Notions of Neutralities

Edited by Pascal Lottaz and Herbert R. Reginbogin

Neutrality serves different purposes during times of war and peace. ‘Notions of Neutralities’ portrays those historical challenges that neutrals faced, and are still facing, to maintain some form of economic stability and political order as chaos and wars rage. Neutrals are exposed to existential issues and questions of civil-society, international politics, and morality, in a world defiant to principles of universal peace. Every age has its own armed conflicts and while the questions they raise are often the same, the answers are different because the international word order changes. Is neutrality justifiable even when the humanity of civilization is at risk as in the Second World War or the wars of the post-Cold War era? Can those who refuse the call to arms still act by providing humanitarian services to contain the impact of war or, on the contrary, are neutrals shut-off from global politics – mere weaklings that “suffer what they must?”
This book addresses such questions through an interdisciplinary scholarship by some of the world’s foremost experts on neutrality. Twelve chapters tackle different but profound aspects of the concept over a span of five hundred years. They succinctly show the evolution of international norms in the context of war and peace. What is more, the essays portray fundamental categories of thinking about a variety of neutralities that the international system has produced in the past and present. The authors discuss the complexities of neutrality, providing a new and refreshing understanding of international relations and security for the past as well as for the multipolar world of the twenty-first century.


Pascal Lottaz and Herbert R. Reginbogin

Neutrality, at its core, is the story about conflicts and maintaining peace. It is the idea that war can be constrained through good practices, laws, and mod- eration. It is also an ancient rule of thumb to avert the carnage, suffering, pain, and death of the battlefields and to escape the bloody horrors of war, either by the refusal to join them or—better—by the contribution to international peace and security. However, what exactly does that mean? Moreover, does it work—indeed, has it ever worked? Has not Thucydides already proven, more than two millennia ago in respect to the neutral Melians that, in the end, “the weak suffer what they must”1 and neutrality is only for the weak because the strong have the power to shape the world to their will? One thing is sure; if Thucydides was right and neutrality is a useless concept, then it is one of the most successful useless concepts in the history of international relations. It has been practiced for thousands of years—again and again—in the most varied circumstances and a wealth of different shapes, from the neutralism of the Melians to the Non-Alignment of the bloc-free states of the Cold War. In the process, it has been hailed by some and scorned by others, but it has never vanished. So, what is this “neutrality” and why is it still around? Read more….

Part I
Neutrality Discourse

Chapter 1:
A Threefold Struggle over Neutrality: The American Experience in the 1930s

Stephen C. Neff

The interwar period is perhaps the most instructive in the history of neutral- ity, at least from the legal standpoint. For one thing, the establishment of the League of Nations raised the most fundamental question of all: whether neutrality could serve any purpose at all in the new age of collective security. Some persons argued forcefully that it could not. Foremost among them was the Greek scholar and diplomat Nicolas Politis. Neutrality, in his opin- ion, may have been suitable for a world in which war was regarded in cold “Realpolitik” terms as an accepted feature of international life but was now obsolete in the new age of international solidarity and war prevention. Read more….

Chapter 2:
Changing Concepts and Understandings of Neutrality in the Cold War: The Neutral and Non-Aligned States (N+N)

Oliver Bange

In early 2017, a number of contributors to this volume convoked a panel at the International Studies Convention,1 discussing different meanings of neutrality over the past 200 years. The intense discussions which followed and which ultimately led to the conference in Madrid, on which this edition is based, showed how different the concepts and understandings of neutral- ity during the Cold War era were about those developed during the previous decades. The following contribution bears evidence to this observation, sum- marizing the state of research on the “Neutral and Non-aligned” (N+N) states. It is meant to trigger further thinking on the cultural, societal, and political use and usefulness of national historiographies on multilateral subjects. Read more….

