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Activism, Diplomacy and Swedish–German Relations during the First World War

Michael Jonas
From the journal New Global Studies

Abstract

The main hypothesis of this article contends that unofficial, informal, private, or alternative variants of diplomacy are by no means a recent phenomenon, but rather belong to the key, indeed constitutive elements of traditional aristocracy- and court-based diplomacy. In order to illustrate the continued effect of unofficial or semi-official diplomatic networks on the perception and making of policy I use the example of the relations between neutral Sweden and the German Empire during the First World War. It is here, enabled by the neutral abstention of Sweden from the conflict, that politics and diplomacy most effectively preserved their function and even enhanced their significance, while increasingly obscuring the delineation between the official and the unofficial, almost to the point of rendering such distinctions useless.

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  1. 1

    The argument is certainly not new, but has been reinforced by recent developments in the study of international relations and their history. For an excellent overview see Mösslang and Riotte (2008), especially Otte (2008); on the context see, among others, Hamilton and Langhorne (2010, 91–140); Anderson (1993, 103–48).

  2. 2

    James’ definition was recently taken as a point of departure for a generally splendid collection of essays on the cultural history of nineteenth-century diplomacy. See Mösslang and Riotte (2008, 1); James (1980, here 937) (my emphasis); for a stimulating recent attempt to re-read international relations through diplomacy and diplomatic activity cf. Sharp (2009).

  3. 3

    Oredsson (2001, 88); see also Sturfelt (2011, here 108); On neutrality and especially Scandinavian neutrality during the First World War see Salmon (1997, 118–68); Kruizinga (2013).

  4. 4

    Horne and Kramer (2001); Hull (2008). Hull is preparing a comprehensive study on the subject entitled The Struggle for International Law in the First World War, which considers the German case and its perception in depth. On Scandinavian perceptions see Salmon (1997, 118–29, 146–59); Hannemann (2011, 40–49); Ahlund (2012).

  5. 5

    Even the Swedish government’s declaration of neutrality on 4 August 1914 was accompanied by contradictory indications, further aggravated by the agitated reporting of the German minister to Stockholm, Franz von Reichenau. See the classic work of Carlgren (1962, 33–47, especially 39–40).

  6. 6

    Dean Ascheson’s description of Britain’s disorientation in the post-war period, delivered in a speech at West Point, 5 December 1962, captures the sentiments among the Swedish elites rather aptly.

  7. 7

    Besides Carlgren (1962), the definite account of the Activist movement is Schuberth (1981, 31–39). Part of my argument is derived from Schuberth’s expert diplomatic historical narrative. On the persistence of Swedish great power delusions see Oredsson (1993, 335–36).

  8. 8

    On the insistence of Hjalmar Branting, the pro-Entente leader of the Swedish Social Democrats, both were expelled from the party in the wake of their involvement with the Activists’ programmatic pamphlet Sveriges utrikespolitik i världskrigets belysning (1915), the so-called aktivistboken, became apparent. Järtes fascination with German social democracy is evident in, among others, his August Bebel som socialpolitiker (1914). Larsson, one of Sweden’s foremost urban planners, had studied in Germany, among others with Hugo Preuß, whose ideas of localised government and city planning influenced his later schemes significantly. See Anderson (1965, 167–68); Larsson (1977, 60–61, 74–77) (with an impressive description of a social democrat’s conception of pro-German Activism); Franzén (1986, 138–52). The changing historiographical assessments of the German Empire are well reflected in Kroll (2013).

  9. 9

    See generally Carlgren (1962, 47–53), who defines Germany’s pre-war Nordic policy as based on the principle of “quieta non movere”, aptly capturing Berlin’s strategic interests in preserving the status quo in Scandinavia, which allowed for, firstly, the concentration of the war effort at the Western front and, secondly, the continued import of essential goods from overseas, largely unchecked by the British blockade.

  10. 10

    In his memoirs, the pre-war Reich Chancellor, Bernhard von Bülow, depicts the State Secretary as “physically and intellectually equally small”; cf. von Bülow (1930/31, 13). Frederic von Rosenberg, German Foreign Minister in the early 1920s, remembers him as a “subtle political thinker” without the necessary robustness for the office; see “Erinnerungen des Botschafters Frederic von Rosenberg,” in Becker (2011, 237–309, here 266). On Jagow see as well Hürter (1994, here 222–25); Hampe (2001, 89).

  11. 11

    On Lucius see, in detail, Schuberth (1981, 27–30).

  12. 12

    National Archives (Kew), Foreign Office (henceforth NA, FO) 371/1225: Political: Sweden Files 147-24927: 1911: Spring Rice to Grey, 23 January 1911.

  13. 13

    NA, FO 371/1225: Political: Sweden Files 147-24927: 1911: Minute, 4 February 1911.

