Neutrality on the Move – A Concept of the 19th Century for the 21st Century? 

By Wolfgang Zecha

Reviewed by Mag. Jürgen Kotzian, Sprachinstitut des Bundesheeres


Although the practice of a neutrality law had been developed over more than 500 years, the core points of it were established during the 19th century. Originally, the term neutrality occurred at the end of the 14th century. It was deduced from the Latin expression “ne uter – none of both” and originally meant the non-participation and non-involvement in specific wars.1) 500 years ago, in 1515, after the battle of Marignano, the Cantons that later formed Switzerland, decided to stay neutral in future wars and started to develop a neutrality practice. One of the first persons to write down regulations of warfare was the Dutchman Hugo Grotius, author of “De Jure Belli ac Pacis“2). This practice was interrupted by the Napoleonic Wars and the Swiss Cantons were integrated into Napoleon’s supremacy. After Napoleon had been defeated at Leipzig and Waterloo, the Viennese Congress in 1815 decided to give back neutrality to the Swiss Cantons, following a declaration of the Swiss Cantons from March 20th 1815. In November 1815, by the Treaty of Paris, Switzerland’s permanent neutrality status was recognized by the big powers of that time: Great Britain, France, Russia, Prussia, and the Habsburg Monarchy. At that time, the rights and obligations had not been completely fixed. But during the “age of neutrality”, these core elements were determined and formed after the ideas and principles laid down in the Grotius book, the Paris Treaty, and the Brussels Treaty of 1874.

The Laws of War and the Neutrality Law

The “Land Warfare Regulations” were written during the conferences of The Hague in 1899 and 1907 and annexed to the Hague Conventions; the 5th annex laid down the rules of neutrality law. Following this annex, neutrality in general only exists in wartime. The practice of neutrality policy was formulated following the policy Switzerland had practised since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. On the one hand, the core obligations of neutral countries are:

  • A neutral country must not take part in a war.
  • A neutral country must not allow foreign troops to use its territory in any case.
  • A neutral country must not help any party to the conflict.
  • A neutral country has to deal with all conflict partners equally.
  • A neutral country has to defend its own territory.3)

On the other hand, a neutral country has the right of

  • integrity and inviolability of its territory.

This right was developed by Switzerland in the late 18th and in the 19th century. (Before that time it was usual that a neutral country should grant foreign troops free transit, even  those of parties to a conflict.) Additionally and consequently, a neutral country had

  • to disarm, and
  • to intern and supply foreign troops, whenever they cross the borders.

Types of neutrality

Although these core elements of neutrality seem to be clear, in the practical life of neutrality policy different types of neutrality have emerged over the last 110 years. Neutrality can be self-chosen or forced. But this is more of an academic question, because in most cases there are “grey-zones” and interdependencies at the beginning of a neutrality status. For instance, although the Swiss neutrality was declared in August 1815 independently by the founding Cantons, they were not fully free at that time and the neutrality was guaranteed by the big powers in the Treaty of Paris. A second example would be Austria, declaring its neutrality after the last soldier left Austrian territory in 1955. This declaration, however, was a precondition for the Moscow Memorandum and for  the Vienna State Treaty in the same year. Also the neutral status of the new state Belgium, founded in 1830 as a home of peace from which European quarrels should be kept away, was guaranteed by most of the big powers, Great Britain, France, Prussia, and the Habsburg Monarchy.. This status, however, did not save the country from being dragged into the First and the Second World War. Sometimes, neutrality was also a bargain to reach a desired end state as it was the case with Malta, which declared its neutrality to achieve Great Britain’s retreat from the Valetta harbour in the 1980s.

The most prominent types of neutrality are to be explained in this chapter:

  • neutralism: means to be neutral in all questions, military, economic, political, societal … Countries that do not choose their neutral status themselves but have it  forced upon them by regional powers or superpower are called neutralized countries. In most cases, neutrality policies of those countries differ from their political convictions.

In contrast, neutral countries are usually neutral in military affairs and have their own positions in political, economic or cultural matters. Neutrality also includes offering good offices, mediation, and impartiality without giving up their own convictions. This kind of policy has been practised by Austria and Switzerland for many years.

  • permanently or everlasting neutrality: this status is declared for the future and it means that such a country has to observe a neutrality policy during peace time. It means that those countries pursue a policy abstaining from all kinds of organisations aiming at mutual defence. There are also difficulties in being a member of an economic organisation, if this organisation has the opportunity to impose measures on states or groups of states. Neutral states do not have the obligation to be neutral in political questions.
  • Differential neutrality was invented after WW I by Switzerland and Sweden. It means that a country declares its neutrality, at the same time being a member of a world-wide organisation like the “League of Nations”. Usually, countries which pursue that kind of neutrality are not neutral in all cases related to decisions made within these organisations. They also pursue sanctions or measures implemented by such an organisation, but this s done  formally independently in most cases.
  • Short time neutrality  is understood as a policy of treating all belligerents equally and to refrain from all acts of war or from supporting acts of war in any way.
  • Benevolent neutrality means a short time neutrality, which is benevolent to one side of the conflict partners, mostly because of political reasons. For instance, the Habsburg Monarchy was benevolent neutral to Great Britain, Turkey and France during the Crimea War.
  • Active neutrality was first developed by the Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky during the Cold War. It included offering good duties, organising negotiations, offering peace keeping troops, negotiating diplomacy …
  • Non-alignment or block-free status: This status was most famous during the Cold War; it meant to be neither part of the Western nor the Eastern Bloc. Countries like Yugoslavia, India, or other Third World Countries tried to mediate in the conflicts between the two blocs. Today, some former neutral countries such as Sweden or Finland declare themselves as non-aligned states which, however, is not exactly the same as with the countries mentioned above in the context of the Cold War.


