Neutrality for Georgia: Concepts and Application

Neutrality has been declared obsolete many times in its long and layered history. Yet a close companion to wars and conflicts throughout documented human history, and an inherently flexible concept, it has also made many comebacks in varying forms and contexts. Neutral states respond to critical moments in their environment by pursuing reversible, rather than irreversible foreign policy options. The concept of neutrality has proven time and again that it can adapt to new situations. The paper discusses the historical, conceptual and legal background of neutrality. Then it looks at the relations of neutral states to the European Union (EU) and NATO. The focus is on neutrality as a potential option for Georgia.

The notion that the concept of neutrality is a phenomenon and a part of the Cold War is false in many ways. First, the history of neutrality is much older; the Swiss idea of neutrality dates back to the fifteenth and sixteenth century. It got its legal basis at the Hague convention of 1907. Second, neutrality was not constitutive of the Cold War but its anomaly. The Cold War was about building blocks, neutrality about staying out of them. When the Cold War was the normal, neutrality was the exception. Austria’s neutrality played an important role in the debate in the fifties as a model for Germany and other Central European states to stay out of the two military blocs. After the end of the Cold War, neutral states became active in peace-operations outside of military alliances. In many ways, small neutral states have more room of maneuver than members of alliances or big powers. They have more acceptance and less geopolitical interests. Neutral European states have remained neutral since the end of the Cold War.

The Final Report and Recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project of November 2015 formulated some practical lessons for the OSCE from the crisis in and around Ukraine. It sought to provide reassurance to Eastern European countries that find themselves “in-between” Russia and the West. The proposals include elements such as: a treaty on European security; alliance membership; military co-operation outside the alliance framework; permanent or time-limited neutrality; neutrality but with military links to NATO; and understandings on what neutrality means in the present context. Already George F. Kennan, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow after 1947 and the father of the policy of “containment,” suggested in 1956 and 1957 to create a neutral Central Europe, because he did not believe there would be another way to unify Germany.[1] He called Central Europe the “in-between-zone.”[2] As a diplomatic and political solution, the Austrian model could be an interesting alternative for these “in-between states”.

Neutrality Law

Neutrality means non-participation of a state in war or armed conflict between states or recognized parties in a civil war as well as non-membership of a state in a military alliance; it also contains the prohibition of a neutral state to provide its territory to foreign troops to be deployed or used for acts of war. In particular a neutral states is not allowed to form military alliances or agreements of collective security with security commitments.[3]

Non-participation in war is not sufficient for a definition of neutrality since all states would be neutral in peace-times. Therefore, the definition has to include the non-participation in military alliances. The aim is to reduce the insecurity of the behavior of neutral states over a longer period of time.

Federal Constitutional Law on the Neutrality of Austria

Article I

(1) For the purpose of the permanent maintenance of her external independence and for the purpose of the inviolability of her territory, Austria of her own free will declares herewith her permanent neutrality which she is resolved to maintain and defend with all the means at her disposal.

(2) In order to secure these purposes Austria will never in the future accede to any military alliances nor permit the establishment of military bases of foreign States on her territory.

Thus, the Austrian Neutrality Law comprises both the prohibition to join a military alliance and the stationing of foreign troops on its soul. In particular non-participation in a military alliance entails non-membership in NATO since its founding Washington Treaty contains an explicit security commitment.

The consequence of the neutrality law was that the soldiers of the four occupying powers left Austria’s territory and Austria regained its full sovereignty.

In the 19th the concept of neutrality was a means to guarantee sovereignty in the international system. In many ways it was an occasional neutrality in the case of military conflict and war.

Contemporary international law, as it developed after the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, is a combination of the Law of Peace on the one hand, and the Law of War and Neutrality on the other. However, international law is not the source of the neutral behavior of states. On the contrary, the legal codification of neutrality always followed the practice thereof. Practices of great and small power neutrals alike became international law only after time.[4]

In contrast to occasional neutrality, a permanent neutral state should, in order to be credible leave no doubt about is neutral status in the future. “It should provide sort of a re-enforced, constitutional guarantee permitting all parties of a potential future conflict to anticipate well in advance the attitude other parties would take.”[5]

The realist H. Morgenthau requested to put policies of neutrality with the development of the international environment.

