June 28, 2022


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Explainer: "Neutral" Europe is retreating as NATO prepares to expand

Explainer: “Neutral” Europe is retreating as NATO prepares to expand

Berlin (AFP) – With Finland and Sweden taking steps to join NATO amid Russia’s war in UkraineThe list of “neutral” or non-aligned countries in Europe appears to be on the verge of shrinking.

Like the two Scandinavian countries, other countries joined the European Union for its promised economic and political unity without taking sides in the East-West divide that persisted after the end of the Cold War.

But security concerns about Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine have altered the calculus of nonaligned Finland and Sweden and prompted other traditional “neutral” countries to rethink what the term really means to them. Finland announced on Sunday that it wants to join NATOSweden could follow suit, as public opinion in each of the Nordic countries has inflated in favor of membership.

While EU members are committed to defending each other in the event of an external attack, the pledge has remained largely on paper as NATO strength overshadows the bloc’s notions of collective defense.

However, Turkey can still pour cold water on NATO’s ambitions for both Finland and Sweden. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a NATO member, said his government was “not in favor” of the idea due to the North’s alleged support for Kurdish militants and others considered terrorists by Turkey.

“This is the essential thing about neutrality: it means different things to different people,” said historian Samuel Kruzinga of the University of Amsterdam.

Here is a look at some of the countries that have enshrined “neutrality” in their laws or generally considered themselves neutral in the confrontation between the United States, Russia and their affiliates. Austria, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta are members of the European Union that have not joined NATO, and Switzerland is left out of both.

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Arguably the most famous neutral country in Europe, Switzerland has enshrined neutrality in its constitution and Swiss voters have decided decades ago to stay out of the European Union. But her government has been doing its best in recent weeks to explain the concept of neutrality after standing behind EU sanctions against Russia – and Swiss neutrality is analyzed almost daily in the local media these days.

There is little chance that Switzerland will move away from its neutrality: its government has already asked Germany not to transfer Swiss military equipment to Ukraine.

The right-wing populist party, which holds the largest bloc of seats in parliament, has been reluctant to take further action against Russia, and the Swiss are keen to protect their role as mediator to rival nations and as a hub for humanitarian and human rights action. Neutrality helps hone this reputation.


Austria’s neutrality is a key component of its modern democracy: as a condition for the Allied forces to leave the country and to be able to regain independence in 1955, Austria declared itself militarily neutral.

Since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine, Chancellor Karl Nahammer has struck a good balance regarding Austria’s position. He emphasized that the country had no plans to change its security posture, while at the same time declaring that military neutrality did not necessarily mean moral neutrality – and that Austria strongly condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine.


Ireland’s neutrality has always been a bit of a gray area. Prime Minister Michael Martin summed up the country’s position earlier this year as follows: “We are not politically neutral, but we are military neutral.”

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The war in Ukraine reopened the debate about the meaning of Ireland’s neutrality. Ireland imposed sanctions on Russia and sent non-lethal aid to Ukraine in response to the invasion.

Ireland participates in the European Union’s battle groups – as part of the bloc’s efforts to coordinate its armies.

Kruzinga, who contributed to the Cambridge History of World War I book on neutrality, suggested that the more similar the membership of the European Union and NATO, the better for the bloc “to portray itself as a geopolitical power.”


Malta’s constitution states that the small Mediterranean island is officially neutral, adhering to a policy of “non-alignment and refusal to participate in any military alliance”. A State Department-commissioned poll published two weeks before the Russian invasion showed that the vast majority of respondents supported neutrality – and only 6% opposed it.

Irish President Michael Higgins emphasized the idea of ​​”positive” neutrality during an official visit and joined Maltese President George Villa in condemning the war in Ukraine, the Times of Malta reported on Wednesday.


Cyprus’ relations with the United States have grown exponentially over the past decade, but any idea of ​​NATO membership is still off the table — at least for the time being.

The head of the ethnically divided island nation said on Saturday that it was “too early” to even consider such a move that would invariably face strong opposition from Turkey.

Many Cypriots – especially those belonging to the political left – continue to blame NATO for the actual division of the island after the invasion of Turkish forces in the mid-1970s. Turkey at the time was a member of NATO – and the alliance did nothing to prevent military action.

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Britain, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has two sovereign military bases in Cyprus, which host a sophisticated East Coast wiretapping site cooperating with American personnel.

Cyprus also wants to maintain its veneer of neutrality, and has allowed Russian warships to resupply in Cypriot ports, although this concession was suspended after the start of the war in Ukraine.


Menelaus Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus; Jill Lawless from London; Emily Schultheis from Vienna; and Francis Demilio of Rome contributed to this report.