The difference between neutrality and neutrality politics is that neutrality is a long lasting general political conviction, while neutrality politics is applied in specific political situations which require neutral actions. Although there is no international written law on how to practise permanent neutrality policy, a permanently neutral country should pro-actively practise such policy and act like a neutral country does during an ongoing conflict.4) Therefore, permanently neutral countries like Austria and Switzerland have to pursue a security policy in peacetime which allows them to withstand a conflict in the region or anywhere in the world without being involved. This obligation ends when the country is attacked and has to defend itself.5)

Neutral persons are citizens of neutral countries and they have to observe those regulations in order to be under the umbrella of their country’s neutrality status. Persons who violate their neutrality status will possibly be handled like combatants. So, if a neutral country violates its status it can be treated like a hostile country. Switzerland developed a new task for neutral countries, to offer “good duties“, i. e. room for negotiations, to moderate negotiations, to host international organizations like the Red Cross, or to initiate negotiations.

Neutrality during and between the World Wars

To pursue the principles of neutrality policy means to make sure that on the one hand a permanently neutral state has to avoid any act that could lead to an involvement into a conflict. On the other hand, such a state can act in any situation, but it has to make sure to treat all parties to a conflict equally. From that point of view, it should be impossible for a permanently neutral state to be part of a defence or common security organisation. Switzerland, for instance, extended its defence preparations before the First World War (WW I) to make sure that it would be able to defend its territory at any cost. After signing the The Hague Treaties, the big powers tried also to influence the domestic policy in neutral countries. The German Reich, for instance, tried to hinder German social democratic politicians to publish their thoughts and ideas in magazines or newspapers in Switzerland by putting pressure on the Swiss government.

After die outbreak of WW I, the Swiss Armed Forces were concentrated in the region of Basel to prevent both sides from entering the opponent’s country via Switzerland. The Swiss also made clear that they would not permit any transport of troops via the Gotthard Tunnel. On 31 July 1914, Switzerland also informed all signatory states of the Paris Treaty that it would defend its territory. The Swiss politicians and the Armed Forces were very upset about the violation of Belgium’s neutrality. On 4 August 1914, the Swiss “Bundesrat” passed a law prohibiting the “export of any weapon, ammunition, or war material to any country participating in the war”. The law was monitored by a committee called “Société Suisse de Surveillance économique”. However, from 1915 on, Switzerland was under heavy pressure by the big powers; so Switzerland decided to offer all goods to both sides equally.6) Nevertheless, Switzerland and Sweden suffered economically and socially under the „blockade“ policy. This caused disputes and even riots over the neutrality policy and the economic consequences among the populace of both countries.

After the War, many countries put their hope into the newly established “League of Nations” (LN) to solve those problems. Even neutral countries like Switzerland or the re-established Belgium became members of that new security organisation. On 10 January 1920, the LN came into effect. It was founded at the Paris Peace Conference by 42 nations after WW I to end all wars (During a short period of time in the 1930s, it had reached its biggest extent with 58 member states).  The US did not become a member of the LN because President Wilson could not convince the US Senate to ratify the Paris Peace Treaties and the LN founding treaty. This absence of the US was one of the main failures in the system of the LN. The LN’s headquarters was in Geneva. Notwithstanding their neutrality, Switzerland and Sweden became members, knowing that the LN theoretically was competent to pass sanctions or measures contradicting neutrality. Although the LN had some success in solving European conflicts (e. g. Aaland Islands Conflict), in the early 1920s it failed in dealing with major conflicts in Asia and Africa. Japan, Germany and USSR quit, which was a second main reason for the LN’s failure7).  The LN was disbanded in 1946.

On 13 February 1920, in the London resolution, the Swiss were granted their neutrality and Switzerland was exempted from military measures implemented by the LN. Sweden got the same exemption and both countries became official members of LN on 8 and 9 March 1920; however, both countries are often listed as founding nations8). During this period, Switzerland practised differential neutrality. The official thesis was: Neutrality is immoral, if a war is led by the LN. Each measure taken by the LN Council could have been conducted, military measures were exempted. But even in the first case, Switzerland could not conduct the transit of troops to solve the Wilna crisis9) because of Swiss population’s protests. In the following years, Switzerland cooperated with the LN mainly in matters of the Court of Arbitration, The Hague10)

In 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany. That caused a change of policy towards the neutral countries in Europe. Especially Switzerland and Belgium became the target of the Third Reich’s propaganda. On the one hand,  Swiss politicians claimed that journalists were free in thinking and writing and the press was not forced to stick to neutrality, but on the other hand journalists were influenced as to Germany-related content by officials. After the assassination of the German National Socialist representative, Wilhelm Gustloff, by a Jewish activist in Bern, the Swiss jurisprudence got also under pressure from Germany11).