He observed that “The legal and political status which we call neutrality, is intimately connected with the legal and political structure of the international society at a given historical moment. …The rules of international law referring to the rights and obligations of neutrals have no independent normative existence of their own; they are only the expression of certain legal, economic, political, and military conditions to which they owe their existence.”[6]

“Permanent neutrals are not isolated and lone states. They are embedded in larger security complexes whose logic they impact.”[7] Permanent neutrality based on international law can provide a security guarantee that is recognized by great powers. It cannot abandoned as easily as domestically self-declared neutrality which is not necessarily credible to them.

Austria’s Neutrality as model for Georgia

The issue of Georgia choosing neutrality as a strategic option for the discussions of Georgia’s future is time and again addressed by both in the domestic discussion and international actors.[8] The parliamentary Georgian Patriots’ Alliance Party published results of the poll carried out in Batumi city of Adjara region on the issue of armed neutrality. 69 percent of those interviewed supports the armed neutrality of the country. Also, based on the survey, 75 percent of respondents believes that restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity is possible only through peace policy with Russia.[9] Neutrality is not entirely new for Georgian foreign policy. Indeed, Georgia has a successful experience of using the policy of neutrality. This was the position Georgia took during the military confrontation between two of its closest neighbors, Armenia and Azerbaijan. This position helped to prevent the spillover of the conflict to the territory of Georgia and created a regional balance of powers.[10]

In a Brookings Marshall Paper, Michael O’Hanlon[11] argues that now is the time for Western nations to negotiate a new security architecture for neutral countries in Eastern Europe to stabilize the region and reduce the risks of war with Russia. He believes NATO expansion has gone far enough. The core concept of this new security architecture would be one of permanent neutrality. O’Hanlon[12] argues that permanent neutrality could be the core concept of a new security architecture in Eastern Europe. NATO should not expand further. This concept would reduce the conflict with Russia. O’Hanlon includes Finland and Sweden, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and finally Cyprus plus Serbia, as well as possibly several other Balkan states.

Under some circumstances, the concept of neutrality could serve as a model. It did so already in the fifties during the Cold War. As the Cold War was about building blocks in Europe and military alliances, neutrality represented the anomaly. Neutral states managed to stay out of the spheres of influence created by the two military superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. On several occasions there have been suggestions to create a “neutral belt” in Central Europe. In Central Europe, such a solution was only possible for Austria after 1955.

The question is whether neutrality is a phase out model of a former policy between military blocks or if it is a sustainable conceptual option also for the future. Indeed, there are indications for the latter. The conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008 provoked a new debate, particularly within NATO, regarding the range and future of military obligations of alliance. Officially, NATO stands by its decision to continue its expansion into the East and South of Europe.

Russian President Putin’s speech at the NATO summit in Bucharest in March 2008 can be seen as an indicator when he warned Ukraine and Russia that they would face consequences if they became integrated with NATO.[13]

POINT OF VIEW10/201919that such moves would be made by Russia11. Moscow recognised NATO’s initial consent to Kyiv’s and Tbilisi’s participation in the Membership Action Plan (MAP), a programme preparing for NATO accession, as the beginning of such integration.

However, the precarious role of Georgia before and in the first days of clashes and the open political pressure onto NATO to chosen sides, applied by Georgian president Saakashvili, led to barely concealed irritations and worries regarding further accession commitments from NATO’s side. The transatlantic alliance, which wanted to support Georgia politically and militarily, and at the same time, did not want to damage the cooperative relationship with Russia, is trying to please both sides if possible, and itself – squaring the circle, so to speak. Yet the dilemma is obvious. If Georgia joined NATO and a further military conflict between Georgia and Russia should erupt or be provoked, NATO could even, in an extreme scenario, be dragged into a conflict with nuclear Russia, due to the commitment of assistance in Article V of its Treaty. If NATO did not act, its commitments of assistance would seem unreliable both internally and externally, which could also have fatal consequences. Under these circumstances, an at first glance strange solution becomes a viable political option: neutrality for Georgia and security guarantees from NATO and Russia.

