Innocent Blood: The Struggle Of Small Neutrals To Preserve Their Neutrality In Wartime

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West Point Press
Why strong states may choose paths toward war is widely studied, but less powerful states have far less agency over their fates when it comes to involvement in conflicts. The truth is, war between major powers threatens with great devastation and sorrow even those countries who have no direct stake in the conflict. Yet, although small neutral states are often dragged into wars between powerful countries, not all are. What factors pull these “small neutrals” into wars sometimes and allow them to avoid wars at other times? By mining existing scholarship concerning small states and the spread of wars, this article delineates eight unique factors situated across three levels of analysis assumed to determine the ability of small neutrals to avoid getting dragged into larger states’ wars. However, seeing a gap in the literature, this article argues that a ninth phenomenon should be added to this list: how individuals within large states are critical to the fates of the small neutrals. The perspective of one individual in a large state may lead to war for a small state, whereas the perspective of another may lead to peace. Through a case study, this article demonstrates how large states’ leaders each uniquely understand the interaction of all of the variables confronting them, a fact that spared neutral Belgium in 1870 from a Franco-German war and doomed it to another in 1914.
Adam Bollt graduated from The Clarkson School and Potsdam High School in Potsdam, New York, in 2020. During the pandemic, he took a gap year and extensively studied languages and history. He was a Civil War reenactor and bugler for the 118th NY. He published a paper in the St. Lawrence County Historical Association Quarterly (LXIV, no. 3, 2019) and currently serves on the Board of Trustees at the Potsdam Public Museum. He will attend Brown University in the fall of 2021. Adam may be reached at
Political Science and Security Studies
Bollt, Adam. “Innocent Blood: The Struggle Of Small Neutrals To Preserve Their Neutrality In Wartime.” West Point Journal of Politics and Security 1, no. 1 (2021): 47-56.