During the following years, Switzerland went back to “classic” neutrality. In the “Abyssinia crisis”, the LN passed sanctions against Italy, but Switzerland banned arms sales to all partners to the conflict. Contrary to Switzerland’s policy, Sweden gravely reduced its exports (especially iron-ore) in general and in particular most of its exports and imports to and from Italy. Sweden was willing to fulfil the sanctions although it was neutral reproached other countries for not doing the same12). During the Spanish civil war, Switzerland held contact to both opposing parties. This was again a clear sign of impartiality and retreat from the LN. The Molotow Ribbentrop Pact of 23 Aug 1939 had a main impact on Swedish defence plans. The mutual neutralisation of the two enemies did not exist any longer. Sweden was confronted with a coalition of strong land and sea forces in the south, in the east and, after the defeat of Finland in the Winter War, even in the north. The situation had become worse.


The outbreak of World War II (WW II) in September 1939 changed the situation of the neutral states in Europe. At the western front, between Germany and France, Belgium and Switzerland declared their neutrality. During the “phoney war”13) both countries mobilized their forces. The Swiss forces got permission to open fire on every airplane which was recognized as hostile; Swiss airplanes had to warn hostile airplanes before shooting. Sweden declared neutrality as well and the Swedish Armed Forces were mobilized. After the Russian attack on Finland, Sweden deployed one division in northern of its territory to protect the border. The Finnish politicians were very disappointed about the neutrality policy of the “brother” Sweden. Nevertheless, around 8,200 Swedish troops fought in the Finnish Armed Forces on a voluntary basis. Sweden rejected several Finnish requests because of its neutrality. Between the two world wars, Finland had tried to cooperate with the Baltic States and to establish a neutral nordic coalition against the threat emanating from the USSR, but it failed. After the Finnish surrender, Sweden faced a threat on the part of the USSR and a possible western intervention in Norway via Trondheim and Narvik. To summarize, at the beginning of WW II, two neutral countries were able to preserve their neutrality, Belgium was under a big threat, and Finland had to surrender after the “Winter War”.

In May 1940, the violation of the Belgian neutrality by the Third Reich had serious impacts on Swedish and Swiss neutrality as well. Switzerland increased the readiness of its Air Force and the pilots got permission to fire on foe aircraft. German aircraft flew over Swiss territory during the offensive against France. The Swiss air force forced a certain number of German aircraft to land and interned the pilots. Under pressure of the “German Reich”, the pilots were allowed to return and Switzerland also returned the aircraft. That was a very “creative” interpretation of neutrality law. Eventually, the Swiss “General”, Head of the Swiss Armed Forces in wartime, withdrew the fire permission. This order remained in force during the rest of WW II towards both sides, not only German “Luftwaffe” – but also for British bombers, which flew over Swiss territory for targets in Italy, and later on, American, British and France bombers on the way to targets in Germany. However, in some cases Swiss anti-aircraft cannons fired at those aircraft.  

Sweden suffered economically under the British blockade at the beginning of the war. During the Finnish Winter War and the Russian campaign against the Baltic States and Poland, Sweden was very nervous and afraid of being involved in the war as well. After the German invasion in Denmark and Norway, the situation became even worse. Sweden protected her coast towards the German Reich and was under big British pressure because of its trade with the Reich (iron ore, ball bearings, ...). On the other hand, it was very difficult to trade with other countries than Germany cause of the British blockade. During the following years of WW II, both neutral countries had to survive economically like islands in a heavy storm. They eventually were able to survive economically but only by interpreting their neutrality in a rather “creative” way. Depending on the direction in which the war went, the two countries supported more the one or the other side. After the end of WW II, both countries were criticized, often heavily, concerning their pragmatic approach during the war. Even at the end of the 20th century, Swiss banks had to pay enormous sums of reparation money after being accused for financing the German war and the Holocaust.14)

To summarize, equal treatment in wartime does not mean that a country is not allowed to have a different political opinion about the policies of conflict partners or alliances, no matter whether the conflict is decided by political means or by military force.  However, the neutral country usually gets under pressure by all conflicting parties, a pragmatic approach towards neutrality policy often is the only way to survive. Sometimes, a country has to be very “creative” in its policy and often it is criticized afterwards for that policy. Neutral countries usually suffer enormously under the war surrounding them, in most cases, they can only act giving in to the pressure of the fighting countries.

Neutrality during the “Cold War”

After the end of WW II, the situation in the world changed. After some conferences on 26 June 1945, the United Nations Organisation (UN) was founded by 51 countries15) in San Francisco. Contrary to the LN, the USA became the first member state and offered New York City as a site for its headquarters16).  Despite of the fact that the LN had invited neutral states as well, in 1945, the founding nations of the UN were of the opinion that neutral countries would weaken the efficiency of the UN. The UN Charter describes the UN as an all-inclusive organisation “... to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace ...”17) Therefore, the articles of the UN Charter allow to take compulsory coercive measures towards any “peace breaker”. All member countries have to co-operate in preventing and suppressing threats to the peace and acts of aggression. Nobody is allowed to be neutral towards a country, which is a “peace breaker” in the eyes of the Security Council (SC) or the General Assembly (GA).

