The Perils of Scandanavia

By Julius Moritzen

[The North American Review, February 1917]

After withstanding, for two years and a half, blandishments and threats and acts of provocation, the Scandinavian countries find themselves face to face with the most momentous period of the Great War in its relation to the neutrality declarations of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Will Scandinavia be able to maintain this neutrality for any considerable length of time? There are those whose judgment counts for much who declare it little less than a miracle that the northern nations are not by this time involved in the European struggle. A matter scarcely less remarkable is the fact that in spite of Norway and Denmark leaning toward the Entente Allies, and Sweden quite outspokenly in favor of Germany, their interests as neutrals in the northern waters so far have overtopped every other consideration. Scandinavia's united front, as based on the Malmö agreement, unquestionably went far toward pausing the belligerents to respect the neutrality of the three nations up to the present time.

Recent events, however, have such direct bearings on Scandinavian affairs that their importance cannot be over-estimated. First of all, the German submarine campaign, as directed against Norwegian shipping, constitutes a serious menace quite beyond the mere destruction of ships and cargoes and loss of life involved. The situation passed the danger mark only when Norway, goaded to a point where she refused to permit U-boats to enter territorial waters except under restrictive conditions, had to modify her opposition because to insist threatened the severing of diplomatic relations. But the German-Norwegian submarine controversy is by no means at an end. And the British Cabinet changes, involving the expectation that Lloyd George's policies will call for an intensified prosecution of the war both on land and water brings home to Scandinavia the possibility that there will soon come a repetition of the Jutland sea fight with the English fleet the aggressor, and even nearer the coasts of the northern lands. The consequences of Great Britain's determination to win the war at all costs must be left to the imagination.

While much has been made recently of a change in Swedish sentiment, Germany's submarine campaign in the Baltic having proved disastrous to Sweden's merchantmen engaged in trade with Russia, it would be well not to place too much confidence in this change as favoring the Entente cause. It is quite true that the Stockholm press, including some of the most pro-German newspapers of the capital, have stamped the U-boat warfare as now conducted in the Baltic as an "incomprehensible aggression." But Sweden is still very far from being reconciled to Russia as a friendly neighbor. If the die were cast to-day there is hardly any question as to where the Swedish people would stand. Between the two evils—and war would be to any of the Scandinavian nations an unmitigated misfortune now—Sweden undoubtedly would throw in her lot with the Central Powers.

As a matter of fact, diplomacy having proved a failure in the Balkans in so far as concerns the Entente Allies, no serious attempt to make it effective elsewhere is likely to be made from this date on. Force, and force alone, will be the decisive means. The writer is of the opinion that, notwithstanding the Malmö conference between the three Scandinavian kings, and the subsequent meetings between the ministers of foreign affairs of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the northern pact is not sufficiently binding to place all Scandinavia in alignment with either of the belligerent groups in case the one or other nation becomes involved. As Sweden has least to gain from falling out with Germany, so Norway might calmly arraign herself on the side of England and rely on the British fleet to fight her battles for her. As for Denmark, her position as a buffer state is such that it imperils the nation.

Scandinavia's prosperity as a result of the prolongation of the war is as certain a fact as is danger that this very prosperity is a constituting cause to the perils confronting Denmark and Norway, and to some lesser extent Sweden. The sinking of Norwegian and Danish ships by German submarines in the North Sea and the Arctic Ocean is a result of Germany's determination to impede as much as possible shipments of food and ammunition to Great Britain and her Allies. The Teutonic Powers, further, are exasperated beyond expression because importations into Denmark and Norway are regulated through agreements with England which stipulate that certain products sold to Danish and Norwegian houses can under no circumstances be re-exported to Germany. On their part Denmark and Norway enter the complaint that this English restriction often leaves them without sufficient raw products for home consumption. The plentitude of money in Scandinavia rather points in the direction of a state of affairs where the war is blowing both cold and hot. Evidently the selling power of the Scandinavian countries is far from being impaired. If sky-rocket prices obtain for necessities in the northern lands, it is because both England and Germany are willing to pay abnormally for all sorts of products.

The Roumanian campaign has been watched from the Scandinavian capitals with no slight amount of apprehension. So long as Denmark, Norway and Sweden were essential to the Central Powers as valuable sources of supply, it seemed the best policy to base trade relations on friendliness. In the case of Denmark and Norway, however, there is no denying that the transactions were without the least show of sentiment. We have the goods, the Danes, for instance, say. If you do not buy at our figures, we shall sell to England.

