The collapse of the Soviet Union and the wars in Yugoslavia radically changed the security environment in Europe and Central Asia. Some predictions assumed the emerging unipolarity of the liberal world order would end neutrality policies in East and West, but, as this volume shows, this was not the case. While some traditional Cold War neutrals like Sweden and Finland have been edging closer to security alignment with western institutions, there are others like Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Malta that remained committed to their traditional nonaligned foreign policy approaches. More importantly, there are areas of Eurasia that developed new forms of neutrality policies, most of them only noticed on the margins of academic discourse. This is the first book to systematically explore this “new neutralism” of the Post-Cold War. In part one, the book analyzes contemporary neutrality discourse on several levels like international organizations (UN, ASEAN), diplomacy, and academic theory. Part two discusses neutrality-related policy developments in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Mongolia. Together, the 15 chapters show how on this vast, connected landmass references to neutrality have remained a staple of international politics.
- Part I: Re-imagining Neutrality in the Post-Cold War
- Chapter 1: Neutrality and Geopolitics: Responding to Change
- Chapter 2: Neutrality and Small States: A Strategic Approach
- Chapter 3: Neutrality and Neutralization: A Geopolitical Statecraft
- Chapter 4: Neutrality and Peacemaking: A Compass for Austrian Peace Policy
- Chapter 5: Neutrality and Diplomacy: Voices of Diplomats
- Chapter 6: Neutrality in International Organizations I: The United Nations
- Chapter 7: Neutrality in International Organizations II: ASEAN
- Part II: The New Neutrals in the Post-Communist Space
- Chapter 8: Belarus: Between Alliance and Neutralism
- Chapter 9: Moldova: The Whims of Neutrality Politics
- Chapter 10: Ukraine: Overcoming Geopolitical Insecurity
- Chapter 11: Georgia: Neutrality as an Alternative to the Atlantic Course?
- Chapter 12: Serbia: Origins and Impacts of the Military Neutrality Policy
- Chapter 13: Turkmenistan: The Eccentric Neutral
- Chapter 14: Afghanistan: A Path toward Stability with Permanent Neutrality?
- Chapter 15: Mongolia: Neutrality, a Nice Horse
The decline of neutrality in world politics has been proclaimed several times over the past century. In the 1930s, Nicolas Politis thought the Great War had “dealt the death blow to neutrality” because “it showed the impossibility of neutrals escaping the effects of hostilities.” In 1953, Nils Ørvik published his famous treatise on the same topic, including why World War II had significantly added to the demise. And after the Cold War some historians like Switzerland’s J. M. Gabriel even opined that in the realm of political science and international law, the neutrality topic was ausgeforscht—researched to the end. His country, too, he thought, should overcome the outdated foreign policy. At the same time, though, there always were voices that defended neutrality politics and its law, arguing that there would be new life in the old concepts. Read more….
Re-imagining Neutrality in the Post-Cold War
Neutrality and Geopolitics: Responding to Change
Geopolitics and neutrality have a common past: Neutrality emerged out of specific geopolitical considerations, which lead certain states to decide that abstaining from war would best serve their interests. As geopolitics developed, so did neutrality. But neutrality was not just a “recipient” of geopolitics. Neutral states also had an impact on geopolitics: Through their abstention from war, they showed alternatives to traditional power politics. Beyond this, European neutral states developed policies, which aimed at containing international conflicts through various means. These policies became part of the respective states’ national foreign policy identities and had the effect that changes in geopolitical constellations did not automatically lead to a weakening of neutrality. The emergence of collective security might have led to the disappearance of neutrality, but it did not. On the contrary, neutral states played important roles from the onset of the architecture of the United Nations. The same proved true for the liberal world order, which followed the end of the Cold War. In the emerging post-liberal order, neutrality became even more prominent again. So, neutral states adapted their policies to changes in their international environment. Doing so, they in turn contributed to the transformation of the international order and they also influenced the significance of geopolitics. The argument details how this should, in addition to neutrality’s realist and idealist core functions, be interpreted as an emerging new function of neutrality providing states beyond security and identity with a space to cope with internal and external transformations. Aggregating this function to a higher level would allow flagging neutrality as a concept prioritizing global policies over traditional power games. The chapter briefly introduces the concept of geopolitics, then reverts to some historical facts about European neutral states, before it moves on to sketch alternative views on geopolitics and new functions of neutrality in the post-liberal world. Read more….