Austria’s status of neutrality was reached when all occupying forces agreed after the Second World War, that they all would withdraw their troops from the Austrian territory. The same model of neutrality could be an interesting solution for Georgia. Following the status of neutrality’s logic, it would have to include the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Georgia, including those rogue provinces which declared themselves independent: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The price for the withdrawal –  the waiving of a Georgian membership in NATO – wouldn’t be so much a concession to Russia, but rather a requirement for a sovereign Georgia, free of foreign troops and with territorial integrity. This step would in no way exclude the possibility of close cooperation with NATO – such as the one practiced by Austria and Sweden. The Austrian Independence Treaty supporting neutrality demanded wide-ranging guarantees from Austria concerning ethnic minorities; a demand, which would of course be of essential importance for Georgia and its treatment of Russian citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The chances of neutrality being accepted are currently looking bleak, in Georgia as well as in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and, of course, Moscow. Certainly though, it is an interesting political option for all involved parties.

When it comes to the East there is no military solution in sight. Sanctions will do little to stop Russia’s aggressive behavior. As a diplomatic solution the Austrian model could be an interesting alternative for Georgia. In its neutrality law of 1955 Austria agreed not to join a military alliance and not to allow any foreign military bases on its territory. The foreign soldiers finally retreated and Austria regained its independence. A guarantee that Georgia will not join a military alliance based on international law might be acceptable for Russia. In addition to its neutrality a State Treaty also guaranteed that Austria would not join a new union with Germany (Anschluss), as it had happened in 1938. In the case of Georgia such a prohibition for the Georgia or parts of it together with neutrality could guarantee the unity of Georgia.

In addition, in a separate Austrian State Treaty, the minority rights were regulated and certain capabilities of Austria’s military were limited. In the case of Georgia, such a State Treaty could expressly detail the Russian minorities within the country’s borders, whereby the unity of Georgia should be guaranteed.

The alternative for the Georgia would be a partition similar to the one in Germany. Austria quickly adopted the Western values and started a process of integration in the market economy, which eventually led to the accession to the European Union in the nineties. This development was accepted by the Soviet Union, mainly because Austria did not become a member of NATO. Moreover, one could argue, that Austria’s neutrality law was the beginning of the détente policy between East and West.

The principles of the EU’s neighbourhood policy, the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and market-economy are essential for Georgia. However, a solution without Russia will not be possible, as EU politicians and officials continue to indicate. Moreover, becoming a NATO member is not a priority on NATO’s agenda. There has to be an option that can satisfy Georgia, the West and Russia. Sanctions will not solve the problem. It becomes somewhat clear that Austria’s model could provide such an offer. Austria is a member of the European Union but not a NATO member. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Austria was divided into four major zones and jointly occupied by the United States, Britain, France in the West and South and the Soviet Union in the East of the country. Therefore, there was a danger of partition similar to the one in Germany. In its neutrality law of 1955 Austria agreed not to join a military alliance and not to allow any foreign military bases on its territory. The foreign soldiers finally retreated and Austria regained its independence. However, there was no ideological neutrality. Austria quickly adopted the Western values and started a process of integration in the market economy, which eventually led to the accession to the European Union in the nineties. This development was accepted by the Soviet Union, mainly because Austria did not become a member of NATO.

All in all, a democratic and economically developed Georgia could represent in the long run a valuable advantage for Kremlin. European and American economic aid packages, similar to the post-World War II Marshall-Plan, are now essential for Georgia. Similar to the situation in Austria, the aid packages should also target South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The combination of neutrality and the Marshall-Plan was a definite success for Austria. Moreover, one could argue that Austria’s neutrality law was the beginning of the détente policy between East and West. The directions outlined above advocate that the Austrian model delivers a diplomatic solution that should be taken into consideration. Neutrality might be an interesting option for Georgia’s future. It might be worth start honest discussions domestically and internationally.

