The Disappearing Fear of Neutralism

Seminar Paper, 2003

25 Pages, Grade: very good



I. Introduction

II. Definitions: Neutrality vs. Neutralism

III. Austrian Neutrality

IV. The Eisenhower Administration
IV.1. The fear of neutralism
IV.2. Challenges to Austrian neutrality
The Hungarian Crisis 1956
The Lebanon Crisis 1958 – A Soviet-Austrian honeymoon?

V. The Kennedy Administration

VI. The Johnson Administration
VI.1. Vietnam - the Shadow over LBJ
VI.2. “Bridge-building”: Austria and Eastern Europe
VI.3. Austria looks westwards: The EEC
VI.4. Military Sales
VI.5. Prague Spring 1968

VII. Conclusion - “Committed to the West”

VIII. Bibliography

I. Introduction

Various studies discuss the American view of the Austrian State Treaty and Austrian neutrality, both concluded in 1955. There are a number of studies concerning the Eisenhower- and Kennedy Administrations regarding Austrian neutrality.

In all of them, the American fear of neutralism plays a key role. Securing Austria’s close connection with “western ideology” and therefore minimizing Soviet influence were main goals of U.S. policy towards Austria. The neutral state should at least show ideological support of the West in the East-West conflict.

In the first part of this paper, I will try to describe the difference between the terms “neutrality” and “neutralism”. Afterwards, it is necessary to discuss the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations policies towards Austria and give a brief overview of this time. The main goal is to examine the Johnson Administration’s view of Austrian neutrality. The records in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, indicate that there was no more fear of Austrian neutralism by the mid-1960s. This paper analyses this development and discusses the status of Austrian neutrality in the sixties.

Did the Eisenhower Administration succeed in pulling Austria to the “western side” in the Cold War? Was neutrality simply unimportant in the sixties? What consequences does neutrality have for the process of European integration?

Other important aspects touched on in this essay are Austrian relations with Eastern Europe, relations with the European Economic Community and U.S. financial support for the Austrian Armed Forces, the “Bundesheer”.

II. Definitions: Neutrality vs. Neutralism

At first it is necessary to take a look at the meaning of the words neutrality and neutralism. In the literature, these words are often used interchangeably (even by John Foster Dulles, one of the most important figures concerning fear of neutralism), which leads to many problems.

The definition of the term “neutrality” is straightforward: it basically means noninvolvement in a war between two or more states. The term “neutralism”, similar to the German term Blockfreiheit, evolved after 1945 in the Cold War era. Neutralism is an “actual or accumulated position of a state, which is not just neutral in the Cold War but also to a certain degree dependent on communism or the Soviet Union”.[i] “The term neutralism is… not of legal nature, is not based on any neutral rights and duties… nor is it related to permanent neutrality… at heart, neutralism is non-alignment” in the Cold War.[ii]

The State Department defined neutralism a few weeks after the Austrian State Treaty was signed. Neutralism “represents a determination to avoid ‘taking sides’ in international conflicts or rivalries. Carried to extremes, neutralists of this type may attempt to steer clear of emotional and ideological choices between competing international forces […] to describe it broadly as any attitude which involves a disinclination to cooperate with U.S. objectives in the cold war and in a possible hot war combined either a similar disinclination or, at worst, a hesitation to go so far as to cooperate with USSR objectives.”[iii]

During the Eisenhower years, U.S. officials – above all John Foster Dulles – described neutralism as “immoral”. During the Cold War, which was at heart a conflict between freedom and tyranny, every country had to take sides – at least ideologically.

III. Austrian Neutrality

Neutrality can be seen as the prize Austria had to pay for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the Austrian territory after ten years of occupation.[iv] “Neutrality was seen by the Soviets as a guarantee against a future Anschluss with Germany and was accepted by the Allies as a necessary condition for Soviet adoption of the May 1955 State Treaty.”[v] “Neutrality for Austria” was a Russian idea, the Americans merely reacted. “The American attitude towards Austrian neutrality was relatively constant from 1949 to 1955: both Acheson and Dulles would have preferred to turn Austria into a Western ally, and often said so clearly, but they never opposed the idea fundamentically.”[vi] In contrast to the neutrality-debate in the German case, the United States were willing to agree to a Austrian neutrality because the country was strategically of marginal value.[vii]

The Austrian government passed a Constitutional Law (Bundesverfassungsgesetz) about the Austrian neutrality on October 26th 1955, after the Austrian occupation had ended. Important aspects are the everlasting character (immerwaehrend) of Austrian neutrality and the fact that the neutrality was “self-imposed”.

