Austria's Neutrality Today and its Impact on the Nation's Security

Seminar Paper, 2016

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Sophia Barolo (Author)



A. Executive Summary

1. Introduction

2. Neutrality
2.1. Definition and Historic Overview
2.2. Permanent Neutrality in Austria

3. Austria in relation to International Organizations
3.1. Austria in the EU
3.2. Austria in the UN
3.3. Austria and NATO
3.4. EU and NATO

4. Austria’s Security Strategy

5. Résumé

6. Bibliography

A. Executive Summary

As a consequence of the allied occupation after the second world war, the Republic of Austria has declared its permanent neutrality on the 26th of October 1955. Since then, the perception of this concept has experienced fundamental changes which have gone hand in hand with a variety of alterations of the constitution.

Especially the admission to the European Union forty years after the declaration of neutrality, seems to have hollowed out this model. While Austria as a neutral state cannot be part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the EU has increasingly tightened its cooperation with the NATO. On the way to a „strategic partnership“ the organizations have concluded the Berlin Plus Agreement in 2003[1], and just recently, in July 2016, EU and NATO have declared again a closer collaboration at the NATO summit in Warsaw.

Since 1994, Austria is one out of five European neutral states, that has joined the NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, which has become an element of its foreign and security policies[2]. Within the scope of the UNO membership, Austria has several times sent soldiers to Peace-Keeping-Operations, although mostly paramedics and war observers.

How is this development in line with Austria’s neutrality? Or does it in fact already exist only on paper and as a imaginary part of Austria’s identity? Are there actually any advantages for the state by holding up on this concept? And how does a neutral state cope with its security in a globalized world?

„Austria will craft its security policy predominantly within the UN, the EU, the OSCE, in its partnerships with NATO and within the Council of Europe“, reads the Austrian Security Strategy, which was adopted in July 20 1 3[3].

Regarding the above mentioned facts, my hypothesis so far is that Austria’s neutrality is not given anymore. For my deeper analysis, I want to investigate Austria’s different relations to the mentioned international organizations and the corresponding international treaties and declarations.

1. Introduction

Neutrality is something that Austrian citizens take for granted since the end of the allied occupation after the second world war in 1955. In their minds, this concept is associated with freedom and independence - the cornerstone of their democratic republic. It is a great part of Austria’s national identity, which already school children are made aware of (Reinprecht/Latcheva 2003: 439).

But in the course of the time, the Austrian position has undergone drastic changes and so has the meaning of neutrality. Depending on respective domestic and foreign policies, neutrality has always been interpreted dynamically. It has been characterized by obligations arising from the membership of different international organizations (Hauser 2014: 67).

In my paper, I want to investigate to which extent Austrian neutrality is still existing. Is it yet more than a romantic picture of our home country? How has this concept been affected by the membership in various International Organizations, especially the EU? And how does a neutral state cope with its security in a globalized world? My hypotheses are that in the course of time, Austria has quietly given up neutrality in favor of the benefits of being part of the international community. Security Policies are coordinated and in a globalized world, that is continuously moving closer together, cannot work independently. Therefore Austria has to participate and cannot hide behind it’s neutrality.

2. Neutrality

2.1. Definition and Historic Overview

The concept of neutrality can be traced back to the beginning of the development of the system of states in the 16th and 17th century and has since been embedded into international law. The term stems from latin „ne uter“, which means „neither of the two“ (Gehler 2001: 3). Three different types of neutrality can be distinguished:

1. Occasional neutrality: When a state remains neutral in a certain conflict or war between other states. This is the original way of neutrality, which emerged from practices, scientific thinking and international treaties from the end of the Middle Ages.[4]

3. Conventional neutrality: This type of neutrality is not legitimized under international law and thus can be terminated at any time (Luif 1995: 124f).

During the 20th century, the concept of neutrality has gone through changing practices and perceptions. Firstly, the idea of collective security was born and was consolidated in the framework of the League of Nations (1919) and after World War II in the United Nations Organisation. In this picture of a supranational community, neutrality seemed to have become redundant. Any attack would have been seen as an attack on the whole international community, not only on the attacked state. This belief, however, changed quite rapidly after the formation of the blocs in the cold war and the foundation of the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). (Gehler 2001: 9f).

In the 1950s, as the tensions between East and West became stronger, neutrality reached new legitimacy. Those states, that wanted to remain on the sidelines of the war, established their roles as observers, mediators or „peace keepers“. (Gehler 2001: 10f).

2.2. Permanent Neutrality in Austria

On April 15, 1955, Austria and the Soviet Union reached the political agreement that set the base for the Austrian State Treaty exactly one month later. In the „Moscow Memorandum“, the Soviet Union pledged to withdraw its troops from Austrian territory in exchange to Austria committing itself to permanent neutrality, following the example of Switzerland. Since this should happen of Austria’s own accord and not because it was imposed to do so (see below „of her own free will“), the National Council passed the Federal Constitutional Law on the Neutrality of Austria on the 26th of October 1955 (Busek 2011: 527):

„Article 1

(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. “ (Federal Constitutional Law on the Neutrality of Austria, Federal Law Gazette No. 211/1955)

This status of „permanent neutrality“ was acknowledged by the allies with identical declarations on December 6th, 1955 (Hauser 2014: 66).