On the other hand, the policy of neutral countries depends to a high degree on the credibility, trustworthiness, and predictability of its policy. Whether or not the neutrality of a country is recognized by the international community also depends on the expectations of the international community and especially the positions of the “global players”, the regional powers or superpowers. The question of changing a neutrality policy, therefore, is both a legal question and a political question. It is also important, whether or not the factual policies of certain neutral countries and the development of neutrality policy is accepted, tolerated, expected, or even forced by the international community.  So the UN has to make sure that even non-members act in accordance with its principles.18)

For that reason some experts mentioned that a neutral country cannot be member of the UN because of the aim to enable a collective peace system and a member state cannot be neutral towards measures of the UN. According to article 2 point 6 of the UN Charta it is irrelevant, whether or not a country is a member of the UN, so from the practical point of view it was better to be a member than not. According to the UN Charta each country (member or not) has to give full assistance to all measures and has to support every decision, which is passed by the Security Council (SC). It is also forbidden to support any country, which is sentenced to be a “peace breaker”. Therefore neutrality towards a country is only possible as long as there is no decision or measure by the SC against that country.19)

However, the principle of no neutral members in the UN was broken for the first time, when Sweden became member in 1946. Sweden joined  the UN and after that decision the Swedish policy was characterized by impartiality and by neutrality policy within the UN. But Sweden was also convinced that only neutrality policy could provide stability for the Nordic region and prevent the USSR from threatening or invading Finland. However, Sweden understood membership in the UN as a contribution to active neutrality policy. In accordance with that understanding Sweden accepted all the consequences of this membership such as contributing troops to UN operations in Korea and Congo or supporting the measures towards South Rhodesia as a part of Swedish neutrality policy. On the other hand, that understanding of neutrality policy was accepted as a stabilizing factor and increased the predictability of the Swedish neutrality policy. Sweden, however, always denied a juridical embedding of that policy by an international commitment.20)  

In 15 Dec 1955, the neutral countries Austria, Finland, and Ireland became members of the UN. This was a milestone in the process of changing the understanding of neutrality policy in the international community. From that time on, UN membership and neutrality were no longer excluding each other. From 1949 to 1955, Finland and Austria tried to become members of UN but the USSR vetoed against such moves because these countries were incapable of acting. In 1955, Austria and Finland finally got their state treaties for the price of becoming neutral states and so they could become members of the UN together with a number of other countries.21) Ireland, also a neutral country, had become independent from Great Britain between the two World Wars and was able to maintain its neutrality status only because of its peripheral geographical position. Early in 1945, after the founding of UN, Ireland made its application for UN membership but the USSR blocked also that move until 1955. Ireland’s neutrality was not a price for independency but a step in the process of becoming independent from Great Britain; the secession from Great Britain was the main reason why Ireland did not join NATO in 1949. The Irish neutrality therefore is mainly defined as a non-involvement and a limited one. It was only understood as a strictly military neutrality and not as a political or economic one.22)

In general, however, neutral countries have a major problem handling sanctions, mandates or measures passed by the SC. The first time, such a problem occured was during the South Rhodesian crisis in the 1960s. In the year 1966, the SC imposed economic measures following the unilateral declaration of independence of South Rhodesia. The SC informed all countries, whether or not they were members of the UN, that they had to obey the measures towards South Rhodesia. Austria, Switzerland, and Sweden answered that they would examine each decision of the SC seperately to decide whether or not to follow the measures. And indeed, some days later, the national parliaments passed moves to implement measures towards South Rhodesia which were similar to the measures passed by the SC – it was a move to show independency, but at the same time to act in solidarity and according to the Verdross doctrine23). For example, Austria mentioned in its reply to the UN that Austria would conduct the same measures like the SC but only under a national law because of its neutrality.

A new quality of policy of neutrality started in 1960 on the part of Sweden and also on the part of the later famous Austrian Chancellor, Bruno Kreisky. Although Switzerland had started to offer good duties and sent medical personnel into international operations, the other four European neutral countries (Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden) even extended this policy and this was understood as a new kind of neutrality: the “active neutrality policy”.

The main instruments of this policy were24):

  • active policy within international organisations
  • foreign political initiatives
  • offering “good duties”
  • offering diplomatic negotiations and conferences
  • inviting international organisations to establish their headquarters on neutral territory
  • strengthening international law
  • blaming violations of international law

It was a fact that the active neutrality policy was favoured by the international policy of détente during the 1970s, which brought a window of opportunity for small and neutral countries. As a consequence of this new understanding of neutrality, those four neutral countries sent troops into international peace-keeping operations, started political initiatives (e.g. bringing political outlaws like Arafat, Gadhafi into the political community), and sent politicians to occupy high UN posts (e.g. Secretary Generals Dag Hammersköld and Kurt Waldheim); this era lasted until the end of the Cold War.    

During that period, Sweden went an additional way, forcing a Nordic UN battalion, consisting of troops from Sweden and the NATO members Denmark and Norway. This was the first step towards a later initiative, Shirbrig, which will be explained later on. Similar to that initiative, Austria earmarked a reserve battalion for UN operations, but it never was sent into an operation. However, via that battalion, Austria offered to a lot of troops the possibility to train for UN operations and to take part in some of them individually.