The Americans also insisted that neutrality be voluntarily declared by Austria , not imposed from the outside, because the Soviets would get the opportunity with an “imposed neutrality” to interfere unilaterally in Austrian affairs by accusing Austria of violating the treaty.[viii]

Austrian politicians stressed the military side of neutrality and Austria’s right to protect and defend itself. With neutrality, Austria declared not to join military alliances and would not allow military bases from foreign countries on its territory.[ix]

It is important to look at the Dwight D. Eisenhower years now. This time was characterized by the American fear of neutralism. Austria had to handle massive diplomatic pressure from both superpowers.

IV. The Eisenhower Administration

IV.1. The fear of neutralism

During the Eisenhower years the U.S. policy towards Austria was very much influenced by the fear of neutralism, particularly the fear of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. “The idea that a state would not take sides (…) in the Cold War was at best seen as shirking one’s moral duty, and at worst duplicity.”[x] John Foster Dulles was a leading figure in U.S. fear of neutralism. Neutralism, as he defined it, “tended to shun any preference for freedom over tyranny, religion over atheism.”[xi]

In Dulles’ view, neutralism presented an opening wedge for communism. A few days before John Foster Dulles delivered his view on the ’immorality’ of neutralism in 1956, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the same issue, saying that the secretary would be speaking “not only with my approval but really with my great support.”[xii] Eisenhower went on characterizing neutralism in very moderate terms, in contradiction to Dulles a few days later. The President stated that nonalignment “reflected less an ethical choice than a political and military one”. The statements of John Foster Dulles and President Eisenhower lead to confusion in Austria and other neutral countries. U.S. officials afterwards said that Dulles spoke about neutralism in general, not about the case of a single country. [xiii]

One of the most important documents of the Eisenhower-policy towards Austria, the NSC 5603 of March 26 1956 stated that the U.S. has to do everything possible “to influence Austria to interpret its military neutrality in such a way as to minimize its restrictions” and to preserve the western orientation of Austria.[xiv] The United States feared that it was the Soviet strategy to use the Austrian example as an incentive to develop “neutralism” elsewhere. Therefore the Eisenhower administration was against a “rolemodel Austrian neutrality” for other states.[xv] The fear was to some extent justified. It was a Soviet strategy to create a neutral “buffer zone” between the two Cold War rivals in Europe.

Austria was very important for the U.S. because of its geographic location, the NSC 5603 mentioned Austria as “symbol of resistance to the Soviets”. Therefore, “a weakening of Austria’s stability and pro-Western ties would constitute a serious setback for the United States.” Even more, Eisenhower and Dulles believed that Austria, like West Berlin, held “world-wide psychological importance.”[xvi]

“Because the administration viewed the security and continued Western alignment of Austria as vital to the West, policy makers on the National Security Council gave high priority to maintaining a close and cooperative relationship with Vienna.”[xvii] The policy of “split neutrality”, or the concept of a “secret ally”, ignoring the neutrality of Austria, was another aspect of the Eisenhower Administration’s policies towards Austria. In the event of a Soviet attack, the Austrians allegedly would join the West and NATO and the Eastern part of Austria would be abandoned to the Soviets.[xviii]

During the Eisenhower years, “the United States did not have a problem with the neutrality per se, so long as the state was on “their side” ideologically in the Cold War.”[xix]

There were a few situations, for example during the Lebanon crisis in 1958, where the U.S. feared that Austrian-Soviet relations were getting closer.

IV.2. Challenges to Austrian neutrality

The Hungarian Crisis 1956

Occurring barely one year after the declaration of neutrality, the Hungarian crisis was the first big test of Austria’s neutrality and “forced them to attempt to define a role of a neutral Austria in the international arena.”[xx]

After Stalin’s death in 1953, a change occurred in Hungarian politics. The appointment of Imre Nagy as Prime Minister moderated the brutal regime of Matyas Rakosi and improved the situation. Despite of these changes, the Hungarian people still disapproved the government’s actions, mainly because of the bad economic circumstances. Expropriations and dissatisfaction with the political situation lead the way to the first protests of student organizations in October 1956. The demonstrations of October 22 and 23 soon extended throughout Budapest, the Stalin statue was destroyed, and violence occurred.[xxi]

Violence resulted in hundreds of casualties the next days, and Hungarians demanded a withdrawal of Soviet troops from their country. On November 4, Soviet Forces invaded Hungary and quickly suppressed the uprising. Approximately 200.000 Hungarian refugees went to the West, most of them through Austrian territory: the “young and small sovereign state was prepared to provide asylum – with large international financial and political assistance.”[xxii] The Soviets installed a Moscow-friendly regime, and two years later Imre Nagy was assassinated by the Hungarian communists.[xxiii]

