Two days after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Britain và France declared war on Germany, & World War II erupted. Dozens of countries, still recovering from the horrors of World War I, tried lớn remain neutral to lớn avoid invasion & more bloodshed.

But a declaration of neutrality did little khổng lồ insulate countries from the conflict if they were geographically desirable. “The fact that the coast of Norway straddled the North Sea made it an area of critical importance to both Great Britain & Germany,” says Dr. David Woolner, Marist college professor & author of The Last 100 Days: FDR at War & Peace. “It was this fact that led lớn the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940, và to the British decision to intervene in the neutral Danish territory of Iceland shortly thereafter.”

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It was true for other countries as well—including Belgium and the Netherlands, both of which had declared their neutrality prior khổng lồ the war. Their neutral status made little impression on Adolf Hitler, who ordered his forces lớn invade both states as part of his attack on France in May 1940. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, Estonia và Latvia in June.

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This enabled Soviet leader Joseph Stalin lớn expand power, Woolner explains, và create a buffer between the USSR và Germany.

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“In short, staying neutral in an ever-expanding war proved virtually impossible for these nations,” he says.

The United States, protected by two vast oceans, however, stayed neutral for more than two years despite finding ways khổng lồ help the Allies. It officially entered the war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Countries That Claimed Neutrality Throughout the War

Only 14 countries remained officially neutral throughout the entire war. They included Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia và Afghanistan as well as the microstates of Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, San Marino & Vatican City.

But even those states that managed to lớn stay out of the war, such as Sweden và Switzerland, found their ability to maintain strict neutrality hampered by the intensity of the conflict, Woolner says. The result, he adds, is “they played a somewhat ambiguous—and still controversial—role in the war.”

A seminal 1998 U.S. State Department report helped dispel the myth that there was any standard khung of neutrality, citing that the neutral countries continued trading with the Allied & Axis forces, sent troops to lớn offer military assistance, & allowed one side or the other access to its territory.