Neutrality and Small States: A Strategic Approach
The burgeoning literature on small states studies, particularly from the realist school, has identified the development of so-called “small state mentalities”, which shape the ways and means small states use to tackle the problems arising from their participation in international relations. In 1998, Goetschel summed up the strategic dilemma of small states as striving for two ideals, difficult to reconcile: autonomy, which small states seek to maintain, and influence, which they seek to increase. This, he holds, is the essence of the small state national interest. To analyze these two ends, much of the scholarly attention to the foreign policy options for states in international relations focuses on their security in relation to their alliances with other states, typically interpreted as balancing or bandwagoning, depending on their national interests. Yet, there is another route that some small states preferring to avoid the risk of entrapment may take. Since power rivalries increase the vulnerability of small states and threaten their security, choosing to remain neutral allows them to better sustain their autonomy. Moreover, neutrality constitute what Wivel deems a “smart state” strategy for small states because it allows them to self-position and self-promote themselves as honest brokers, leveraging their inherent weaknesses by presenting themselves as mediators who will not take advantage of negotiations for their own vested interest; in so doing, they can exert influence over international conflict resolution (typically the reserve of great powers) and accrue increased ‘status” and prestige. Read more….
Neutrality and Neutralization: A Geopolitical Statecraft
Herbert R. Reginbogin
As of early 2022, it seems that Washington and its allies (NATO) need to contend with Russia’s resurgence to reestablish its traditional great power aspirations and staggering acts of aggression against Ukraine. Its invasion is ruthless and bold in substance and style. Though Russian president Vladimir Putin is known for taking calculated risks, he has now taken a “world-shaking gamble whose ultimate implications neither he nor anyone else can foresee.” Already in 2008, Russia took control of Georgia’s provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia to recognize their independence, as did Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Syria. Six years later, after a coup d’etat in Ukraine in early 2014, Moscow, despite international outcry, annexed Crimea, thereby violating the political agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which was concluded in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The United States, Russia, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom had pledged assurances to uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity without imposing a legal obligation of military assistance on its par- ties. Neither the George H. W. Bush nor the Clinton administration was pre- pared to extend a military commitment to Ukraine—and both felt that, even if they wanted to, the Senate would not produce the needed two-thirds vote for consent to ratification of such a treaty. Stephen MacFarlane, a professor of international relations, stated, “it gives signatories justification if they take action, but it does not force anyone to act in Ukraine.” In 2022, Moscow repeated its actions by recognizing Ukraine’s two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas. Read more….
Neutrality and Peacemaking: A Compass for Austrian Peace Policy
From a (mostly) liberal perspective, this chapter analyzes Austrian neutrality as to how it has developed, its current limitations, and future expanded scope of activities to enhance policies for peace. It considers how neutrality could promote nuclear disarmament and play an active role as a bridge-builder and shaper in international peace processes and civilian missions beyond the European Union’s foreign and security policy framework. In this context, special attention will be paid to Austria’s role in international organizations and vis-a-vis non-state actors. Consideration is also given to Austria’s diverse domestic policy objectives that limit the possibilities of this foreign policy instrument. Read more….
Neutrality and Diplomacy: Voices of Diplomats
Eva Nowotny and Peter Jankowitsch
Few people are as familiar with the ins and outs of foreign policy as diplomats. The men and women tasked with executing their home countries’ national strategies abroad and in international organizations have an intimate relationship with government policies. For the representatives of permanently neutral states that entails a practical understanding and, in most cases, an affinity for the principles of neutrality. Their insights can be academic if they engaged with the topic theoretically, or it can be purely personal if they were the representatives of a neutral state for many years. Either way, the understanding gained from diplomatic practice is an invaluable perspective for scholars of international relations. The following excerpts are speeches of two former Austrian top diplomats. Eva Nowotny served her country among other positions as Ambassador to France, (1992–1997), the United Kingdom (1997–1999), and the United States (2003–2008). Peter Jankowitsch was a member of Parliament (1983–1986, 1987–1990) and Foreign Minister (1986–1987). He later served as State Secretary for European Affairs to the Federal Chancellery and in various other posts related to Austrian diplomacy. In the following paragraphs, Eva Nowotny first reflects on the changing role of neutrality in her diplomatic work, before Peter Jankowitsch discusses the role of the nonaligned movement (NAM) over the past decades. Read more….
