Neutrality (international relations)

Neutrality (international relations)
A map of the world showing the countries in question: neutral countries in green, countries claiming to be neutral in yellow, and countries neutral in the past in blue.

A neutral power in a particular war is a sovereign state which declares itself to be neutral towards the belligerents. A non-belligerent state does not need to be neutral. The rights and duties of a neutral power are defined in Sections 5[1] and 13[2] of the Hague Convention of 1907. A permanently neutral power is a sovereign state which is bound by international treaty to be neutral towards the belligerents of all future wars, an example of a permanently neutral power is Japan. The concept of neutrality in war is narrowly defined and puts specific constraints on the neutral party in return for the internationally recognised right to remain neutral.

Neutralism or a "neutralist policy" is a foreign policy position wherein a state intends to remain neutral in future wars. Non-alignment is the implementation of neutralism by avoiding military alliances. A sovereign state that reserves the right to become a belligerent if attacked by a party to the war is in a condition of armed neutrality.


Rights and responsibilities of a neutral power

Belligerents may not invade neutral territory,[3] and a neutral power's resisting any such attempt does not compromise its neutrality.[4]

A neutral power must intern belligerent troops who reach its territory,[5] but not escaped prisoners of war.[6] Belligerent armies may not recruit its citizens,[7] but they may go abroad to enlist.[8] Belligerent armies' men and material may not be transported across neutral territory,[9] but the wounded may be.[10] A neutral power may supply communication facilities to belligerents,[11] but not war material,[12] although it need not prevent export of such material.[13]

Belligerent naval vessels may use neutral ports for a maximum of 24 hours, though neutrals may impose different restrictions.[14] Exceptions are to make repairs — only the minimum necessary to put back to sea[15] — or if an opposing belligerent's vessel is already in port, in which case it must have a 24-hour head start.[16] A prize ship captured by a belligerent in the territorial waters of a neutral power must be surrendered by the belligerent to the neutral, which must intern its crew.[17]

List of neutral states

Recognised as neutral

Recognised as neutral:[by whom?]

Country EU member? Neutral since Notes
Austria Yes 1955 Maintain external independence and inviolability of borders (expressly modelled on the Swiss neutrality).
Costa Rica No 1949 Neutral country after abolishing its military in 1949.
Finland Yes 1947? Military doctrine of competent, "credible" independent defence, not depending on any outside support, and the desire to remain outside international conflicts. In 2006, Finland's neutrality was brought into question by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen during the inauguration of the Finnish EU presidency.[18]
Ireland Yes 1937 A traditional policy of military neutrality defined as non-membership of mutual defence alliances.
Japan No 1947 Constitutionally forbidden from participating in wars, but maintains heavily-armed self-defence forces and a military alliance
Liechtenstein No 1868 Neutral since its army was dissolved in 1868.
Malta Yes 1980 Policy of neutrality since 1980, guaranteed in a treaty with Italy concluded in 1983.
Panama No 1989
San Marino No 1862 Security guaranteed in treaty with Italy in 1862 and renewed again in 1931.
Sweden Yes 1814 Sweden has not fought a war since ending its involvement in the Napoleonic Wars in 1814 with a short war with Norway, making it the oldest neutral country in the world.
Switzerland No 1815 Self-imposed, permanent, and armed, designed to ensure external security. Switzerland is the second oldest neutral country in the world; it has not fought a foreign war since its neutrality was established by the Treaty of Paris in 1815. Although the European powers ((Austria, France, Great Britain, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain and Sweden) agreed at the Congress of Vienna in May 1815 that Switzerland should be neutral, final ratification was delayed until after Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated so that some coalition forces could invade France via Swiss territory (see the minor campaigns of 1815 and the Act on the neutrality of Switzerland signed on 20 November 1815 by the Great Powers (Austria, France, Prussia, Great Britain, and Russia)).
Turkmenistan No 1995 Declared its permanent neutrality and had it formally recognised by the United Nations in 1995.[19]
Ukraine No 2010 Declared policy of state non-alignment in 2010.
Vatican City No 1929 The Lateran Treaty signed in 1929 with Italy imposed that "The Pope was pledged to perpetual neutrality in international relations and to abstention from mediation in a controversy unless specifically requested by all parties" thus making Vatican City neutral since then.

Claim to be neutral

Country Claimed neutrality Notes
Cambodia 1955-1970, 1993-
Mexico 1939- [20] With the exception of its participation on the side of the Allies in World War II. Opened its borders in the 20th century to political refugees fleeing the military dictatorships of South America. From 2000-2006, Mexico ignored the neutrality policy under foreign secretaries Jorge G. Castañeda and Luis Ernesto Derbez. Whether historical neutrality is to be kept is now internally debated. The Mexican formulation of neutrality is known as Estrada doctrine.
Moldova 1994 Article 11 of the 1994 Constitution proclaims "permanent neutrality".
Serbia 2007- The National Assembly of Serbia declared armed neutrality in 2007.[21]

