A non-belligerent is a person, a state, or other organization that does not fight in a given conflict. The term is often used to describe a country that does not take part militarily in a war. The status is non-existent in international law.[1]

A non-belligerent state differs conceptually from a neutral one in that it may be actively supporting one side or the other in a war but without actually fighting in it. A classic example of this is the United States in World War II before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Lend-Lease Act of 1941 saw the United States provide the United Kingdom "all possible assistance short of war" in the words of Winston Churchill, but they remained a non-belligerent state in the war until the end of that year, when Adolf Hitler declared war in support of Japan. Other examples include Italy from September 1939 until June 1940 and Spain until late 1943, when the former joined the war with Germany and the latter quietly adopted a formal state of neutrality.[1] "Non-belligerent" also describes Sweden's stance during the Winter War, the Soviet assault on Finland in 1939. More recent examples are the positions of the United States and Peru during the Falklands War and that of The Netherlands during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was described by politicians as "political support, but no military support".

"Non-belligerent" may also be used to describe a person not involved in combat or aggression, especially in a situation where combat or aggression is likely. Thus in a situation of civil unrest, such as a riot, civilians may be divided into belligerents, those actually fighting or intending to fight, and non-belligerents who are merely bystanders.


  1. ^ a b Payne, Stanley G. (2008). Franco and Hitler. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12282-4. 

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