Neutrality in International Organizations I: The United Nations
Googling “neutrality” and the United Nations (UN), one mostly finds entries on carbon neutrality but nearly nothing on geopolitics. Neutrality is often defined as a legal status arising from a state’s abstention from all participation in a war between other states, the maintenance of an attitude of impartiality toward belligerents, and the recognition by the belligerents of this abstention and impartiality. As a concept of international relations, neutrality was at its prime in the nineteenth century, at a time when absolute sovereignty and the idea of states’ unconditional right to go to war were hallmarks of the interna- tional system. Nevertheless, while going to war constituted a sovereign right, there was a deeply felt desire for peace. The same desire prevailed when the United Nations was founded after World War II. The term “United Nations” was coined in early 1942 when US President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a meeting of twenty-six allied countries in Washington D.C., three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, to unite coun- tries that were at war with the Axis powers. Hence, the UN Declaration dealt with war goals and included an agreement not to make a separate peace with the enemy and a pledge to fight for unconditional surrender. From the begin- ning, Roosevelt wanted to create a new international collective security orga- nization to replace the failed League of Nations. This should be done before the end of the war, while the iron was still hot, so to speak. Consequently, the UN Charter was first drafted by the US State Department. Read more….
Neutrality in International Organizations II: ASEAN
Charis Si En Tay
In 1971, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) established a foreign policy principle called “Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality” (ZOPFAN). It was the first articulation of what this chapter calls “ASEAN neutrality,” with the purpose of protecting the five founding members from external interferences and safeguarding their sovereignty. Some analysts have concluded that ZOPFAN was a failure because Southeast Asia was never free from interferences.1 Others have argued for the possibility of revitalizing the concept,2 which, however, has been criticized as unrealistic due to the grow- ing US-China tensions polarizing the region and placing pressure on ASEAN to pick a side.3 It thus seemed for a while that ZOPFAN and ASEAN neu- trality would bear little relevance to the future of the region. Nevertheless, in 2020, at the thirty-seventh ASEAN Summit in Ha Noi, ASEAN publicly reaffirmed its commitment to ZOPFAN.4 Singapore’s ambassador-at-large, Tommy Koh, warned that “ASEAN will lose its edge the moment it is dis- united or starts to take sides.”5 Clearly, the group has not given up on the idea of neutrality, which begs two questions: Why is the concept still en vogue in the capitals of Southeast Asia, and what does ASEAN neutrality mean today? Read more….
The New Neutrals in the Post-Communist Space
Belarus: Between Alliance and Neutralism
Yauheni Preiherman and Pascal Lottaz
Nonmembership in military alliances has traditionally been a baseline crite- rion for a country to qualify as a neutral or nonaligned state. In the words of Bott et all: “both neutrality and neutralism share the idea of not taking sides in a conflict situation, and both neutrals and non-aligned states are not supposed to join military alliances in peacetime.” However, this definition of what it means to be neutral leaves us with an analytical problem, because there are instances when states with active military assistance treaties refer to them- selves as “neutral” or resort to neutralist types of behaviors in their foreign and security policies. The most recent example is Belarus. For the past thirty years, the former Soviet Republic’s constitution contained a clause with the commitment to “making (. . .) the state neutral,” and its political leaders have been talking about their country’s neutrality for decades. At the same time, Belarus is part of the “Union State” with Russia, which, in form and shape, has been an alliance in the economic and military spheres. Also, Belarus is part of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), another organization with an alliance character. Read more….
