Talk at the Institute for Contemporary Asian Studies
The Finnish and Swedish accessions to NATO—even though incomplete as of now—have been interpreted in some corners as the beginning of the end for neutrality. Not picking sides in a war of aggression is untenable, they hold, cheering the decisions of some former neutrals to give up their signature foreign policies while berating those who still do not send weapons to Ukraine or sanction Russia. Whatever one’s stance on the policy side is, one point has been lost in the debate: neutrality is not a question of ideology but a fact of conflict dynamics. It just won’t go away. Not even the two World Wars or the 40 years of the Cold War could get rid of the “fence-sitters.”
Neutrality, always and everywhere, is a reaction to conflict(s). The current one over Ukraine is no exception, giving rise to neutral policies in roughly two-thirds of the world. It is a moot question if there should be neutrality or not. Nonaligned behavior of third-party states is a fact of international life and will remain one. There are really only two questions that matter: First, which neutrals will leave the stage, and which ones will be born? Second, will the neutrals play a constructive role in the new global conflict, or will they be relegated to the margins?
This talk will disentangle the neutrality debate by differentiating the legal components from the political and strategic aspects and discuss recent neutrality developments in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.