But here is Roumania in the grip of the Central Powers. Vast granaries are said to be in the hands of the conquerors; oil and coal and iron abound in the land. Is it not possible, argue sagacious financiers of Copenhagen, that very soon the Germans will care little for what we can sell them? When Danish agricultural products no longer are as necessary to the Teutonic Powers as when the Balkan campaign was incomplete, what effect may this have on the military policy of von Hindenburg, as he contemplates what David Lloyd George may have in mind regarding the campaign in the west?

The Scandinavian outlook is far from reassuring. It is not at all surprising that Denmark, Norway and Sweden sent identical notes to the belligerents in support of President Wilson's request for information. The answer of the Entente Allies to Germany's peace proposal scarcely suits Scandinavia, which believes that another year of war will undo all she has done for the maintenance of her neutrality. On the other hand, whatever may be the attitude of the American Government in its relations to the warring nations, there is reason to believe that it will shape also the course of Denmark and Norway. Here again it would be unwise to include Sweden, even though she, like her sister nations is a party to the identical Scandinavian note. The Swedish problem in reality is one that calls for separate solution. Malmö conferences and ministerial meetings notwithstanding, the writer cannot conceive it possible that Swedish sentiment would sanction anything that would aid Russian expansion in any direction.

And yet there is just one possible chance that Sweden may be made to view her Muscovite neighbor in a different light. It is in regard to Finland. Of course, a recovery of this onetime Swedish province is not considered likely, but a change of policy by Russia regarding Finnish nationality may do much toward appeasing the uneasiness of the Swedes. With Belgian, Serbia and Polish nationalism of such great concern to the belligerents, why not come to a definite understanding touching Finland? is Sweden's query.

Now that the neutral nations have assumed an attitude of mediation, let the ultimate effect of this move for peace be what it will, it is not impossible that when negotiations finally get under way these neutrals will succeed in getting themselves heard at the council-table. Then may be the time for Finland to take her grievances before the unbiased opinion of the world. That the Finnish question is also a Scandinavian question there can be no doubt. It is entirely proper to consider the future of Finland in relation to the world-war and what is to come later.

We may as well be honest with ourselves and confess that the silence that encompasses the Finnish problem now is due to a distinct desire not to embarrass the cause of the Entente allies. That may be a good policy from the standpoint of expediency, but, historically considered, such an attitude has its flaws. Since this terrific conflict of the nations is expected to settle any issues of long and vexatious standing, why not make it all-embracing enough to benefit a people which deserves a much better treatment than has been accorded it in the past?

In view of the Entente Allies' respect for the treaty rights of small nationalities, at least a promise should be held out to Finland that at the conclusion of the war she will have restored to her the constitutional rights guaranteed by both the predecessors of Nicholas II and the Czar himself. Perhaps the hands of Great Britain have been tied by virtue of an alliance that compels the strictest adherence to principles of understanding making for a successful prosecution of the war. But Russia ought to realize, without any foreign pressure being brought to bear, that when, early in the war, she promised autonomy to Poland, she would have been a gainer had she at the same time relaxed her legislative efforts to make of Finland a complete nonentity. It is not pleasant to refer to what some may argue bears not at all on the merits of the cause for which the Entente Allies stand. But, looking into the future, which all constructive writing must do at this juncture of the gigantic struggle, no element should be overlooked that may aid in clarifying the reasoning power of public opinion.

The Manchester Guardian some months ago contained a strong protest against the published Russian programme regarding Finland. It was in the form of a letter by the London editor of the Afton-Tidningen, of Stockholm. The writer regretted the course Russia was following regarding Finland, and he blamed the German propaganda in Scandinavia on the reactionary nationalism practised on the Finns. The Swedish "Activist" movement for participation in the war on the side of Germany almost became a success owing to the Finnish situation. History alone will tell what pressure Scandinavia as a whole has withstood in order to keep out of the European maelstrom. It is not yet too late for Czar Nicholas to play a trump card by promising to give Finland what she asks for—the restoration of the regime that was in force prior to the date of the celebrated manifesto of February, 1899, together with the modifications contained in the new laws extending the competence of the Finnish Diet in 1906. There is every ground for insisting that in case the neutral nations are to have a voice in the peace negotiations they must not consider the positions of any so-called oppressed peoples without according to Finland a share of sympathetic and material support. A wholly satisfied Europe will demand that nothing less be done.

