Permanent Neutrality: A Model for Peace, Security, and Justice

Edited by Herbert R. Reginbogin and Pascal Lottaz

This book is the product of a conference held in Washington, DC on March 25, 2019. The venue, “Permanent Neutrality, a Model for Peace, Security, and Justice,” was convened to discuss the potential of permanent neutrality in the twenty-first century. Some might question if neutrality ever played a role in world politics or argue that it is on the verge of disappearing. The historical record shows, however, that such assumptions are not warranted. Neutrality as a principle and an institution has been going through different phases over the past millennia, and there is no reason to believe that it will disappear before universal and lasting peace is achieved. As long as there are conflicts and wars, there will be those who choose one side, those who choose another, and those who choose not to choose.

Discussing and understanding the role of neutral states in any security environment remains an important part of the research of international politics. Since the end of World War II, International Relations has often ignored neutrality as a principle and a concept. Despite its paramount importance in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, its centrality at the Hague Peace Conferences, and the volumes and volumes of scholarly work created before 1939, it has been replaced—not entirely but mostly—by new concepts like “balancing,” “hedging,” or “bandwagoning.” Proponents of realism often fail to account for neutral states in their explanations, while constructivism has focused attention on the social origins and norms of neutrality, but it does not usually deal with the security function of neutral states. The lack of proposals to use neutrality—especially permanent neutrality—in contemporary world politics to pacify areas of contestation is symptomatic to this change in International Relations.

This book argues that serious thought should be given to the resurrection of permanent neutrality and the practice of “neutralization.” Not every conflict can be solved through permanent neutrality, but there are good reasons to consider its useful functions. They can contribute to keeping global security architectures stable during times of global change in the distribution of power.


Pascal Lottaz and Herbert R. Reginbogin

This book explores state neutrality in the contemporary international system. It begins from an underlying assumption that was most ruthlessly expressed by Stalin when he said; “I am sorry, gentlemen, we cannot do anything about geography.”1 The dictator supposedly confronted a delegation of Finish Dip- lomats with this fatalism shortly before he ordered the invasion of their country to increase Soviet military security at the western border. It is a crude principle that geography is the fundamental determinant of foreign policy,2 but one that will remain valid for as long as the Westphalian state system exists. Or, as Henry Kissinger put it, “geography has been the predominant factor in determining the fate of nations, from pharaonic Egypt to the Arab Spring.”3 Geography decides which resources states have at their immediate disposition and what they have to obtain from the outside. It determines the vulnerabilities and strengths of their military positions. It is the source of strategy, demography, transportation, even culture. Geography drives states’ decisions on how to cope with their shortcomings, on the one hand, and how to capitalize on their strengths, on the other. Finally, geography also deter- mines and drives security, threat, and threat perception. In this context, neu- tral states play roles that are not “aloof” of world affairs but embedded in them since they take up physical space while not joining the wars and con- flicts of others. This book explores their special position and the potential it harbors to create security for the past, present, and (conceivable) future. Read more…

Part I: Theory

Chapter 1:
A Tale of Two Strategies: Permanent Neutrality and Collective Security

Stephen C. Neff

There are many possible models for bringing peace, security, and justice to the world. One of them is empire or hegemony: putting one single power in command. Another is shared great-power management, along the lines of the nineteenth-century Concert of Europe. Another is the balance of power. International lawyers are particularly attracted to order brought about by adherence to a set of universal norms. Regional autarky is another possibility. So is technocratic management, along the lines advanced by the nineteenth-century St-Simonians. The list could be expanded more or less indefinitely. The present discussion will focus on the interplay and contrasts between two particular strategies: permanent neutrality and collective security. A couple of useful contrasts between these two may be pointed out from the outset. Read more…

Chapter 2:
Neutrality and Security: A Comparison with Alternative Models of National Security

P. Terrence Hopmann

Even in a liberal international order in which humanitarianism is prioritized, states still need to be concerned about national security. Realist approaches to security tend to emphasize the role of alliances as a means through which states can pool their resources to provide security in response to external threats. Indeed, for many states in an international system in which security dilemmas arise, joining collective defense organizations is often a rational strategy. However, alliances are not the only option available for states to try to enhance their security in response to external threats; other choices are available. Read more…