During the Cold War, the neutral and non-aligned countries started or were involved in a lot of initiatives to decrease the tensions between the two blocks, especially in Europe. This was one of the most successful developments  originating in the arms reduction and the strategic arms limitation talks. Although the main players were the USA and the USSR, the neutral and non-aligned countries were under the founding nations of the CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) in Helsinki 1973. The further CSCE conferences also were held in neutral countries, i. e. in Helsinki, Geneva, and Vienna, and at last, in 1975 in Helsinki, an agreement could be signed by the heads of states. The “Final Act” of the CSCE in Helsinki 1975 was the first ever occasion during the Cold War where the Eastern and the Western Blocs were united in agreeing on a document on confidence-building measures. The so-called “blue book” laid down the “Principles Guiding Relations” 25)  between the signing states. The neutral and non-aligned (N+N)-States played a big role in achieving that document. From a present-day perspective, it can be stated that it was the dawn of the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the CSCE, its main site was in Vienna, Austria.  It was up to the neutral countries to fill this “blue book” with life. Austria, for instance, was the first country in the middle of Europe, to invite military observers of the Warsaw Pact and NATO to monitor a military exercise in accordance with the Helsinki regulations in 1979. On the other hand, the blue book initiated freedom movements like the Charter 77 in the Czechoslovakian Peoples Republic.

Maintaining dialogue was one of the goals of the neutral countries at that time. Some politicians of neutral countries, like the Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, tried to build bridges in a hostile world. Being a Jew, it was easy for him to start negotiations with Arabic “outlaws” like Yasser Arafat or Muammar Gadhafi. His approach of active neutrality led him beyond traditional negotiation policy. During the 1970s up to the middle of the 1980s, active neutrality played a big role.

Because of the experiences of WW II, questions focussing on economics became a big issue in the beginning of the 1950s. While the Marshall Plan on European economic development was being implemented in Western Europe, the USSR rejected this programme for the “Eastern World” and its sphere of influence. Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and also the western zones of Austria took part in this programme. From 1955 on, the whole of Austria was able to remain a part of this programme. After the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC), it became clear that neutral countries could not be a member of this community because of the possibilities of common political measures. That was one of the reasons why the neutral countries did not join the EEC. As an alternative, they were among the founding nations of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which had no such obligations.

However, there was a discussion in the 1960s, whether or not it should be possible for a neutral country to become an associate member of the EEC. Some experts argued that it was not possible to be neutral and an associate member of the EEC at the same time , but the majority of the experts was of the opposite opinion  if there were a arbitrary court and revision clauses26). At the end, it was a political question and the countries had to negotiate and convince the USSR to agree to such treaties. Thus, as long as the Cold War lasted, a membership to the EEC was impossible for a neutral country.

In Finland, a special version of neutrality was implemented after WW II. Finland got a state treaty in 1955, favoured by Sweden to secure its eastern borders. The USSR gave back the Finnish harbour Porkkala on the western coast of Finland and Finland had to sign a friendship treaty with the USSR, which would have come into effect after the end of Finnish neutrality27). That was a strange situation, because Finland was neutral, but, at the same time, had a friendship and assistance pact with the USSR.

Neutrality after the end of the “Cold War”

The “Wind of Change”, which came up in the second half of the 1980s, brought “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” into the “communist world”. In Sweden, Finland and Austria, a debate started, whether staying neutral or becoming a NATO member would fit best to the respective countries’ interests. Neutrality was on the move again. At last, in 1989, the Berlin Wall und the Iron Curtain fell and the Cold War was over. The USSR and the Warsaw Pact had crumbled and that brought a new dynamic into the security policy of the neutral countries. Their economies got more and more interwoven with the EEC, which was developing dynamically at that time. Ireland had joined the EEC (or the later EC) in early 1973, and had got the “Irish Clause”, which meant that a neutral country could stand aside, if measures incompatible with the country’s neutrality were introduced. A clause, the neutral countries had thought they had in the “Verdross-doctrine” – but it was only customary law and never existed in written law. Along with this new situation went a rapprochement of the European neutral countries towards European integration. EEC/EC and EFTA were united and became the European Economy Area, but Switzerland opted out after a referendum. The other three neutral EFTA countries, Austria, Finland, and Sweden, decided to join the EC; Finland did so not earlier than in 1991, after its Freedom and Friendship Treaty with the USSR had ended. Between 1989 and 1991, these three neutral countries applied for membership in the EEC. On 1 February 1993, the negotiations with Austria, Finland, and Sweden were opened officially. During the negotiations from 1993 to 1994, the three countries had to abandon their reservations regarding their neutrality. The EEC demanded assurances from the three countries that after their accession to the EEC they would be willing to execute a future Common Foreign and Security policy (CFSP), which had appeared merely as an idea in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.28)

In the meantime, the interpretation of the UN charter concerning neutral countries changed. In 1991, during the Kuwait crisis, it became clear that in a solidary world, neutrality had lost most of its extended functions. It was not applicable any more, to stand neutral versus a “Peace breaker”. Thus the “Ermacora doctrine” was formulated:

“UN SC measures are to be implemented because they can be seen as police actions and therefore they have no impact on the Austrian neutrality law29).