  14. 14

    Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes (henceforth PA, AA): R 11179: Schweden 42: Allgemeine Angelegenheiten Schwedens: Jagow to Reichenau, 13 March 1914; Schuberth (1981, 21–26); Carlgren (1962, 73–75). With some justification, Carlgren hints at the possibility that Reichenau’s removal and subsequent dismissal seems to have somewhat domesticated his successor Lucius and the ministry’s staff. On Reichenau’s background and political mentality see recently Neitzel (2013).

  15. 15

    With a blatant lack of foreign political vision, Zimmermann seems to have been as ill-suited to the post as his predecessor. Kurt Riezler, Bethmann Hollweg’s chief foreign political advisor, describes the new State Secretary as “much weaker” than Jagow, despite Zimmermann’s alleged “briskness”. Cf. Riezler (1972, 22 November 1916, 383); Hürter (1994, 225). On Zimmermann’s sympathy for the Activist cause see Schuberth (1981, 107–34). Carlgren (1962, 109–110).

  16. 16

    The literature on what Rudolf Nadolny, one of the foremost Eastern specialists of the Wilhelmstraße, has labelled the German “Patenschaft” (German for godparenthood respectively sponsorship) of Finnish independence is vast: see, for an overview, Apunen (1968a, 1968b); Menger (1974, 17–63); Kesselring (2005); Biewer (1994); Kuisma (2010).

  17. 17

    PA, AA: R 2173: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, vol. 2/2: Großes Hauptquartier to AA, 30 December 1917 and 11 January 1918; ibid., R 10168: Rußland 63 Nr. 1 secr.: Die Ålandinseln, vol. 8: Großes Hauptquartier to AA, 5 March 1918; symptomatic Ludendorff’s alleged remark that the emergence of an independent Finland would have to be considered as the “only fully satisfying result of the World War.” Cited in Jonas (2011, 176).

  18. 18

    In the face with Wallenberg’s difficulties vis-à-vis Activist agitation the British minister to Stockholm, Esme Howard, only observed wryly: “Unfortunately all Swedes are not as intelligent as M. Wallenberg.” Cf. NA, FO 371/2754: Political: Scandinavia (War) Files 7907-212676: 1916: Howard to Grey, 11 September 1916. On the wider context see Carlgren (1962, 34–47, 112–22).

  19. 19

    Schuberth (1981, 49–58, 92–106), who describes multiple Activist campaigns against both Lucius and Wallenberg in depth.

  20. 20

    Cited in Schuberth (1981, 62), on the context cf. 172–74.

  21. 21

    Further examples in, among others, PA, AA: R 11298: Schweden 56 secr: Die Stellung Schwedens im Falle eines Krieges. Neutralitätsfrage: Lucius to AA, 8 March 1915, 9 April 1915; ibid., R 2172: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, vol. 1/2: Lucius to AA, 5 October 1917; ibid., Gesandtschaftsakten Stockholm: Ges. Stockholm S II 14: Ålandinseln (Geheim), vol. 1 (Box 132): Lucius to AA, 19 February 1918. See as well Schuberth (1981, 59–69, 91, 109–18); Riezler (1972, 14 January 1918, 454–55, as well 93); Koenen (2005, 80–81, 98–110).

  22. 22

    The subsequent remarks are strongly indebted to Schuberth’s minute reconstruction of the Activists’ traveling diplomacy in Berlin; cf. Schuberth (1981, 39–48, 89–91).

  23. 23

    On Wetterhoff, a controversial character even among Finnish Activists, not least for his homosexuality and politics, see Menger (1974, 44), who interprets Wetterhoff’s manifold contacts to Berlin’s decision-making elites as an indication of the “interest leading political, military and business circles had in revolutionising Finland”. Cf. as well Apunen (1968b, 120–21); Kesselring (2005, 45–112); Mustola, Kati & Pakkanen, Johanna (toim.): Mustola (2007).

  24. 24

    Carlgren (1962, 102–05), speaks of “pilgrimages”, 141; Schuberth (1981, 40–41).

  25. 25

    Steffen’s assessment of the situation, however, seems to have been more complex than the regular Activist agitation in Berlin; cf. Schuberth (1981, 41–48); Carlgren (1962, 122–23, 139–40).

  26. 26

    PA, AA: R 10167: Rußland 63 Nr. 1 secr.: Die Ålandinseln, vol. 4: Lucius to AA, 12 May 1916.

  27. 27

    PA, AA: R 11299: Schweden 56 secr: Die Stellung Schwedens im Falle eines Krieges: Neutralitätsfrage, vol. 1: notes Bethmann Hollweg’s, 20 July 1915 respectively 3 August 1915 (Taube’s memorandum attached); Carlgren (1962, 143–58).

  28. 28

    PA, AA: R 2172: Deutschland 135 Nr.18: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, vol. 1/2: note on remarks by Swedish military attaché Adlercreutz, 17 September 1915, in which Adlercreutz states Lucius would not “feel with the seriousness of purpose of a German”. Cf. as well Schuberth (1981, 52), who cites Molin’s damning verdict of Lucius as “personally debased, uneducated and ignorant, with his main interests related to affairs of the stomach and sexualia.”