Typology of Neutrality

  • Neutrality in a political/historical tradition: This is a very strong version of neutrality, which is not based on international law, however. Sweden’s neutrality has its origins 1814, was sovereign not before its separation from Norway 1905, however. The Soviet Union accepted Finish neutrality after 1955 because it had the Friendship Treaty of 1948 with Finland.
  • Permanent neutrality – based on International Law: This is the strongest version of neutrality. Switzerland’s neutrality has a long tradition and has been based on international law with the recognition by the victory powers after the Napoleonic Wars 1815. Austria’s neutrality is founded on its neutrality law of 1955. Austria notified its neutrality to the United Nations and all states which Austria had diplomatic relations signed it. On top of it Austria’s neutrality is constitutional law.
  • Occasional neutrality as opposed to permanent neutrality: Occasional neutrality is a neutrality only in military conflict. This type of neutrality is not reliable and calculable for other states. In this case all states would be neutral in peace time. Therefore neutrality in peace time is a condition for a reliable neutrality. This means a declaration that it will not to be a war party in the future.
  • Neutrality based on bilateral treaties: 1980 signed Malta and Italy a bilateral Neutrality Treaty, which allows the presence of Italian troops since 1983. The 1938 Anglo-Irish Treaty paved the way to Irish neutrality after periods of civil war.
  • Self-declared neutrality. This type of neutrality is weak since it is based on a domestic constitutional or parliament decision. This can changed by a domestic again as it happened in Ukraine 2014. Moldova is self-declared neutral in spite of foreign troops on its soil in Transnistria. Belarus calls its neutrality “situational” because it is member of the Collective Security Organization (CSTO) which contains – although weak – security guarantees. Serbia sticks to its constitutional neutrality that has been adopted by the parliament. Turkmenistan’s “positive neutrality” also has been supported by a resolution of the UN-General Assembly; it is member of loose organizations like ECO, OIS, GUS. Other neutral or non-aligned states are among others Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Singapore; Mongolia is also a nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ). Costa Rica’s neutrality is unarmed.
  • Integral neutrality is the most comprehensive version of neutrality. It comprises not only the military but also the economic and ideological dimension. In Switzerland it has been called “sitting still”. It is a passive neutrality which has in its ideal form never implemented.
  • Hiding in case of war is the most common neutrality. It is similar to the occasional neutrality.
  • Hedging is a policy to get more and more independence of big power influence.
  • Differential neutrality is in contrast to integral neutrality selective with for example the exemption of economy, values or war in the neighborhood like Sweden.
  • Non-alignment movement means not membership in a military alliance. The non-aligned movement has been flexible in its relations to big powers in terms of their support.
  • Neutrality without sovereignty is possible. It is a neutral political entity without full jurisdiction over its territory. Examples are Luxembourg in the 19th century when it was ruled by the King of Netherland. Sweden was neutral after 1814 under Norwegian rule until its separation 1905. Portuguese Macao in IInd Taiwan could be neutral within the context of the One-China-Policy.
  • Intended neutrality is a policy by influential elites and groups that support neutrality that has not been implemented yet. Those ideas exist in Qatar what would be possible if the US military base is considered “exterritorial”. In Taiwan a referendum is pending within the context of one China.
  • Active neutrality is in contrast to a passive integral neutrality a policy that pursues strong engagement in in international organizations. It was a policy of Austria during the seventies.
  • Engaged neutrality means political and military involvement whenever possible and staying out only if necessary. Engagement includes peace missions in the framework not only of the UN but also EU and NATO-Partnerships with an UN-mandate for Chapter VII.

NATO and Neutrality[14]

The most important feature for any alliance are the mutual defense obligations. Neutrality and collective alliance are negatively related. When the importance of collective defense obligations – which come into force in case of an attack on a member state’s territory – increases, the neutrality would become a different meaning. The consequence for neutrality would be not to engage but to stay out again. Conversely, when alliance obligations are no longer necessary, the status of neutrality is no longer in question regarding this point. Neutrality means non-membership in an alliance based on political convention or on constitutional and international law.

