Austrian neutrality complicates future role in security policy

Austria's self-imposed neutrality hasn't stopped it from participating in NATO-led peacekeeping missions. [Shutterstock]

Whether it’s the issue of an EU army or common security policy, Austria tends to refer back to its treasured Declaration of Neutrality. But critics are calling for a rethink. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Austria declared a permanent state of neutrality in 1955, a condition of its State Treaty, and it has become an ever more deeply ingrained part of its national psyche.

According to recent surveys, nine out of ten Österreichers feel a part of an identity that is strongly shaped by the alpine republic’s neutral status. When the treaty was signed over 60 years ago, that figure was just 50%.

But the director of security policy at Austria’s foreign ministry, Gerhard Jandl, has now called for a “rational, realistic review, detached from quasi-transcendental thoughts”.

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Jandl explained that international law and Austria’s constitutional law are clear: its neutrality precludes membership of military alliances and setting up foreign military bases.

International law also means that its status means direct and indirect participation in wars is forbidden. “The concept of neutralism is mentioned nowhere” in terms of “political equidistance between attackers and the attacked”, Jandl said.

The diplomat highlighted that Austria did not make neutrality a condition of its EU accession. Instead, Vienna explicitly committed itself to the development of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). A separate article was even added to the Austrian Constitution in order to make this possible.

Jandl also made the point that Austria has been associated with NATO for a long time, as have other neutral and non-aligned states, through numerous partnership programmes.

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For example, the country provided troops to NATO’s peacekeeping forces towards the end of the Yugoslavian civil war, when efforts were made to bring the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina to an end.

Jandl has now called for Austria to embrace the current security situation and deal with serious problems within the framework of a policy supported by all the member states.

To this end, active and forward-looking participation in the EU and as a NATO partner is necessary. “Austria has to be taken seriously as a player in foreign policy and not dismissed as a freeloader,” he warned.

“The essence of neutrality will remain but it should not stop us from playing a role in the solidarity offered by our partners,” the diplomat concluded.

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