Moldova: The Whims of Neutrality Politics
David X. Noack
This chapter shows how the political elites in the Republic of Moldova chose and practiced neutrality—as a discourse (internally) and as a foreign policy choice (externally). The study begins with a brief discussion about how Soviet politicians applied the concept of neutrality from the October Revolution in 1917 until the Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1990–1991. After a brief overview of the Moldovan republics within the USSR, it describes how new political elites in Moldova rose to power in the capital Chișinău, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and why their policy led to war against the eastern Moldovan region of Transnistria.1 After Moldova lost that war, the politi- cal tide turned, transforming the wartime elites (mostly intellectuals) into a politically marginalized group. In contrast to the former elites, the new political majority opted to make compromises at home and adopt neutrality as a foreign policy. In the following decades, Moldova attempted to manage its political future by utilizing neutrality but rarely took the time to define the policy. This research is a step toward better understanding the domestic chal- lenges endured by the Republic of Moldova following the end of the Cold War and offers some proposals for conducting more in-depth future studies about Moldova as a post-Soviet neutral state. Read more….
Ukraine: Overcoming Geopolitical Insecurity
Heinz Gärtner and Maya Janik
The crisis in Ukraine has thrown the Russia-West contest over the future orientation of Ukraine and the country’s vulnerability to external pressure into sharp relief. The case illustrates how the failure to create a shared or common neighbourhood—that is, a cooperative zone—turned the post-Soviet region into a battleground of mutually exclusive visions. Having simmered beneath the surface for decades, tensions between Russia and the West came to a head once the geopolitical balance on Europe’s Eastern frontier seemed to tilt irreversibly Westwards with the envisioned signing of the EU association agreement by Ukraine in 2013. The outbreak of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine revealed what the West has underestimated, ignored, or deliberately suppressed, namely that geog- raphy matters. Ukraine, the name of which originates from the Slavic word for borderland, is located in a geographic hot spot. Of all in-between states, it has the greatest geostrategic importance to both Russia and the West. Its geographical position has made Ukraine susceptible to the power struggle for spheres of influence between Russia and competing powers for more than 400 years. Read more….
Georgia: Neutrality as an Alternative to the Atlantic Course?
Heinz Gärtner and Maya Janik
The location of the countries of the South Caucasus between the Black and Caspian seas, between Europe and Asia, and Russia and the Middle East has made them geopolitically important “lands in-between.”1 External pow- ers competing for centuries over influence in the region created complex dynamics and fault lines that continue to affect the region until today. The emergence of independent republics following the collapse of the Soviet Union and their subsequent pursuit of individual political agendas reshuffled the cards in terms of the regional balance of power and with it the interaction between regional actors and external powers. Over the past two decades, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan have fol- lowed different geostrategic paths. Georgia was the only country that declared that integrating with the West would be its main foreign and security prior- ity. Armenia, on the other hand, entered an alliance with Russia through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), while Azerbaijan has been balancing between Western and regional powers. Read more….
Serbia: Origins and Impacts of the Military Neutrality Policy
In December 2007, the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia adopted a resolution, stipulating what has since come to be called Serbia’s “Military Neutrality Policy” (MNP):
Due to the overall role of NATO, from the illegal bombardment of Serbia without a Security Council decision to Annex 11 of the rejected Ahtisaari’s plan, which determines that NATO is “ultimate supervisory authority” in an “independent Kosovo,” the National Assembly hereby declares the military neutrality of the Republic of Serbia in relation to the existing military alliances until a referendum is called, at which the final decision on this issue will be made.NARS (National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia), 2007.
This chapter examines the origins and impacts of the MNP. It argues that despite historical precedents when Belgrade took neutral stances in interna- tional politics, the MNP originates not primarily from historical experience but rather from the ambivalence of the Serbian public vis-a-vis the European Union and NATO. The following discussion shows that the MNP has had more important impacts on the domestic level than on the international scene. Most importantly, the chapter uses a novel method of quantitative text analy- sis to study the way “neutrality” has been mentioned in the domestic mass media, based on an originally collected set of more than 2,500 print press articles published in Serbia. Read more….