After the end of the Cold War NATO has been redeveloping its basic structure: preparing for a collective defense was no longer the only or even primary item on its agenda and as second core task its focus included crisis management and expeditionary missions. NATO turned towards new tasks, which only have little to do with the collective defense of the Alliance members: International crisis management – especially in regions outside defined alliance borders (“out of area”), like in the former Yugoslavia or Afghanistan (“out of continent”), and the inclusion of non-members within the framework of the “Partnership for Peace” (PfP) and of the “Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council” (EAPC).

On the one hand, NATO remained committed to collective defense. On the other hand, it was able to undertake new missions including contributing to effective conflict prevention, and engaging actively in crisis management and crisis response operations. In addition to territorial defense (covered by Articles 5 and 6 of the Washington Treaty), the Alliance security started also to take into account the global context. Alliance security interests could be effected by risks of a wider nature, including acts of terrorism, sabotage, organized crime, and by the disruption of the flow of vital resources (arrangements and consultations as responses to risks of this kind can be made under Article 4).

In addition to the existing “collective defense” and “crisis management” core tasks, the new Strategic Concept, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010 NATO, introduced “cooperative security” as a new one. This core task should coordinate the network of partner relationships with non-NATO countries and other international organizations around the globe. Cooperative Security should contribute to arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament. It should provide a framework for political dialogue and regional cooperation, increase military interoperability and prepare for operations and missions. Cooperative Security is not limited to the European partners, but includes a wide range of partners globally.

Indeed, in some cases non-NATO members may play an even more important role in the new operations than NATO-members, for example in the field of peace operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (providing food, water, and medicine), Protection of Civilians (POCs), reconstruction, crisis management. Non-NATO-states could participate in those missions and cooperate with NATO while retaining their current defense profile. Other partners have regional priorities and niche capabilities. That means that there can be a division of labor not only between NATO-members and partners but also among partners. Some partners will be committed to the crisis-management dimension while others concentrate more on territorial defense. Some partners will look more to the East others more to the South. The common basis should remain the concept of cooperative and common security. Interoperability can be tailored. Cooperation can be functional oriented.

Naturally, the fundamental priority of a neutral security policy during security deployments and deployments abroad does not lie with alliance obligations. However, modern neutrality also does not exclude cooperation with alliance members or alliances, as long as they agree on the key issues. Neutral states share basic threat analyses and goals with NATO within the framework of the partnerships, which are not necessarily limited to the institution of “Partnership for Peace” (PfP). In the partnership-context, peace operations are well compatible to neutrality. However, neutral states – but not only them – consider a United Nations mandate necessary for its participation in any armed peacekeeping operation.

After the Ukraine-crisis 2014-2015 it appeared that NATO returned to traditional territorial and collective defense rather than concentrating on crisis management or cooperative security. NATO never had given up collective defense, however. It is rather a question of priorities. The Ukraine-crisis refocused NATO’s priorities to the East of Europe. The threats and challenges from the South do not disappear, however. Human security, dysfunctional states, regional conflicts, refugee flows, natural disasters, terrorism, nuclear proliferation will stay with us the time to come. The emergence of the “Islamic State” is a case in point. It would be unfortunate for neutral states if crisis management were more and more replaced by collective defense. The unravelling of the Westphalian system in many states of the Middle East and in the Mediterranean will produce more dysfunctional states and more radical non-state actors. The monopoly of the use of force of the state is being dissolved, what leads to the privatization of violence and to a new medievalism. It will probably produce a much larger challenge than we know now.

In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, those parts within NATO, who support territorial and collective defense, once more prevailed. At the Wales Summit in 2014, NATO-allies included the concept of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) into the overall NRF structure to enhance the capabilities of the NATO Response Force (NRF) in order to respond to emerging security challenges posed by Russia. Although it should also counter the risks emanating from the Middle East and North Africa it is mainly based on collective defense. Partners cannot be part of collective defense operations, therefore their possibilities for the participation is becoming more limited.