Formerly neutral

Country Neutral between Notes
Belgium 1839-1918 Neutral stance since 1839, abolished through the Treaty of Versailles after WWI and abolished again after WWII, non-neutral alignment confirmed by membership of NATO.
Estonia 1938-1939 Declared its neutrality on December 1, 1938, but Estonia's neutrality was questioned by the Soviet Union and Germany when a Polish submarine escaped from internment in Tallinn on September 18, 1939, which led to the Occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Now a NATO member.
Laos 1962-? The International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos was signed in Geneva on July 23, 1962, by 14 nations, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Latvia 1938 Declared its neutrality on December 21, 1938, but was thereafter occupied by the Soviet Union in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Now a NATO member.
Lithuania 1939 declared its neutrality on January 25, 1939, but was thereafter occupied by the Soviet Union in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Now a NATO member.
Luxembourg 1839-1948 Neutral stance since 1839, abolished through its constitution in 1948, non-neutral alignment confirmed by membership of NATO.
Netherlands 1839-1940 Self-imposed neutrality between 1839 and 1940 on the European continent. Now a NATO member.
Savoy 1815-1919 The State of Savoy was included in the Swiss neutrality in the final Acte of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and that year's Treaty of Paris. The neutrality was maintained after the annexation of Savoy to France in 1860. The neutrality of Savoy was abolished at the request of France by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The abolition became effective on March 16, 1928.[22]

Points of debate

European Union

The neutrality of some countries now in the European Union (Austria, Finland, Ireland, Malta, Sweden) is under dispute, especially as the EU now operates a Common Foreign and Security Policy. This view was supported by the Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, on 5 July 2006, while speaking to the European Parliament as Council President;

"Mr Pflüger described Finland as neutral. I must correct him on that: Finland is a member of the EU. We were at one time a politically neutral country, during the time of the Iron Curtain. Now we are a member of the Union, part of this community of values, which has a common policy and, moreover, a common foreign policy."[23]

Later, the 'solidarity clause' in the Lisbon Treaty was deemed sufficient to replace the Western European Union (WEU) military alliance's mutual defence clause (where an attack upon one state is deemed an attack on all, resulting in military support from other members). As a result the WEU was closed down with its mutual defence role having been absorbed by the European Union.[24]

Irish neutrality is similarly debated; the state's "traditional policy of military neutrality" is not defined in law, and referendums on the Treaty of Nice and on the Treaty of Lisbon were lost in part because of fears these would undermine Irish neutrality.[citation needed]

Austrian neutrality is special, as for many Austrian citizens neutrality is a main element of the Austrian state. So while in fact neutrality currently only exists on paper, politicians do not dare to adjust the constitution to reflect reality. Furthermore the topic is very complicated as strong political powers are against any ties to NATO while in fact NATO can be regarded as the major European defense institution.[citation needed]

Neutrality to forestall invasion

Other countries may be more active on the international stage, while emphasising an intention to remain neutral in case of war close to the country. By such a declaration of intentions, the country hopes that all belligerents will count on the country's territory as off limits for the enemy, and hence unnecessary to waste resources on. The neutrality of Republic of Moldova is an interesting case. According to Ion Marandici, Moldova has chosen neutrality in order to avoid Russian security schemes and Russian military presence on its territory.[25] Even if the country is constitutionally neutral, some researchers argue that de facto this former Soviet republic never was neutral, because parts of the Russian 14th army are present at Bendery.[25] The same author suggests that one solution in order to avoid unnecessary contradictions and deepen at the same time the relations with NATO would be "to interpret the concept of permanent neutrality in a flexible manner".[25]

Many countries made such declarations during World War II. Most, however, became occupied, and in the end only the states of Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland (with Liechtenstein) remained neutral of the European countries closest to the war. Their fulfilment to the letter of the rules of neutrality have been questioned: Ireland supplied some important secret information to the Allies; for instance, the date of D-Day was decided on the basis of incoming Atlantic weather information secretly supplied to them by Ireland but kept from Germany. Also, German pilots who crash landed in Ireland were interned, whereas their Allied counterparts usually went "missing" close to the border. Sweden and Switzerland, as embedded within Nazi Germany and its occupied territory, similarly made some concessions to Nazi requests as well as to Allied requests. Sweden was also involved in intelligence operations with the Allies, including listening stations in Sweden and espionage in Germany, as well as secret military training of Norwegian and Danish soldiers in Sweden. Spain also pursued a policy of "non-alignment" and sent a volunteer combat division to aid the Nazi war effort.

According to Edwin Reischauer, "To be neutral you must be ready to be highly militarized, like Switzerland or Sweden."[26] However, other countries - like Costa Rica - have claimed that having no army would strengthen their neutrality and democratic stability.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Second Hague Convention, Section 5
  2. ^ Second Hague Convention, Section 13
  3. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.1
  4. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.10
  5. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.11
  6. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.13
  7. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.4,5
  8. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.6
  9. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.2
  10. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.14
  11. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.8
  12. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.6
  13. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.7
  14. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.12
  15. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.14
  16. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.16
  17. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.3
  18. ^ Debates – Wednesday 5 July 2006 – Presentation of the programme of the Finnish presidency (debate).
  19. ^ "A/RES/50/80; U.N. General Assembly". Retrieved 29 December 2009. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Enclosed by NATO, Serbia ponders next move AFP, 6 April 2009
  22. ^ Déclaration concernant l’abolition de la neutralité de la Savoie du Nord
  23. ^ Presentation of the programme of the Finnish presidency (debate) 5 July 2006, European Parliament Strasbourg
  24. ^ Statement of the Presidency of the Permanent Council of the WEU on behalf of the High Contracting Parties to the Modified Brussels Treaty – Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, Western European Union 31 March 2010
  25. ^ a b c Marandici, Ion (2006). "Moldova's neutrality: what is at stake?" (MS Word). Lviv: IDIS-Viitorul and the Center for European Studies. 
  26. ^ Chapin, Emerson. "Edwin Reischauer, Diplomat and Scholar, Dies at 79," New York Times. September 2, 1990.
  27. ^ Military of Costa Rica Military of Costa Rica

External links

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