There is a well-defined belief in informed European circles that in case England had gone to the assistance of Denmark in the war of 1864, Schleswig-Holstein would not have been ceded to Prussia, and that, further, the present world-war would have been avoided. Be that as it may, it is quite certain that the foundation stone upon which Bismarck built the German empire was the war with Denmark. The Austrian war of 1866, and the overthrow of France four years later, completed the military structure of the Germany that the Iron Chancellor left as a heritage to the people of the empire, Now, the Kiel Canal, linking up the Baltic with the North Sea was possible of accomplishment only when Denmark lost the southern provinces, forming two-fifths of the Danish Kingdom. The Danish grievance, however much time may have healed the wound inflicted half a century ago, is that there has never been a settlement of the duchies question. The treaty of peace between Prussia and Denmark stipulated that fifteen years after the transfer a vote should be taken among the Danish population of Schleswig with a view to ascertaining whether they should remain German of become again Danish subjects. But Clause 5 of the Treaty of Prague was later abrogated through the Treaty of Berlin. No plebiscite was ever taken.

Does Denmark expect that when the general settlement of European affairs takes place, the Schleswig-Holstein question will be allowed to ask a hearing? There are various opinions among leading Danes as to what may be anticipated in that direction. Georg Brandes, the noted critic and scholar, believes that the matter can be determined only by a referendum, the people of northern Schleswig themselves voting whether they want the change. To acquire the duchies on any other basis, Brandes affirms, would be most ill-advised, and eventually lead to discord, if not war. The population of Holstein and the southern part of Schleswig are absolutely German, and these would never willingly submit to a change of nationality, is the opinion of the Danish authority.

It is hardly necessary at this late day to reiterate what has been Germany's policy regarding Schleswig. Perhaps it would be just a matter of common justice to put into effect Clause 5 of the Treaty of Prague in order to complete the programme of the Entente Allies relative to what is due the smaller nations, and such of their former subjects as are now under foreign rule. Will Germany of her own volition order a plebiscite for northern Schleswig? Is it the purpose of the Entente Allies to press the question around the peace board? Denmark is making no move toward that end now, satisfied if she retains her sovereignty under conditions that threaten her very existence should she make one false step at this fateful hour.

Since the inception of the war, Germany has kept closet watch over the frontier separating her from Denmark. Despite Danish neutrality declarations, the Central Powers have been on guard against surprise attacks by way of the Jutland peninsula. The old fortresses in the former Danish territory were strengthened early and everything possible done to safeguard the Kiel Canal. The greatest peril to Denmark lies in a possible invasion of the country from the south in order to prevent a hostile landing on Danish soil with a view to destroying the ital artery affording German was vessels free passage between the Baltic and the North Sea. Once this is gone, Germany's strength will be sapped beyond repair, according to the best military and naval opinion. With the Kiel Canal obliterated England's predominance as a sea power would be even more complete than it is now.

The mining of northern territorial waters by the Scandinavian nations, as well as the further mining of the Baltic and the North Sea by the belligerents, constitutes no less a menace than a protection to the respective interests. To make effective their neutrality, Denmark, Norway and Sweden probably have done everything humanly possible considering their limited resources as military nations. Violation of Scandinavian soil will never be accomplished without a determined struggle to make the invader pay dearly for his effort. It is to be hoped, that the three northern rulers and their advisers, who heretofore have exercised no slight skill as between Scandinavian interests and the belligerents, will continue to steer the ships of fate safely past the shoals and rocks that lie in the pathway of neutrality so long as the war lasts. If Denmark, Norway and Swede come out of this warfare themselves unhurt, it will be a demonstration of what can be done under circumstances the most remarkable since Napoleon rode across the Continent.

Aside from the dangers threatening Scandinavian neutrality, however careful the nations of the north may be in the observance of international amenities, a situation has been created within the countries themselves which constitutes a peril of far-reaching consequence. A speculative wave, caused by the creating of innumerable stock companies, has been sweeping across Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The influx of money has indeed been tremendous. It was a wholly unlooked-for thing that Scandinavia should assume such importance as an industrial and mercantile center at the service of the belligerents. But these comparatively small countries have displayed a power of productiveness really marvelous. Outputs have been quadrupled as compared with conditions prevailing before the war. As wages have risen to unheard-of proportions, so the cost of living to-day is beyond all former calculations. But there is money in circulation in unlimited quantities; the banks are overflowing with newfound wealth; the era of prosperity is such that most people in Denmark and Norway, in particular, shut their eyes as to what will come when the war ends.