This doctrine was implemented in Austria and from that time on, UN measures became Austrian national law immediately without the necessity of approval by the Austrian parliament. The other neutral countries stuck to the system of transforming UN measures into national law, but in principle also followed this “Ermacora doctrine”. In short words, from that time on UN law has beaten neutrality law in almost all cases. Another change in UN practice occurred after the end of the Cold War. There has always been a lack of immediately operational troops  for UN operations. The Nordic battalion and the Austrian UN battalion as well were no immediate reaction forces. Therefore, the time had come to raise a force in accordance with the recommendation of the UN SG Kofi Annan. In 1994, the UN created a data base for all troops that could be deployed on a mandate of the UN SC, the “United Nations Standby Arrangement System" (UNSAS).30) On 15 December 1996, Austria, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden founded SHIRBRIG (Standby High Readiness Brigade), which had its headquarters near Copenhagen. The Nordic battalion was integrated into that brigade. In 1997, Kofi Annan installed the planning element as a core part of a brigade headquarters. In the beginning of the year 2000, SHIRBRIG reported to the UN SG its readiness to be deployed. Meanwhile, the number of contributing nations had increased up to 14: Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. Argentine defined its membership as a dormant one and the following countries were monitors, but sent troops for military exercises: Chile, Croatia, Egypt, Jordanian, Latvia, Portugal and Senegal. In principle, SHIRBRIG was able to be deployed all over the world, with a reaction time of 15 to 30 days. It was a new quality of neutrality policy that neutral countries subordinated troops for UN operations under international command and control. During nine years SHIRBRIG troops had been going successfully into a certain number of UN operations, but after the implementation of the new Battle Group Concept of the EU and the NATO Response Forces Concept, SHIRBRIG was dissolved by 30 June 2009. The European countries were not able any more to earmark additional troops for SHIRBRIG.

After the end of the Cold War, the neutral countries also had to redefine their relations towards NATO. NATO had redefined its purpose and underwent a step-by-step transformation process towards an all-inclusive security organisation. Therefore, NATO-PfP was founded during the summit of NATO heads of state and government from 10 to 11 January 1994. It was founded because of a joint conviction that stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic area could be achieved only through cooperation and common action. The main reasons for the establishment of the programme were the protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights, in other words safeguarding freedom, justice, and peace. It was founded with respect to the UN Charter and the documents of CSCE/OSCE.31) But also the neutral countries had to face a new situation. They had lost their position as a place of negotiations and mediation to NATO countries like Canada or Norway.32) So they had to overthink their political situation and the possibilities for neutral policy under the new circumstances. Although the Swiss politicians had wanted to join the UN since 1984, the populace of Switzerland rejected that idea in 1986, but a membership to NATO-PfP was regarded possible. In principle, NATO negotiates an individual partnership programme with each partner country. Therefore, there are no obligations by which a neutral country could not abide, and after a certain number of years all neutral European countries became members of NATO-PfP. The first countries to join the programme were Finland and Sweden on 9 May 1994, only some months after it had been initiated. Austria joined on 10 February 1995 as the third neutral country and Switzerland followed on 11 December 1996. The last one of the European neutral countries was Ireland, which became a member on 1 December 1999. Today it is a proven practice for neutral countries to train together and co-operate with NATO and non-NATO-partners under the umbrella of NATO-PfP. Under that umbrella, also foreign troops are deployed for a certain time on the territory of neutral countries. That was an altogether new practice of neutrality policy. One principle of neutrality, namely that a country must not allow the deployment of foreign troops on its territory, should be thought over.

One of the main goals of NATO-PfP is to maintain peace. The member countries align their troops to the NATO standards to make sure that those troops are able to cooperate with NATO troops in peace support operations. This situation came true after the end of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). In August 1995, NATO started massive air strikes on the Serbian forces in BiH. Therefore, the parties to the conflict were forced to sign the peace treaty of Dayton (Ohio) in November 1995. The peace treaty implemented a military force to guarantee the treaty; the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) was mandated by the UN SC. After that resolution had been passed, troops and materiel of the participating countries were transported through the territory and the air space of Austria, for instance. Early in November 1995, NATO had officially asked whether or not Austria would participate in NATO-PfP operations which would be mandated by the UN SC. After the signing of the Dayton Agreement on 22 November 1995, the concrete planning for IFOR operations started. The necessary UN SC Resolution 1035 was passed on 21 December 1995 and Austria and other neutral countries participated in that operation.33) Some years later, in 1999, Switzerland also deployed troops to IFOR. Now it was certified that a neutral country could participate in such operations.