Chapter 3:
The Logic of Neutrality

Pascal Lottaz

Neutrality is a practical affair; it does not rely on Theoreticians to flourish. There are, however, several theoretical ways to understand neutrality. The most prevalent one is to focus on it as a legal concept under international law. Another way is to study neutrality as a norm. Alternatively, one can also look at neutrality’s connection to values; like its relationship to national identities or humanitarianism. Finally, it is possible to focus on the structures that systems with neutral actors create. While all approaches are important, this chapter focuses on the last one only. It borrows aspects from classical and structural realism to explain the logic position of neutral actors in different conflict constellations. As of now, no theoretical work has been conducted in modern International Relations on the logic of security systems with neutral actors. Network analysis or game-theoretical approaches have yet to be attempted. Hence, the absence of a theory of neutrality. This chapter will not be able to offer a theory either, it will, however, propose an approach for the theoretical modeling of neutral actors in security systems. It argues that neutral behavior of states is common because their self-interest naturally leads to what the chapter calls the “neutral idea.” That, in turn, gives rise to the “politics of neutrality” which, in contrast to the “law of neutrality,” is not founded on international law but multilateral negotiations. The resulting position of neutral actors is that of a “third space” outside of a primary conflict but inside of a conflict dynamic. From this follows that neutrality in a system is a meta-relational property that arises naturally from the triangular logic of “being friends with enemies.” Read more…

Part II:

Chapter 4:
The Model of Neutrality: The Example of East-Central European States

Heinz Gärtner

After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, some of its former members joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and later the European Union (EU). They saw NATO as a protection against Russia and the EU as a return to Europe. After a brief internal debate, they did not opt for neutrality. Other East and Central European states remained outside the alliance. NATO, on its part, followed an “open-door policy,” leaving the possibility of membership open without yet inviting them to join. This chapter argues that neutrality might be one alternative option to NATO membership for these Eastern and Central European states. It will use the case of Austria’s permanent neutrality as a point of comparison to argue for the usefulness of the “Austrian Model” as a security paradigm for Europe. Read more…

Chapter 5:
Neutral and Nonaligned States in the European Union

Gutner Hauser

Neutrality is a concept for avoiding involvement in wars of other states. This status was often proclaimed in history, but its recognition was usually initiated not by the country in question but by a group of countries at war. Permanent Neutrality, as the introduction of this book explains, is a particular form of general neutrality. It was enshrined in international law through the Paris Agreement of November 20, 1815, in which the major European powers recognized Switzerland’s permanent neutrality and guaranteed the inviolability of its territory.4 Until the nineteenth century, two types of neutrality have been recognized: temporary (occasional) neutrality during war-time—from the beginning to the end of an armed conflict—and permanent neutrality. The permanently neutral state had to credibly arrange its peace-time trade and foreign policy to avoid potential entanglements in future conflicts. On October 18, 1907, the essential rights and duties of neutral states in wartime were codified for the first time in the Fifth and Thirteenth Hague Conventions. Alongside the rights of self-determination and nonparticipation in wars, another essential feature of the conventions for neutral states was that “[t]he territory of neutral powers is inviolable.” A neutral state is not allowed to start any war or to join a military coalition. Further obligations are impartiality toward belligerents, and agreements not to provide mercenaries for belligerents. The foreign policy of permanently neutral states must be arranged in such a way as to minimize the possibility of becoming entangled in any war. Read more…

Chapter 6:
Neutral Power Russia

Glenn Diesen

Russia is not commonly associated with the concept of permanent neutrality due to its various levels of alliances during the Cold War and its role in the European alliance-systems before the Bolshevik Revolution. However, the geostrategic situation of the twenty-first century has increasingly produced incentives for Russia to promote neutrality as a foreign policy. The main threat and disappointment to Moscow have been the failure of the West to reach a post-Cold War settlement that would have established a new and mutually acceptable status quo. The prospect of a Common European Home fell apart as Western governments opted for constructing a new Europe without Russia, expanding NATO and the EU toward Russian borders. In the absence of a Greater Europe that included Russia, Moscow was only left with two Grand Strategic options; either construct a new rival bloc of allies or create a beltway of permanently neutral states along its western border. The latter has emerged as its sole option since the people within many of its neighboring countries are divided among two camps—those who seek integration with both the West and Russia and those who seek integration only with the West to move away from Russia. In this environment, neutrality prevails as the most feasible option. Read more…

Chapter 7:
America’s Experience with Neutrality: An Epoch of Neutrality

Herbert R. Reginbogin

What the nineteenth century brought to Great Britain, the twentieth century, did for the United States, resulting in each nation becoming the most powerful country of their era. The “American Century” was shaped by a robust constitutional democracy promoting individual rights and influencing the concept of neutrality in many ways, from contributing to international humanitarian law to, ironically, even calling for its complete abandonment when fighting terrorism. Contrary to America’s early experience, when neutrality was a pillar of US foreign policy, after the Second World War, the US would never again adopt the status of neutrality, placing a “tombstone on an epoch.” After the war, Washington embarked on the creation of a “new world order” based on the United Nations Charter, the Bretton Woods principles, and the Nuremberg Trials, in the spirit of “bellum iustum” (just war). Meanwhile, other countries continued to practice neutrality based on the spirit of the Hague Conventions and of traditional sovereign rights until today. They delivered humanitarian services and contributed to the reduction of tensions among adversaries during the Cold War and beyond. Read more…

