Book Review: Small Powers in the Age of Total War, 1900-1940


by Herman Amersfoort & Wim Klinkert, editors

Leiden/Boston: E. J. BRill, 2011. Pp. xii, 372. Notes, index. $176.00. ISBN: 9004203214

By the early Twentieth Century the trend among Western countries to codify the law of war, protect the rights of neutrals, and promote a more peaceful world seemed to have made great progress.  This belief was put to the test with the outbreak of the World War of 1914-1918, which, following additional rounds of international conferences and agreements, was followed little more than twenty years later by a Second World War that almost destroyed any notion of international order.  Small Powers in the Age of Total War, a volume in Brill’s series “History of Warfare,”examines the experience of neutrals in the era of the world wars.

The fourteen essays collected by editors Amersfoort and Klinkert, both Dutch university professors who also teach military history at the Netherlands Defence Academy, emerged from a 2008 conference held in the Netherlands on the problems of the neutral northern and central European powers in the period of the world wars, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland .  Opening essays address the evolution of the idea of “neutrality”, with a look at the notable role of the U. S. in the development of the concept in international law, and at “European Hopes for Neutrality Before 1914”. 

Individual essays then examine the Swiss, Norwegian, and Dutch cases during World War I, and German plans for war with Denmark and Switzerland.  For the interwar period, there is an essay on German defense in the 1920s, which is followed by essays on the evolution of Norwegian, Dutch, Belgian, and Swiss policies and defense measures in the hope of maintaining neutrality through to the eve of World War II, including questions of air defense, rearmament, and fortification, plus an essay on the problem of the Netherlands Indies. 

Small Powers in the Age of Total War, 1900-1940 is an important work serious students of war and neutrality.


Reviewer: A. A Nofi, Review Editor   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close