Therefore, the best place to conduct neutrality policy is within the UN, as a Swiss researcher mentioned some years ago.34) Consequently, the Swiss politicians tried to convince their populace to join the UN by arguments and acts following the principle: Integration and international solidarity as far as possible, but deciding in each case separately. At the end of that process the people of Switzerland decided to join the UN by a referendum in March 2002.35)

Today, neutrality policy has a quality different from the one at the 1907 The Haag conference. To further develop neutrality there are some recommendations to be made:


Changes in the understanding of neutrality

The following changes in the understanding of neutrality policy can thus be stated:

  1. 1.         Membership in the UN is possible for all neutral states.
  2. 2.         Neutrality policy has changed from a military approach over active neutrality to a strict military one, including that UN measures are regarded as police (not military) measures.
  3. 3.         The “Verdross-Doctrine” is replaced by the “Ermacora-Doctrine”: UN Charter beats national neutrality law and overrules written international neutrality law.
  4. 4.         UN SC resolutions and measures have to be obeyed even by neutral states.
  5. 5.         Membership in the UN SC is possible.
  6. 6.         Participation in UN operations is possible for neutral countries without questioning the mandate.
  7. 7.         Neutral countries can participate even in peacemaking operations with a robust mandate.
  8. 8.         Membership in a regional organisation is possible, even if there exists a common security and defence policy.
  9. 9.         Economic measures have no impact on neutrality any more.36)



Given the fact that those changes in the practice of neutrality  have been established in all neutral countries, international neutrality law should be rewritten as soon as possible in an international conference hosted by the UN. 


Bonjour Edgar, Geschichte der schweizerischen Neutralität, Kurzfassung, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel-Stuttgart, 1978.

Brunner Gabriele C., Die Schweiz und die Vereinten Nationen, Jur. Diplomarbeit, Innsbruck, 1987.

Caytas Ivo G., Internationale kollektive Friedenssicherung, 20 Jahre Österreichische Praxis, Berlin, 1982.

Emmerich Klaus, Unterwegs zum Frieden, 50 Jahre Österreich in den Vereinten Nationen, Ueberreuter Verlag, Wien 2005.

Gebhard Carmen, Neutralität und europäische Integration, Österreich und Schweden im sicherheitspolitischen Vergleich, Schriftenreihe der Landesverteidigungsakademie 9/2005, Wien, 2005.

Handl Markus, Die immerwährende Neutralität Österreichs, jur. Diss. Wien, 2001.

Hartmann Rudolf/ Meyer Christian Wilhelm/Vogt Marcus Jurij (Hrsg.), CIMIC-Aspekte I: Traditionelle Neutralität in Europa, Speyer 2005, Speyrer Arbeitsheft 176.Hauser Gunther, Das europäische Sicherheits- und Verteidigungssystem und seine Akteure, BMLV, Landesverteidigungsakademie, 4. völlig überarbeitete und wesentlich erweiterte Auflage, Wien, 2008.

Haug Hans, Das Verhältnis der Schweiz zu den Vereinten Nationen, Paul Haupt Verlag, Bern/Stuttgart, 1972.

Hollmann Anna, Die Schweizer und Europa, Wilhelm Tell zwischen Bern und Brüssel, Nomos Verlag, Baden-Baden, 2005.

Hummer Waldemar (Hrsg.), Staatsvertrag und immerwährende Neutralität Österreichs, Eine juristische Analyse, Verlag Österreich, Wien 2007.

Kaminski Gerd, Neutralität in Europa und Südostasien, Wehling, Bonn, 1979.

Kernic Franz/Hauser Gunther (Hrsg.), Handbuch zur europäischen Sicherheit, Peter Lang, Frankfurt/Main/Berlin, Bern/Bruxelles/New York/Oxford/Wien, 2005.

Koja Friedrich/Stourzh Gerald, Schweiz-Österreich, Ähnlichkeiten und Kontraste, Böhlau Verlag, Wien/Köln/Graz, 1986.

Kramer Helmut, Strukturentwicklung der Außenpolitik (1945 – 2005),, 26 Dec 2014.

Luif Paul, On the Road to Brussels, The Political Dimension of Austria’s, Finland’s and Sweden’s Accession to the European Union, Austrian Institute for International Affairs, Braumüller, Laxenburg, 1995.

Macqueen Norrie, United Nations Peacekeeping in Africa since 1960, Longman Verlag, London/New York/ Toronto/Tokyo/Singapore/Hong Kong/Cape Town/ New Dehli/Madrid/Paris/Amsterdam/Munich/Milan/ Stockholm, 2002.

Österreichische Gesellschaft für Landesverteidigung und Sicherheitspolitik, Internationale Tagung 2004, Internationale Einsätze im Dienste der Sicherheit Europas, Wien, 2004.

Orvik Nils, Sicherheit auf Finnisch, Finnland und die Sovietunion, Seewald Verlag, Stuttgart, 1972.


Sjöholm Lars Erik, Neutralität im Wandel, Die Positionen Schwedens und Finnlands bis 1995, Dipl. Arb., Wr. Neustadt, 2000.

Stourzh Gerald, Geschichte des Staatsvertrages 1945 – 1955, Österreichs Weg zur Neutralität, Styria, Graz/Wien/Köln, Studienausgabe, 3. Auflage, 1985.

Verdross Alfred, Die immerwährende Neutralität der Republik Österreich, 2. wesentlich erweiterte Auflage, Wien, Österreichischer Bundesverlag.

1) Gehler Michael/Böhler Ingrid (Hrsg.), Verschiedene europäische Wege im Vergleich, Österreich und die Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1945/1949 bis zur Gegenwart, Innsbruck/Wien, Bozen, 2007, p. 3.