  29. 29

    PA, AA: R 2172: Deutschland 135 Nr.18: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, vol. 1/2: memorandum Castrén’s to Zimmermann, 17 November 1917; ibid., note (i.e. summary of allegations against Lucius), 23 January 1917.

  30. 30

    PA, AA: R 2172: Deutschland 135 Nr.18: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, vol. 1/2: Grünau to AA, 18 November 1916 (cit. “violate our interests”); ibid., R 2173: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, 1 December 1917–September 1919, vol. 2/2: Royal Prussian Minister to Württemberg, Eisendecher, to Hertling, 10 December 1917 (cit. “distrust”); cf. as well Carlgren (1962, 249–50); Schuberth (1981, 55–58, 105–06, 154).

  31. 31

    PA, AA: R 10167: Rußland 63 Nr. 1 secr.: Die Ålandinseln, vol. 4: Lucius to AA, 12 May 1916.

  32. 32

    The increasing probability of Lucius’ removal, especially in early 1917, can be easily glanced from the amassed complaints and rather advanced plans for his replacement: PA, AA: R 2172: Deutschland 135 Nr.18: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, vol. 1/2: among others, notes by Zimmermann and AA, 21 respectively 23 January 1917, Matthias Erzberger an AA, 13 March 1917, who suggests Grand Admiral Tirpitz for Lucius’ succession, Eisendecher to AA, 30 June 1917, who prefers Admiral Hintze; cf. Schuberth (1981, 99–106, 114–17, 122–25).

  33. 33

    PA, AA, Gesandtschaftsakten Stockholm: Ges. Stockholm S II 14: Ålandinseln (Geheim), vol. 1 (Box 132): Lucius to AA, 11 January 1918.

  34. 34

    Symptomatic, besides the cited examples, the instruction of Under Secretary of State Hilmar von dem Bussche-Haddenhausen Lucius should not use his reporting to politicise, but instead concentrate on the most essential information of the central office in Berlin; cf. PA, AA: R 2173: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, vol. 2/2: Bussche to Lucius, 14 March 1918. For an in depth analysis, see Schuberth (1981, 99–106, 114–17, 122–25).

  35. 35

    Both missions are covered by Carlgren (1962, 131–37, 213–29); Schuberth (1981, 44–45, 65–69).

  36. 36

    Even after the War, the influential Warburg continued to protect Lucius. See PA, AA: R 2173: Gesandtschaft Stockholm, vol. 2/2: Warburg to AA, 11 February 1919; ibid., Gesandtschaftsakten Stockholm: Ges. Stockholm S II 14: Ålandinseln (Geheim), vol. 1 (Box 132): Lucius to AA, 19 February 1918 (cit. “futile”).

  37. 37

    The phrase is taken from a private letter, dated 26 June 1915, by the Swedish diplomat in Berlin, Hans Henrik von Essen, to the head of the Swedish foreign ministry’s press department, Torvald Höjer, in which Essen complains about the counter-productive effect of the Activists’ private diplomatic initiatives; see Carlgren (1962, 141); as well Schuberth (1981, 47).

  38. 38

    The primary result of this was Stieve’s translation and edition of the “aktivistbok”: Schwedische Stimmen zum Weltkrieg: Übersetzt und mit einem Vorwort versehen von Friedrich Stieve (1915).

  39. 39

    Cited in Schuberth (1981, 73), on Stieve 70–85. Stieve’s biography continued to gravitate between the poles of historiography and diplomacy. After a 4-year stint as German minister to Riga, he became in 1932 the head of the newly established Cultural Department (Department IV) of the AA and chief archivist of the Politisches Archiv. Throughout the inter-war period, Stieve published a number of largely völkisch works on German history and propaganda pamphlets, not least for Swedish consumption. Cf. Biographisches Handbuch des deutschen Auswärtigen Dienstes 1871–1945, vol. 4, ed. Amt (2012, 359–61).

  40. 40

    The term polycracy is derived from interpretations of the nature and structure of the Third Reich. Structuralist historians such as Wolfgang Mommsen and Hans-Ulrich Wehler have, however, applied this approach rather fruitfully to the analysis of the Wilhelmine Empire. Cf., among others, Hüttenberger (1976); on National Socialist foreign policy decision-making see Schmidt (2002, 121–27); for the Wilhelmine Empire cf. Wehler (1973, 69–77); König (2009).

  41. 41

    Cf., among others, Bosworth (1983); Torrey (1966, 1973, 3–29); Hall (1996); for more recent interpretations of the outbreak of war in 1914 see Afflerbach and Stevenson (2007); as well the much-debated contribution by Clark (2012).

  42. 42

    Isaiah Berlin, “Mr Carr’s Big Battalions,” review of Carr (1961) New Statesman 63 (January–June 1962), 15–16. Rather similar Michael Oakeshott’s criticism, who spoke in response to Carr’s 1961 Trevelyan Lectures of history as a success story as “abbreviated history.” Cf. Oakeshott (1950–51).

Published Online: 2014-4-5
Published in Print: 2014-3-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin / Boston