740.00112 European War 1939/7599a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Chargé in Sweden (Greene)

26. Your recent telegrams regarding the Swedish position with respect to the release of the unarmed Norwegian merchant vessels at Göteborg and other related matters indicate that Swedish officials may not have grasped the full implications of our conversations with Boheman2 and our developing attitude toward Sweden’s continued acquiescence in German demands. Subservience to Germany in the case of certain of these demands is not only in derogation of strict Swedish neutrality but also is of benefit to an enemy in whose defeat all freedom-loving peoples, including the Swedish, should have a vital interest.

We believe that a candid exposition of our views may assist responsible Swedish officials to get a proper perspective of this problem as we see it. Accordingly, you should arrange to call on the appropriate Foreign Office official and acquaint him with the substance of this telegram. You may leave a paraphrase in the form of an “oral statement”.

In the final analysis the determining factor in our relations with Sweden during the war must be the degree to and manner in which Sweden is prepared to and does resist Axis demands which are contrary to Sweden’s rights as a neutral and independent democratic nation.

We fully recognize that past events, military and otherwise, made it seem expedient for Sweden to acquiesce temporarily in the imposition by Germany of certain servitudes, such as, for example, transit of German troops, movement of German artillery through Swedish territory, et cetera. We cannot be expected, however, indefinitely to continue to accept the pleas of expediency and force majeure as excuses for giving in to Germany in such matters. We now regard [Page 740] Swedish position as strong enough to enable her to assert her rights vis-à-vis Germany and to assume her full obligations to us as a neutral and sovereign nation. Our confidence in Sweden’s present strength is based not only on the sturdy independence of the Swedish people and their demonstrated willingness to assume the heavy burden of maintaining strong defensive armed forces but also on such factors as the potent weapons at Sweden’s disposal to enforce German respect of Swedish rights—such weapons, for example, as Sweden’s ability to withhold important iron ore supplies from Germany.

If Sweden should give concrete evidence of her determination to stand up for her rights against Germany and to use the weapons at her disposal to that end, then it is our intention to recognize that Sweden has established a moral claim to participate in the distribution of the available pool of supplies and to include an allocation for Sweden in the distribution programs which are increasingly being put into force. (Details, of course, must be worked out in the negotiations which we hope will shortly take place in London pursuant to our conversations with Boheman.) While the amounts which could be so allocated admittedly may in many instances appear small, this is due to the fact that the total supply is much below total demands and all participants in the supply pool are being forced to accept heavy sacrifices. However, the necessity for such sacrifices by the United Nations may in itself be taken as a measure of the value to be attached to the allocation of a share to Sweden.

At the present time Sweden’s action with respect to the two unarmed Norwegian merchant vessels constitutes something of a criterion by which we may judge the extent to which Sweden is prepared to enforce her rights vis-à-vis Germany. In our view, it is Sweden’s clear right, if not an obligation as a neutral, to permit the departure of the two Norwegian ships and we are fully justified in expecting Sweden to exercise that right. As we understand it, the Swedish Government hesitates to permit the departure of the vessels from fear of German retaliation in the form of cutting off the Göteborg traffic. We feel it only fair to say that we would find difficulty in avoiding the conclusion that Swedish refusal to permit the ships to depart must be regarded as acquiescence in Nazi demands and therefore indicative of a defeatist attitude at a time when, as set forth above, we consider Sweden has never been in a stronger position to resist Germany.

If, however, Sweden should by its action in the matter of the Norwegian ships show a courageous determination to stand up under German pressure, such action would be a gauge by which we might estimate the real intention of Sweden to resist German aggression in all fields and the resulting atmosphere of basic understanding and [Page 741] sympathy between Sweden and the United States would be such as to make us entirely confident of reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement on the details of the trade and other problems to be discussed in London.

Foregoing has been discussed with British Embassy here.

Repeat to London as No. 159 for information of Minister Johnson3 and Canfield.4

  1. Erik C. Boheman, Secretary General of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  2. Herschel V. Johnson, American Minister to Sweden, temporarily in London.
  3. Cass Canfield, member of the Board of Economic Warfare Overseas Mission on Trade Relations with Sweden.