​3. “Neutrality, Our Most Precious Treasure, Keeps War Far Away”: Narratives of Dutch Neutrality, 1840 – 1940

Wim Klinkert

In Dutch historiography, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century neutrality are seen as a logical choice for a Small Power that on the one hand lacked both territorial ambitions and a strong army or navy and on the other depended traditionally on international trade and commerce. Joris Voorhoeve, in his 1979 PhD claims that Dutch foreign policy is ultimately based on three traditions which form the title of his book: Peace, Profits, and Principles. He traces the origins of these traditions back to the seventeenth century, the heyday of Dutch political, commercial, and maritime power, and although many far-reaching changes have occurred regarding Holland’s stand on international issues, he argues that these traditions are still clearly visible in the post–World War II Dutch foreign policy. Voorhoeve identifies the maritime-commercial tradition as the most important one. This tradition, based on the geographical position of the Netherlands as a coastal nation with extensive inland waterways, traces its origins back to medieval times. As the western provinces dominated the Dutch Republic, established in the late sixteenth century, this spirit of free enterprise became, even more, the central theme of Dutch self-image in the world. Voorhoeve states: “The Netherlands was [in the 17th and 18th century] not much more than a group of commercial cities.” The focus was on trade and commercialism, together with a disinterest in territorial expansion, which has continued until today. Read more….

Part II: Neutralities as Structural Elements

4. The Forgotten History of Maritime Neutrality, 1500 – 1800

Leos Müller

Recent scholarship about the history of neutrality often focuses on the Second World War and Cold War periods. It is often portrayed as a unique feature related to national identity, significant to small and medium-sized European nations, such as Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, and Finland, which are attributed a critical stabilizing role in resolving international conflicts. Also, scholarship on the twentieth-century concept of neutrality often presumes that the origins of modern neutrality date back to the early nineteenth century, to the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), when the permanent neutralities of Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries were adopted. Fewer publications have devoted attention to neutrality related to the First World War, and the Law of Neutrality at The Hague Conferences in 1899 and 1907, and even less has been written about neutrality in the nineteenth century. Noticeable exceptions are the historians, Elizabeth Chad- wick, Stephen Neff, and Maartje Abbenhuis. Read more….

5. The British View of Neutrality in 1872

Elizabeth Chadwick

In 1872, the United States (US) and Great Britain (GB) met in Geneva to arbitrate a number of claims which had arisen between them mainly during the US Civil War (1861–65), also referred to as the American Civil War (ACW). The main thrust of the arbitration was the issue of ships which had been built in Britain and sold to the rebellious Southern Confederacy for use during the belligerency. The central issue of the US claims, which were more widely known as the “Alabama claims,’ after one of the British-built ships, was whether or not GB had breached the rules of armed neutrality during the ACW. Read more….

6. Neutrality and Wartime Japan

Pascal Lottaz

The role of neutrality during the War in the Pacific has been overlooked by World War II scholars and researchers of neutrality alike. Even in national historiographies of those European states that remained neutral during the entire period of the war, Japan is often nothing more than a footnote. The reason for the neglect is somewhat understandable; to the European neutrals, Japan was far, far away. Why worry about a belligerent that did not matter militarily nor economically when the existential threat to life and lib- erty was right in front of their doorsteps? The dangers that European neutrals were exposed to and the question how their neutrality helped them to escape the carnage of the battlefields has crowded-out more subtle considerations for the systemic aspects of neutrality. This chapter rectifies the situation by outlining in what ways neutrality impacted Japan and its enemies. It argues that valuable insights in multilateral aspects of the war are gained by distinguishing different types of neutralities; namely Great Power Neutrals and Small Power Neutrals. Further distinctions such as permanent, differential, and even belligerent neutrality are important to understand the many facets through which neutrality impacted the international system of warfare. In fact, focusing on the role of the neutrals during Japan’s period of violence, between the Mukden incident of 1931 and its capitulation to the Allies in September 1945, reveals some of the hidden global aspects of World War II. Read more….

Part III: Neutralities in Use

7. “Private Neutrality”: The Bank for International Settlements

Pascal Lottaz and Herbert R. Reginbogin

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) was founded in 1930 by representatives of central and private banks, it is a private international financial organization, but by virtue of a 1936 multilateral agreement of sixteen governments, it also enjoys treaty rights that make its assets and business practices inviolable. Located in Basel, Switzerland, it benefited during World War II from Swiss neutrality but was itself not subject to Swiss law. It (in)famously continued business throughout World War II with all belliger- ents (and the neutrals), dealing with the Central Banks of the French, the British, the Italians, the Germans, the Americans, Japanese, and all other member banks of its unique structure. It also employed officers from these countries for the entire time of the war, all of them working under the same roof, while their countrymen were busy killing each other on the battlefields. Read more….

