwegian imports from the United States. The Norwegian Government sent a Mission of prominent negotiators to Washington, but negotiations were complicated on the Allied side by American suspicions that the British intended to press Norway beyond limits considered by Washington as safe and on the Norwegian side by persistent German pressure against accepting terms that meant too severe restrictions on German imports from Norway. Only after a new Norwegian declaration of neutrality had been issued could a precarious balance be reached, and the trade agreement with the United States was then signed in April of 1918. The final crisis for Norwegian neutrality came in August 1918, when after long preparations the Allied navies were nearing completion of a mine barrage between Shetland and the Norwegian coast. To prevent the German submarines from bypassing the barrage the British Government demanded the mining of adjoining Norwegian sea territory, either by the Norwegian or the Allied navies. After circumspect diplomatic preparation the Norwegian Government at the end of September announced that the minefield would be laid by Norwegian naval vessels.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: World War ; 1914-1918 ; Economic aspects ; Neutrality ; Norway