Focusing exclusively on both the East and on collective defense would reduce both cooperative security and the role of partners. Also, the effort to define crisis management and missions in the South as collective defense would leave little room for partners to contribute. Rather the Alliance should reinforce its common and cooperative security capabilities that includes the interoperability, Connected Force Initiative, NATO Response Force, Civil-Military Relations, Counter Insurgency and host-nation-support.

The non-membership in an alliance, anchored in the neutrality law or political convention, is a clear characteristic of neutrality. The most important feature of an alliance are the mutual obligations of assistance, which are incompatible with neutrality. As long as NATO sees itself as a “military alliance” there can be no membership for neutral states in NATO. But within the framework of partnerships, crisis management and cooperative security, they can provide capacities that are similar to those of the members of a transformed NATO.

The European Union and Neutrality

Enshrined in Treaty of Lisbon of European Union is a solidarity clause (Article 222), which requires member states to support other member states in case of manmade disasters (e.g. terrorist attacks) and natural disasters should the state concerned request it. Contributions from member states are voluntary and happen upon request from the state concerned. European cooperation of police and justice take priority over military means. Behind the solidarity clause stands very much the idea of collective security. The concept of collective security aims to enhance the security amongst its member states while the concept of collective defense is aimed against an outside enemy.

However, this clause is not part of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) and must not be confused with assistance obligations (Article 42.7). According to this clause, member states must provide each other with “aid and assistance by all means in their power” in case of armed aggression towards a member state. This includes the promise to use military force. The so-called Irish Formula in the Treaty of Lisbon makes for neutral and non-aligned states an exception. It states that this article “shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defense policy of certain member states“. The formulation applies not only to the neutral and non-aligned states, but also to NATO-members. They have to “be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which … remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation”. The Treaty therefore allows opting out both the neutral and the NATO allies of the EU. The Treaty of Lisbon indicates exceptions for these states resulting from their commitments to the NATO treaty. Therefore, exception clauses regarding this part of the treaty are valid for all EU member states, which puts its meaningfulness into question.

The general rules of the Treaty emphasize that the national security “remains the sole responsibility of each member state” (Article 4). While this does not mean that states may not enter into obligations of alliances considering the presence of NATO member states in the EU, it means, however, that each EU member state remains free to make this decision. This implies that no obligations conflicting with their neutrality arise for the neutral states. This statement is valid from an international law perspective. The future of the EU does not lie in collective or territorial

The Lisbon Treaty provides the basis for crisis management – According to Article 42.1: “The common security and defense policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The performance of these tasks shall be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States.” A clear authorization of these missions by the United Nations would certainly increase acceptance for such missions.

Member States, “whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments in this area”, may establish a structured cooperation (PESCO). However, the “criteria and commitments on military capabilities” are established by the member states themselves. This means that participants themselves can decide with which capabilities they want to take part in the Battle Groups. For example, there is no obligation to provide troops for high tech combat missions.

Buffer states and active neutrality

Eastern Partnership of the EU encompasses six “in-between-states” Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. These states have to balance European and Russian interests, economies and values. In many ways it might play out as zero-sum game as it did in Ukraine. A more conflicting approach would be the role of buffer states. They might be involved in confrontation with one or the other side because they decided not to take sides beforehand which makes themselves vulnerable. It depends very much on the domestic decision-making process.

Alternatively, these states can provide actively a platform for dialogue and cooperation.[15] An active neutrality approach would offer to host meeting places, provide venue for international organizations and summits. The Minsk-Talks in Belarus about Donbass is one possible case. Common goals for Europe and Russia could be identified. EU-association agreements and the Eurasian Economic Union need not be incompatible. The Collective Security Treaty (CSTO) so far failed to resolve conflicts in the post-Soviet area neither as arbiter nor where Russia was involved (Georgia, Moldova). The security guarantees are weak and might not be observed (e. g. Kyrgyzstan asked for it during the Kyrgyz-Uzbek ethnic conflict in summer 2010).[16]

Austria, for example, presented itself as a meeting point, by hosting, for example, meetings between the Presidents of the United States and of the Soviet Union, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in 1961, and Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in 1973, both in Vienna. Last, but not least, thanks to this policy of neutrality, Vienna was chosen as the third UN capital and seat of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), UN specialized agencies (e.g. UNIDO) and the secretariats of OPEC and OSCE (formerly CSCE).