During the crisis, Austria had to split between the two superpowers. The Austrian government condemned the Soviet actions, in part because many Austrians feared that the Russian tanks might not stop at the Austrian border once they rolled westward. Austria ideologically took sides with the West. The big problem for the Austrians was to be very careful not to provoke the Soviets and maintain at least the appearance of a neutral policy. The Austrians regarded their neutrality as the best protection against a possible Soviet invasion, and therefore they could not officially take sides in the conflict.[xxiv]


[i] Michael Gehler, Finis Neutralitaet?, Center for European Integration Studies (Bonn: Bonn University Discussion paper, 2001), pp. 4-5

[ii] Juergen Martin Gabriel, The American Conception of Neutrality After 1941 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), pp. 12-13

[iii] Declassified Documents Collection (Microfiche), Bethesda (Maryland) 1982-1992, cited after: Oliver Rathkolb, Washington ruft Wien, US-Grossmachtpolitik und Oesterreich 1953-1963 (Vienna: Boehlau Verlag, 1997), p. 116

[iv] Martin Kofler, Die Kennedy Administration und das neutrale Oesterreich 1961-1963, University of Innsbruck Masters Thesis, 2002, p. 11

[v] Catherine C. Nielsen, “Neutrality vs. Neutralism: Austrian Neutrality and the 1956 Hungarian Crisis”, in: Erwin A. Schmidl, ed., Die Ungarnkrise 1956 und Oesterreich (Vienna: Boehlau Verlag, 2003), pp. 215-259 (citation 216)

[vi] Gabriel, American Conception, p. 175

[vii] Ibid., p. 183

[viii] Nielsen, “Neutrality vs. Neutralism”, p. 216

[ix] Bundesgesetzblatt fuer die Republik Oesterreich, 57. Stueck, 211, 4.11.1955

[x] Nielsen, Neutrality, p. 218

[xi] Frederick W. Marks II., Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles, (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1993), p. 75; see also: Wilfried Loth, “Neutralitaet im Kalten Krieg”, in: Michael Gehler, Rolf Steininger, eds., The Neutrals and the European Integration 1945-199 (Vienna: Boehlau Verlag, 2000), pp. 80-83

[xii] Kofler, Kennedy Administration, p. 12f

[xiii] H.W. Brands, The Specter of Neutralism, The United States and the Emergence of a Third World 1947-1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), p. 305

[xiv] Kofler, Kennedy Administration, pp. 12-13; also Oliver Rathkolb, Washington ruft Wien: US Grossmachtpolitk und Oesterreich 1953-1963 (Vienna: Boehlau Verlag, 1997), p. 35f

[xv] Kofler, Kennedy Administration, p. 13

[xvi] David McIntosh, “In the Shadow of giants: US Policy Toward Small Nations: The Cases of Lebanon, Costa Rica, and Austria in the Eisenhower Years”, in: Guenter Bischof and Anton Pelinka, eds., Austro-Corporatism, Past-Present-Future (Contemporary Austrian Studies, Vol. 4, New Brundswick: Transaction Publishers, 1996), pp. 222-279 (citation 249)

[xvii] Ibid., p. 244

[xviii] Oliver Rathkolb, “Superpower Perceptions and Austrian Neutrality Post 1955”, in: Kurt Richard Luther and Peter Pulzer, eds., Austria 1945-1995: Fifty years of the Second Republic (London: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 67-82 (citation 65-71)

[xix] Nielsen, Neutrality, p. 219

[xx] Ibid., p. 216.

[xxi] Erwin A. Schmidl, “Die Ungarnkrise 1956 und Oesterreich: Einfuehrung und Zusammenfassung”, in: Erwin A. Schmidl, ed., Die Ungarnkrise 1956 und Oesterreich (Vienna: Boehlau Verlag, 2003), pp. 15-29 (citation 16-17)

[xxii] Oliver Rathkolb, “International Perceptions of Austrian Neutrality”, in: Guenter Bischof, Anton Pelinka and Ruth Wodak, eds., Neutrality in Austria (Contemporary Austrian Studies, Vol. 9, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001), pp. 69-91 (citation 72-73)

[xxiii] Ibid., p. 17

[xxiv] Nielsen, Neutrality, p. 228.

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The Disappearing Fear of Neutralism
University of New Orleans  (History Department)
SE American History
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Disappearing, Fear, Neutralism, American, History
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Bernhard Hagen (Author), 2003, The Disappearing Fear of Neutralism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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