2) Green LeslieC., The contemporary law of armed conflict, second edition, Juris Publishing, Manchester, 2000, p.1.

3) Verdross Alfred/Simma Bruno, Universelles Völkerrecht, Theorie und Praxis, 3. völlig neu bearbeitete Auflage, Duncker&Humblot, Berlin, 1984, p. 14.

4) Hauser Gunther, Österreich – dauernd neutral, Studien zur politischen Wirklichkeit, Band 14, Braumüller, Wien, 2002, p. 55.

5) Stourzh Gerald, Geschichte des Staatsvertrages 1945 – 1955, Österreichs Weg zur Neutralität, Styria, Graz/Wien/Köln, Studienausgabe, 3. Auflage, 1985, p. 93.

6) Urner Klaus, Neutralität und Wirtschaftskrieg, Zur schweizerischen Außenhandelspolitik 1939 – 1945, Bindschedler/Kurz/Carlgren/Carlsson, Schwedische und Schweizer Neutralität im zweiten Weltkrieg, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel, 1985, S. 250 - 292.  Bonjour Edgar, Geschichte der schweizerischen Neutralität, Kurzfassung, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel-Stuttgart, 1978, p. 74.

9) Vilnius disputeVilnius also spelled Wilno, post-World War I conflict between Poland and Lithuania over possession of the city of Vilnius(Wilno) and its surrounding region.  The League of Nations arranged a partial armistice (October 7, 1920) that put Vilnius under Lithuanian control and called for negotiations to settle all the border disputes. (, 15Sep2016) 

10) Bonjour Edgar, Geschichte der schweizerischen Neutralität, Kurzfassung, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel-Stuttgart, 1978, pp. 82-83.

11) Bonjour Edgar, Geschichte der schweizerischen Neutralität, Kurzfassung, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel-Stuttgart, 1978, S. 92.

12) John F.L.Ross, eBook: Neutrality and International Sanctions, Sweden, Switzerland and collective Security, Greenwood publishing, 08Jun2015.

13) In Deutsch „Sitzkrieg“, in French, “Drole de Guerre”

14) Zemanek, Neutralität, in Hummer Waldemar (Hrsg.), Staatsvertrag und immerwährende Neutralität Österreichs, Eine juristische Analyse, Verlag Österreich, Wien 2007, p. 197.

15) Poland signed the UN Charta in October 1945, but only for administrative reasons, and is counted to the founding nations as well. 

16) Other sites are: Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi.

17) International Court of Justice, United Nations, Die Charta der Vereinten Nationen mit Völkerbundsatzung IGH-Statut und zwei UNO-Resolutionen, 7. neu bearbeitete Auflage, Verlag C.H.Beck, München 1979 p. 8.

18) Hauser, Akteure, pp. 8-9; Bentwich, pp. 6-14.

19) Brunner, p. 15.

20) Woker, pp. 84-90.

21) Emmerich,pp. 29-30.

22) Gehler, pp. 17-18.

23) Alfred Verdross was an Austrian lawyer, was member of the European court of human rights and the international court of arbitration. He introduced a doctrine: UN bodies have to observe the necessity of neutrality dealing with neutral countries, because these countries became members as neutral countries. In short words: neutrality law beats the UN Charter.

24) Kramer Helmut, Strukturentwicklung der Außenpolitik (1945 – 2005),, 26 Dec 2014, pp. 807-808.

25) Those are:

  1. Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty
  2. Refraining from the threat or use of force
  3. Inviolability of frontiers
  4. Territorial integrity of states
  5. Peaceful settlement of disputes
  6. Non-intervention in internal affairs

VII. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief

  1. Equal rights and self-determination of peoples
  2. Fulfilment in good faith of obligations under international law.
  1. Co-operations among States

26) Plessow Utta, Neutralität und Assoziation mit der EWG, Dargestellt am Beispiel der Schweiz, Schwedens und Österreichs, Kölner Schriften zum Europarecht, Band 8, Carl Heymanns Verlag, Köln/Berlin/Bonn/München, 1967, 211p.

27) Orvik Nils, Sicherheit auf Finnisch, Finnland und die Sowjetunion, Seewald Verlag, Stuttgart, 1972, pp 21-22.

28) Luif Paul, On the Road to Brussels, The political Dimension of Austria´s, Finland´s and Sweden´s Accession to the European Union, Austrian Institute for International Affairs, Braumüller, Laxenburg, 1995, p. 87.

29) Handl Markus, Die immerwährende Neutralität Österreichs, jur. Diss. Wien, 2001, pp. 92-94.

30) Rosenzopf Georg, Das war SHIRBRIG,, 17. 10. 2010.

32) Luif, Luif Paul, On the Road to Brussels, The political Dimension of Austria´s, Finland´s and Sweden´s Accession to the European Union, Austrian Institute for International Affairs, Braumüller, Laxenburg, 1995, p. 146.

34) Dietrich Schindler, Europäische Neutralitätserfahrung und –theorie aus schweizerischer Sicht, within Kaminski, p. 75.

35) Hollmann, p. 41.

36)   Zecha, pp