Between the devil and the deep blue sea: The Netherlands, neutrality and the military in the Great War, 1914-1918
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
According to the historian Nils Orvik, the Great War witnessed the decline of neutrality as a valuable foreign policy for small European states. The Netherlands was no exception and faced the daunting task of upholding its neutrality whilst resisting pressure from the two belligerent powers flanking the country (Germany and Britain). Neutrality entailed more than maintaining friendly relations with warring states, it also involved upholding strict standards of impartiality and territorial integrity. The roles played by the armed forces to this end were vital. The Dutch anned forces mobilised with the purpose of protecting neutrality and, if that proved impossible, defending against invasion. It quickly became apparent that the two aims were mutually exclusive - neutrality required dispersion of troops, while defence asked for concentration. The war years only heightened the inadequacies of the armed forces to fulfil both tasks, as they were unable to maintain techonological parity with warring states. By 1918, the emphasis for the military was on maintaining neutrality, in all its multifarious forms. By that time, its tasks extended well beyond the expectations of 1914, focusing not only on defence and territorial integrity, but also on policing smuggling, interning foreign soldiers, administering municipal affairs in the "state of war" and "siege", and helping to preserve public order. The Netherlands managed to stay neutral during the war, but mainly due to the wishes of the belligerents, rather than its own actions. Nevertheless, the military's involvement in neutrality matters helped preserve its non-belligerency. By 1918, however, the armed forces were less able to protect neutrality than in 1914: they were not strong enough to act as a deterrent to invasion; and there were not enough soldiers to meet required neutrality obligations in the face of increasing demands from the belligerents. The Netherlands' saving grace was that, during 1918, neither warring side could afford the resources to wage war on another front. While neutrality was safeguarded, by the signing of the Armistice, it ceased being the attractive foreign policy that it had seemed to be in 1914.