In Austria’s case, permanent neutrality, the state should do everything to not get involved in future conflicts. This includes behaving in times of peace in such a manner, that there is no possibility of becoming part of a future war. Warring parties are not allowed to abuse this state’s territory. Thus the state needs to have the means to defend itself in such cases (Hauser 2014: 67; Gehler 2001: 4f).

To amend or repeal this concept enshrined in the constitution, a two-thirds majority in the National Council is needed. Besides this, a popular referendum would have to be held, if a third of the National Council members or the Federal Council requests it (Art. 44/3 Federal Constitutional Law).

In the 70s, under Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, Austrian neutrality was lifted up and made its way into the mind of the people and the identity of the Austrians. Deliberately it was monumentalized and presented not only as a military, but wholistic concept. Internally it should function as state ideology and externally it should be pursued as an active policy. Vienna became a mediator between east and west, location for International Organizations (OPEC, UNO) and host of notable summits and conferences (eg. Khrushchev-Kennedy 1961, SALT II 1979) (Gehler 2001: 26f).

3. Austria in relation to International Organizations

3.1. Austria in the EU

Already in the 1950s, Austria wanted to join the European Economic Community (EEC), the precursor of nowadays European Union. The arguments in favor of a compatibility with neutrality at the time were that the European Economic Community was a mere economic and no military organization. And Austria’s neutrality was only of a military nature. The Soviet Union, nevertheless, was against an accession, because all six member states at that time were also members of the NATO (Hauser 2014: 66).

In July 1989, Austria was the first new candidate to the EEC to declare interest in entering the Union. At the same time, this was only under the reservation that neutrality would be guaranteed in the Treaty of Accession. This was before the end of the cold war and served inter alia as an appeasement and security for the Soviet Union. In its „avis“ from August 1st, 1991, the Commission of the EEC could not agree with this particular demand of Austria.

When the accession negotiations officially began in 1993, Austria stepped back from its demand regarding neutrality and completely stopped the debate. Most likely this development was affected to the political pressure that was on the government on charge due to a strong pro-european discourse at the time. If they would have insisted on the neutrality clause, this would have delayed and interfered with the negotiations. Furthermore Gehler assumes the economical benefits of a quick and unproblematic integration into the European Community as essential (Gehler 2001: 52ff).

On January 1st, 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the European Community. Also Finland and Sweden are neutral and non-aligned (Hauser 2016: 5).

Although the Western European Union (WEU) was mentioned as integral part of the development of the European Union, Austria did not join the military alliance and received only observer status.

A specific article 23f had to be included in the Austrian federal constitution in order to participate fully in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

With the „Amsterdam Treaty“ (short for „Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty of the European Union, the Treaties of establishing the European Communities and certain related acts“), the WEU was led over into the European Union. This means in effect, that within the framework of the „Petersberg tasks“ there was now to possibility of combat missions in the EU-Treaty (Luif 2007: 225ff).

Article J.7 of the Amsterdam Treaty reads as follows:

„1. The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, in accordance with the second subparagraph, which might lead to a common defence, should the European Council so decide. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

The Western European Union (WEU) is an integral part of the development of the Union providing the Union with access to an operational capability notably in the context of paragraph 2. It supports the Union in framing the defence aspects of the common foreign and security policy as set out in this Article. The Union shall accordingly foster closer institutional relations with the WEU with a view to the possibility of the integration of the WEU into the Union, should the European Council so decide. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

The policy of the Union in accordance with this Article shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States; ; [...]

2. Questions referred to in this Article shall include humanitarian and rescue tasks, peace­keeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace- making.“ (European Communities: Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty of the European Union, the Treaties of establishing the European Communities and certain related acts, 1997 http://

In paragraph one we can find the „Irish clause“, which signifies, that the policies of the Union should be adopted by the member states „in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements“, especially regarding a possible NATO-membership or as in the case of the Irish and also Austrian interpretation of neutrality and non-alignment (Hauser 2016: 5f).

Through an amendment of Article 23f Federal Constitutional Law, Austria adjusted its constitution accordingly and so included the „Petersburg tasks“ and therefore the possibility of common military actions into its constitution in 1998 (Luif 2007: 225ff). The Neutrality Act was thereby limited significantly (cf. Austrian Security and Defence Doctrine 2001: 7).

In the Treaty of Lisbon, more precisely in the renewed Article 42 of the EU Treaty, a mutual assistance clause was introduced. This means, that in case of an armed aggression, member states have to assist each other (Hauser 2016: 17).

Article 42 TEU


[1] Natalia Touzovskaia (2006) EU-NATO Relations: How Close to ‘Strategic Partnership’?, European Security, 15:3, 235-258; p253f.

[2] Andrew Cottey (2013) The European Neutrals and NATO: Ambiguous Partnership, Contemporary Security Policy, 34:3, 446-472; p448.

[3] Republic of Austria (2013): Austrian Security Strategy, Security in a new decade - Shaping security; p7.

[4] Permanent neutrality: A state commits itself to stay away from war and military conflicts. This goes back to the beginning of the 19th century and is attributed to Switzerland.

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Austria's Neutrality Today and its Impact on the Nation's Security
University of Lisbon
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Globalisation, Österreich, Neutralität, Sicherheit, Kalter Krieg, Sicherheitsstrategie, NATO, EU, Internationale Organisationen, UNO, Immerwährend
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Sophia Barolo (Author), 2016, Austria's Neutrality Today and its Impact on the Nation's Security, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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