Part III:

Chapter 8:
The Nomos of Neutrality in East Asia

Herbert R. Reginbogin and Pascal Lottaz

This chapter highlights the changes, challenges, and tensions arising in the Indo-Pacific region due to China’s rise as a great power and explores the potential for neutral approaches of East Asian countries toward them. While China’s rise offers new trade opportunities, it also poses security risks. The East Asian seas used to be marginal to western security thinking, but their long histories of contestation and their roles as global trade routes are central to the global economy. Their geography is also a critical part of the bilateral relationship between China and the United States. However, the vastly differ- ent value systems of a liberal democracy and a Communist-Leninist one-party state is inadvertently problematic and has already produced many conflicts. Not only maritime disputes, but nuclear deterrence strategies impact the security of East Asian States profoundly, which are vital to understanding China’s firm stand to establish a comprehensive maritime domain in the South China Sea. While containment, deterrence, and public diplomacy appear to have their limitations and are unable to deliver a reconciliation be-tween the Great Powers, this chapter proposes a reset of the security architecture in East Asia. At the core of this new security architecture is the reconceptualization of permanent neutrality which could serve as an incentive for China to return to the liberal world order and resolve issues in the East and South China Seas in a peaceful and equitable manner. Read more…

Chapter 9:
Taiwanese Neutrality

Pascal Lottaz and Herbert R. Reginbogin

For more than 70 years, the Republic of China (ROC)—Taiwan—and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have coexisted. Like the Korean peninsu- la, where the South is still technically at war with the North, Taipei and Beijing, have not achieved a peace settlement to end their conflict. After 20 years of relative calm in the Taiwan Strait, tensions in the Pacific are rising again with the PRC modernizing its military and increasing its naval strength. Beijing, Taipei, and Washington are caught in a multilayered, trilateral conflict constellation which is historically grown but increasingly fueled by the rivalry of the two superpowers. The unsettled business of World War II together with the United States’ policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan has led to an unstable status quo in East Asia that threatens to erupt into a hot conflict if the three parties do not find a mutual understanding of the status of Taiwan and a political solution that can deliver mutual military guarantees to avoid an escalating security dilemma. This chapter will first describe the current situation of Taiwan, the dangers that the status quo entails, and then propose to solve the Taiwanese conundrum, peacefully, through the armed permanent territorial neutrality of Taiwan. Read more…

Chapter 10:
Case Studies of Contemporary Neutrality Advocacy

Lu Hsiu-lien, Michael Tsai, and Michael O’Hanlon

Debates about the value of permanent neutrality are not confined to academic circles. There are policy advisors and politicians around the globe who think about the “neutral idea” seriously and some have started their advocacy for it. This chapter presents three different thinkers; Lu Hsiu-lien (Annette Lu), Vice president of the Republic of China (ROC–Taiwan) from 2000 to 2008, her colleague, Michael Tsai, former minister of defense of the ROC, and Michael O’Hanlon, director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and former member of the external advisory board the Central Intelligence Agency (2011–2012). The three practitioners participated in the conference “Permanent Neutrality: A Model for Peace Security and Justice” on March 25, 2019, in Washington, DC. They present their respective cases for the permanent neutrality of Taiwan (Lu and Tsai) and Ukraine (O’Hanlon). The former two are stated with a clear political purpose; to convince the audience of the moral and historical right for Taiwan to push for a neutral solution that would guarantee its security while allowing the Taiwanese population to steer the course of their political developments themselves. O’Hanlon’s assessment of Ukraine, on the other hand, draws on a strategic assessment of the Eastern European region that he developed in earlier scholarship. All three contributions were transcribed from their oral presentations and edited only for formality. They should be understood as primary sources that reflect contemporary neutrality advocacy. Read more…


Pascal Lottaz and Herbert Reginbogin

The ten chapters of this book explored various facets of neutrality in the international system, especially its underestimated security function. The main argument is that neutrality in general, and neutralization in particular, can function as useful tools of statecraft. Neutrality used to be an integral feature of international politics during the nineteenth-century balance of power. However, neutralization as a way of creating stability in conflict areas started to fall out of fashion after the Second World War and declined even further after the Cold War. Austria and Finland, at the beginning of the Cold War, were two of the last successful cases, while Laos, during the Vietnam War, was the last unsuccessful attempt. Since then, only self-declared neutralities have emerged. Although the twenty-first century has inherited the work of the previous generations—there still is a “law of neutrality” that has not been revoked—neutrality has lost much of its previous esteem. Apart from a few “staunchly” neutral countries, the world commu- nity at large has not been using this potential route to organize state-to-state affairs. Occasional neutrality is not used anymore, while permanent neutrals are routinely portrayed as lethargic by design. Read more…