Engaged Neutrality[17]

In contrast to disengagement and staying out “engaged neutrality” means active participation in the international security policy. Neutrality must not be interpreted as “sitting still” in the integral sense of sitting on the sidelines. This definition would support economic neutrality and an equidistance between the blocks, and would be incompatible with a membership in the United Nations. Neutrality has never oriented itself along these lines discussed in literature on neutrality, allowing it to prove its flexibility. Flexibility of the understanding of neutrality and its adaptability to modern requirements cannot be interpreted as a loss of significance. Multilateralism, readiness to talk, and global partnership have priority for the neutrals. Use of force must remain the exception. Priority setting is important.

Engaged neutrality goes beyond active neutrality. Neutral states can and should actively participate in crisis-management operations and conflict avoidance. This entails among other things: preventive diplomacy, early detection and timely action, peaceful conflict settlement, but also threat of sanctions, disarmament and military trust building. Membership in a military alliance, like NATO, is not necessary for the prevention of violent conflict. Crisis management and conflict prevention can also be conducted within the framework of the EU, NATO-Partnerships or the OSCE. Neutral states can actively participate in the EU crisis-management-tasks, as provided for by the Lisbon Treaty. As an EU member and a party to the Treaty, they are “full and equal partners” in the planning and decision-making process of these activities. Neutrality is no obstacle to the EU crisis-management operations, whatsoever. They closely cooperate with NATO in important and necessary areas, such as crisis management, humanitarian operations or peacekeeping. Cooperative security and the concept of partners offer the possibility of co-decision for every operation with their participation. “Engaged neutrality” means active participation in international security policy in general and in international peace operations in particular. Peace enforcement missions with the active use of force against one or more conflicting parties need the authorization of the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) according Chapter VII of the UN-Charter. This is also true for the concept Responsibility to Protect (R2P).[18]

Of course, there can be no neutrality between democracy and dictatorship, between a constitutional state and despotism, between the adherence to human rights and their violation. There can be no neutrality between the condemnation and the tolerance of human rights violations, between right and wrong, or between democratic and authoritarian forms of government. There is no neutrality towards glaring human rights violations, tolerance of injustice, torture or genocide. The obligations of neutral state are defined in negative terms as the non-membership in a military alliance, non-participation in foreign wars and the non-deployment of foreign troops on the territory of neutral states. Neutral states are not allowed to offer other states or alliances the prospect of entering into a war at their side.

Nonetheless, neutrality allows for a crucial advantage in the debate on these values. It releases from geopolitical and alliance-related considerations. Western democratic constitutional states need to detract from their values time and again due to pragmatic considerations. Small neutral states have no global geopolitical interest that would lead it to establish military bases in or deliver weapons to authoritarian states that neglect human rights and constitutional values (although there are exceptions). Neutral states are less limited by alliance obligations in their fight for democracy, human rights and constitutional states everywhere. Neutrality allows not to have double standards. However, a reassessment of neutrality is necessary. The old Swiss concept of “sitting still” should definitely become something of the past. False diplomatic caution has to be replaced by a courageous and aggressive advocacy of self-evident values. The state of neutrality itself already implies that, from the outset, it does not maintain a hostile attitude during conflicts. Engaged neutrality means involvement whenever possible and staying out only when necessary.

The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 should be the future

The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the subsequent process could provide a guideline for resolving current conflicts in Europe’s neighbourhood, without copying them. It is an instrument beyond pure power politics which were successful in the past and still are very timely. It expresses the European values best. It does not identify enemies, not even opponents or adversaries while most of the security and defense strategies define other states as “opponents”, “adversaries” and “enemies”. The document requests cooperative security and views that security as indivisible. It develops a Decalogue of humanitarian values and supports economic cooperation. It allows changing of borders only peacefully and with consensus.