Turkmenistan: The Eccentric Neutral
Three years after his appointment to the presidency of the Turkmen republic, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov ordered the removal of the Arch of Neutrality [bitaraplyk binasy], one of the most important urban landmarks in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital city. Standing at 95 meters tall, the monument was shaped in the guise of a traditional tripod surmounted by a golden statue of Berdimuhamedov’s predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who had ruled the country from independence until his sudden death in December 2006. This golden statue, which constantly rotated to always face the sun, is often regarded as the most eccentric symbol of the extensive cult designed to cel- ebrate Niyazov’s personality: its placement at the top of a monument built to celebrate one of the president’s key policy achievements—the acquisition of a neutral foreign policy—suggests that Turkmenistan’s bitaraplyk (neu- trality) has indeed occupied an exceptional place in the symbolism of the Niyazov regime. Following Berdimuhamedov’s edict, the statue at the top of the monument was swiftly removed while the arch itself was transported to a peripheral quarter of Ashgabat, indicating that, while the cult of the prior leader was about to be downgraded to a mere footnote in Turkmen political history, the regime’s commitment to neutrality was there to stay. Read more….
Afghanistan: A Path toward Stability with Permanent Neutrality?
Nasir A. Andisha
And ultimately, considering Afghanistan’s geography as a constant factor and given the primacy of geopolitical motives in the strategic calculation of the great powers in our region, to achieve a sustainable peace and region cooperation, Afghanistan has to find a way to institutionalize a regional balance of interests. A treaty of regional nonaggression and neutrality always remains a long-term diplomatic solution for Afghanistan.Nasir A. Andisha
Scholars of international relations argue that neutrality—particularly per- manent neutrality—offers the possibility for a transformation to stability, especially when a small state is the scene of domestic strife and competitive intervention.2 Neutrality can offer a policy alternative to protracted conflict by removing small and often vulnerable states from areas that are contended by great powers, helping to reduce the likelihood of escalation and military confrontation amongst them. Afghanistan is one such strategically situated, small and vulnerable state, swaying unsuccessfully between neutrality and alliance for over a century. Throughout the nineteenth century, Afghanistan played the role of a buffer state separating the territories of the rival British and Russian empires in the region. Since regaining full independence in 1919—in particular independence in foreign policymaking—most rulers of Afghanistan have advocated some form of neutrality in their official policy statements.3 Afghanistan’s tradition of neutrality is usually associated with an “Era of Tranquility” from 1929 to 1978.4 However, in the past four decades, Afghanistan’s attempts at building strategic alliances, first with the Soviet Union 1978–1989 and recently with the US/NATO 2002–2021 ended in disaster for all parties. The unceremonious retreat of western forces in sum- mer 2021 and with it the removal of security and technical guarantees once again opened the space for debate on whether permanent neutrality could offer a base for regional consensus and guarantee enduring stability. Read more….
Mongolia: Neutrality, a Nice Horse
Pascal Lottaz and Tumurjin Ganbaatar
[I]t is true that Mongolia did not declare herself “as a permanently neutral state.” Yet in substance, form and action our foreign policy is fully coherent with the principles of neutral foreign policy. And it’s commendable that our national laws and the international treaties and agreements that Mongolia is signatory to are consistent with the neutrality principles. More specifically, Mongolia’s neutrality is delicately reflected in the very letter and spirit of the agreements and treaties we concluded with our neighboring states.Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, 2015
The above was part of a short but noticeable speech titled “Mongolia– Neutrality” by the country’s then-president, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, at the UN General Assembly on September 10, 2015. Although Elbegdorj emphasized that these foreign policy deliberations were a work in progress, commentators inside and outside of Mongolia interpreted the speech as a declaration of permanent neutrality. Especially in Mongolia’s neighbors, this did not go unnoticed. In a twenty-minute segment (in English), China Central Television (CCTV) interviewed Puntsag Tsagaan, Elbegdorj’s Chief of Staff about the meaning of this announcement. Trying to make the situ- ation more graspable to the international audience, Tsagaan explained in a metaphor that
we are a nomadic nation and a horse nation (. . .) Mongolia has been grassing a horse, a nice horse, 25 years. Now we are just giving the name to the horse. Meaning that our foreign policy was kind [of] a neutral policy for the last 25 years. (. . .) So, there is no big change, no radical change, it is just being formal- ized, I would say.Puntsag Tsagaan, 2015
This was an interesting statement in several ways. Read more….