8. Neutrality as an Instrument of Soviet Foreign Policy, 1945 – 53

Peter Ruggenthaler

To Stalin’s lifetime, the Soviet Union had to cope with a number of initiatives related to neutrality and/or neutralization. In 1946 the United States put forward the Byrnes Plan, which aimed to neutralize Germany through demilitarization. In 1947/48 the Swedes lobbied for Norway and Denmark to join them in embracing neutrality and in 1951 the Soviet Union itself undertook several neutrality initiatives in the Middle East. In 1952 it was the Finnish Prime Minister’s turn to press for neutrality from all Nordic states. This was followed by the Soviet proposal of a neutral Germany. That proposal coincided with the Western powers’ proposal to evacuate Allied troops from Austria. Read more….

9. Neutrality: Past Lessons & Visions: Providing Peace, Security, and Justice in the Twenty-First Century

Herbert R. Reginbogin

This chapter embarks to analyze the vital role of neutrality between two divergent views of a Kantian world society. They are the perspectives of “solidarism” and “pluralism,” which are both mainly about the role of the state and its interactions with international society. The aim is to pave a road in reducing the geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West. The chapter argues that new security architectures should be proposed involving a reconceptualization of “permanent neutrality” to help expand a codex of practice ending the differentiation between domestic and international armed conflicts. Permanent neutrality is most importantly a modern invention. It is rooted in a national understanding of identity, which is within itself anchored in faith (religion), freedom, and foreign policy. Faith can be the observation of religious rituals and traditions demonstrating the freedom of individual conscience all a part of the private sphere when practiced at home. This has little effect on the world. Read more….

Part IV: Neutrality as Foreign Policy

10. The Vatican, World War II, and Asia: Lessons of Neutral Diplomacy

Pascal Lottaz and Florentino Rodao

The Vatican is a tiny city-state inside the Italian capital of Rome. Since 1929 it was entirely sovereign under international law thanks to the Lateran Treaties signed with the Kingdom of Italy. The Vatican’s unique geographic location, the nature of its political system as a Theocracy and claims about moral, clerical and legal rights over hundreds of millions of Catholics across the globe, set it apart from other neutral European micro-states during World War II like Lichtenstein, San-Mariano, Monaco or Andorra. Furthermore, the Vatican, in contrast to other states of its size, had a well-established and relatively sizeable diplomatic network across the globe. This chapter will consider the lessons that can be drawn from the Vatican’s diplomatic inter- actions with the furthest belligerent country from the Vatican: The Empire of Japan. Much of recent controversies since the turn of the millennium focus on moral debates about the Vatican’s responsibilities for the atrocities against the European Jewry, anchoring the analysis about its neutrality in the context of the survival of the state. Read more….

11. The Evolution of Yugoslav Non-alignment

Tvrtko Jakovina

After Belgrade was liberated from the Wehrmacht in autumn 1944, and the marshal of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, the leader of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and prime minister of the government moved into the home of the exiled royal family, Yugoslavia became one of the first countries to experience the Cold War. Two opposing ideologies in Yugoslavia were already in conflict during the war because the years of violence had fundamentally transformed the state. By eliminating the prewar elite, the Nazi war machine had effectively prepared the terrain for Tito’s communists to assume power easily. The new elites allied the country with the Soviet Union so strongly that Yugoslavia’s revolutionary and aggressive spirit—its ideological one-sidedness—was more conspicuous than any other independent communist government in Eastern Europe. Read more….

12. Politics of Neutrality in the Post-Soviet Space: A Comparison of Concepts, Practices, and Outcomes of Neutrality in Moldova, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine 1990–2015

David X. Noack

This chapter offers a detailed discourse and a comparative case study about the neutralities of three states in the post-Soviet Era; Moldova, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine. It builds on the research of Cold War scholars in this volume to continue the narrative about neutrality in Eastern Europe and shows how, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, three newcomers to the international community used and developed neutrality in their formative years as a discourse (internally) and foreign policy (externally). The study begins with a brief discussion about how the concept of neutrality was utilized by politicians in the U.S.S.R. until its final demise. It then describes how, in the aftermath, three nations attempted to manage their political future, utilizing neutrality. In summary, a brief conclusion portrays what can be learned from the approaches taken by Moldova, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine to adopt the status of neutrality. This research is a step in better understanding the domestic challenges endured by these countries following the end of the Cold War and offers a roadmap for the more in-depth study of post-soviet neutral states. Read more….