For stock companies, many of the mushroom variety, flourish like the proverbial green bay-tree. The bourses of Copenhagen and Christiania have become centers for a trade in shares that remind one of Wall Street. It is to be remembered that before the war, stock transactions in Scandinavia were largely of the investment character. To-day, speculation is rampant, and paper is being absorbed quicker than the printing presses can furnish the newly organized companies with certificates. Shipping concerns, canning factories, machine works, many of them, it is true, of sterling worth, have increased their capital legitimately. But it is not these that constitute the danger within the countries of the north. It is the establishments of the paper variety; those whose promises rest on little more than the agitation of the hour, the desire for making money overnight. Here is a menace that Scandinavian financiers with foresight are working with might and main to combat lest the financial changes due to arrive with the establishment of peace overwhelm the countries. A situation, has been created, therefore, quite analogous to that in the United States. Only, Americans have become accustomed to taking chances. The Scandinavia, on the other hand, the novelty of making money without direct effort is likely to be followed by a void so uncomfortable that the predictions are freely made that sudden peace would prove to the speculative element of the north, a catastrophe of vast dimensions.

The Governments of the three Scandinavian countries have not been idle in view of what may impend air any time. Warnings have been issued from time to time against indiscriminate buying of shares the solidarity of which is problematic. A particularly popular form of enterprise is that of fishing concerns. A few trawlers are bought, and at once the newspapers are floated with advertisements inviting subscriptions. But, of course, there are great concerns antedating the war by many years, whose earnings have been tremendous within comparatively recent times.

Now, if it were possible to remove the present and future menace due to inflation and speculative greed, Scandinavia stands to gain much from the establishment of peace from the point of view of world-trade. There is a solid element in Denmark, for instance, which, is now at work preparing for the moment when the war shall end. Let the consequences to the unwary be what they may, men of the caliber of M. Emil Glueckstadt, one of the leading bankers of Copenhagen, who, in association with other prominent financiers, has organized a trans-Atlantic shipping and trading company with a capital of 15,000,000 kroner are not likely to make a mistake in anticipating great things for Denmark at the-conclusion of the war. South America is to be included in the extensive programme mapped out by this Danish enterprise. And the Copenhagen Free Port, already of such importance to the country's trade and industry, is to be enlarged forthwith to meet the increased demand for steamship space.

So, while the perils of Scandinavia are very great to-day, a bright future awaits these neutral countries should they be able to weather the storms raging without. Is it any wonder that such strenuous efforts are being made by the respective Governments to retain the good will of all the belligerents? Scandinavia counts on being called upon to aid in rebuilding devastated Europe, with goods, with money; both morally and materially, Denmark, Norway and Sweden look for strained relations between the present warring Powers for years after the war ends. The go-between will be an essential step before anything approaching pre-war conditions is established.

Viewed as a whole, the Scandinavian horizon is not without its bright spots. Politically considered, the international times are out of joint. But a reorganized Europe, based on equity and justness, cannot fail to leave Denmark, Norway and Sweden as they are to-day. The war has been the means of strengthening a bond whose foundation is due to both racial and geographical sameness. The rulers of the three countries built perhaps much better than they thought when that Malmö conference established a common basis to serve a common purpose. Of course, as already stated, a violation of Scandinavian sovereignty at any point could hardly prevent the northern alliance from falling asunder. But, as its purpose is good, perhaps the moral aspect of this union of related peoples will cause the belligerents to respect Scandinavia's neutrality throughout the war.

If, as has been declared, Socialism is to play a conspicuous role in the restoration of peace in Europe, the voices of the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Socialists will be heard with full effect when the hour for negotiations arrives. The Socialistic régime in Denmark has assumed a strength calculated to make a deep impression throughout the Old World. President Wilson found Danish Socialists in entire harmony with his move for a stock-taking of belligerent claims.

All this, however, is quite beside the issue of the moment—early peace, or war for an indefinite length of time. Each day makes the situation of the northern neutrals more fraught with danger. As yet the new British policies have not been put into effect to any noticeable degree in the theaters of war contiguous to Scandinavia. When once Lloyd George acts, the future will be more easily defined.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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