Georgia finds itself in the heterogeneous “in-between” group of states. Neutrality might be a strategic option for Georgia. As a diplomatic and political solution, the Austrian model could be an interesting alternative for these “in-between states”. Georgia’s neutrality should be based on both on a domestic parliamentary and constitutional decision as well as on international law which provides a stronger guarantee. The type of neutrality could be a mix between hedging, differential, active and engaged neutrality. In the medium term EU-membership would be possible, cooperation with NATO should remain within partnership programs, however. A favorable environment for Georgia’s political development would be a process of détente according to the model of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.

[1] George F. Kennan, cited in Konrad Adenauer, Erinnerungen 1953-1955 (Deutsche Verlagsanstalt: Stuttgart,1966), 442.

[2] George F. Kennan, Im Schatten der Atombombe: Eine Analyse der amerikanisch-sowjetischen Beziehungen von 1947 bis heute (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1982),  p. 21.

[3] Neuhold, Hanspeter/Hummer, Waldemar/Schreuer, Christoph, Österreichisches Handbuch des Völkerrechts, Band 1: Textteil (Manz: Wien, 1991), 477.

[4] Pascal Lottaz, The Logic of Neutrality, Pascal Lottaz and Herbert Reginbogin (eds.), Friends with Enemies (Lanham: Lexington), 2019.

[5] Peter Hilpold, How to Construe a Myth: Neutrality Within the United Nations System Under Special Consideration of the Austrian Case, chinesejil/jmz013, published by Oxford University Press, advance access publication 3 June 2019, 247-279.

[6] Quoted in: Pascal Lottaz, The Logic of Neutrality, Pascal Lottaz and Herbert Reginbogin (eds.), Friends with Enemies (Lanham: Lexington), 2019.

[7] Pascal Lottaz, The Logic of Neutrality, Pascal Lottaz and Herbert Reginbogin (eds.), Friends with Enemies (Lanham: Lexington), 2019.

[8] Irakli Menagarishvili (the Chairman of the Strategic Research Centre), Is it Acceptable for Georgia to Declare Neutrality? RONDELI Foundation (Blog), Feb. 8, 2017.

[9] Irma Inashvili, one of the leaders of Patriots’ Alliance said that the 1042 volunteers interviewed 77 000 respondents. Georgian Patriots’ Alliance conducts poll in Batumi about armed neutrality, Feb. 10.2019.

[10] Irakli Menagarishvili (the Chairman of the Strategic Research Centre), Is it Acceptable for Georgia to Declare Neutrality? RONDELI Foundation (Blog), Feb. 8, 2017.

[11] Michael E. O’Hanlon, Beyond NATO: A New Security Architecture for Eastern Europe, Brookings, 2017.

[12] Michael E. O’Hanlon, Beyond NATO: A New Security Architecture for Eastern Europe, Brookings, 2017.

[13] President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the NATO summit in Bucharest, quoted in Marek Menkiszak, A strategic continuation, A tactical change, Russia’s Europeans security policy, Centre for Eastern Studies, Number 76, Warsaw, October 2019, 19.

[14] See also Gärtner, Heinz, Austria: Engaged Neutrality, Cottey, Andrew (Ed.), The European Neutrals and NATO – Non-alignment, Partnership, Membership? (London: Palgrave-Macmillan) 2018, 129-149.

[15] See also Ekaterina Chimiris, Eastern Partnership Countries: Buffer Zone or Platform for Dialogue? RIAC-Russian International Affairs Council, November 11, 2019.

[16] Marek Menkiszak, A strategic continuation, A tactical change, Russia’s Europeans security policy, Centre for Eastern Studies, Number 76, Warsaw, October 2019, 17.

[17] Gärtner, Heinz (ed.), Engaged Neutrality: An evolved Approach to the Cold War (Lexingon: Bloulder-New York), 2017.

[18] Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty: The Responsibility To Protect, December 2001.