The Correlation of Small States and Neutrality

Essay, 2018

20 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Definition of “Small States”
Definition and forms of “Neutrality”

An Austrian Example – Neutrality to regain Sovereignty
An Irish Example – Neutrality for Self-Determination
A Finnish Example – Neutrality as a Geostrategic Imperative
A Swedish Example – Neutrality with Deviations
A Swiss Example – Neutrality for building National Identity




Figure 1: Strategic Dilemma of Small States (cf. Rickli 2008: p. 309)

Figure 2: Neutral Small States in the Strategic Dilemma (Dressler 2018)

Figure 3: The Neutrality Pyramid (Dressler 2018)


In the history of Europe we have witnessed several small states which saw the biggest benefit for their societies in adapting neutrality. Neutrality harbours interesting opportunities to create different national foreign policies and foreign security strategies – especially for small states. In Europe a lot of those neutral small states happen to be within the most successful and wealthy countries in the world. The interesting fact is, that all these states have different historical origins but still ended up using a similar political logic in their foreign policy. This brings me to my research question: “Under what conditions do small states adopt neutrality?”

But before I dig even deeper into the matter, for better understanding, I will define the two important key words in my essay – “small states” and “neutrality”.

Definition of “Small States”

The term “small states” is a more or less modern expression. Throughout history, countries were referred to as powers. For centuries, the hierarchy in Europe was divided between great or large powers and the middle or small powers. Nowadays as we face a less militarised society in Europe the former small powers became referred to as small states. The new name indicates the lack of (quantitative) power that these countries hold in modern Europe (cf. Gstöhl/ Neumann 2006: p. 5).

There are many different approaches to define small states. However small states are very difficult to define as there are so many different factors influencing the way a state can be seen. The most common factors for different approaches are geographical size, population size, economic size or the influence in international affairs.

Nevertheless, it is not possible to find a satisfactory solution whilst combining all these parameters (cf. Hey 2003: p.2). In this essay I will go with the definition of Jeanne Hey (2003: p. 2). She wrote in her book “Small States in World Politics” as follows:

A review of the research reveals that scholars have at least three different communities in mind when they speak of small states: microstates with a population of less than 1 million, such as the former British colonies in the Caribbean (e.g., Clarke and Payne 1987; Braveboy-Wagner 1989; Sanders 1989); small states in the developed world, especially Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland (e.g., Goetschel 1998; Katzenstein 1985); and small states in the so-called third world, including former colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America, many of which are larger than states in the first two categories.”

Definition and forms of “Neutrality”

“Neutrality” is a term often used in topics that relate to international relations or foreign policies. There are several ways of defining neutrality. The general concept of neutrality is based on the principle of non-participation in war. Over the centuries neutrality gained the acceptance of the world community as a concept as well as a practice in international foreign policies. Most of the neutral countries in Europe also use the term “permanent” in connection with their neutrality. Permanent neutrality indicates to the intentions of a country to maintain neutral in times of both war and peace. (cf. Agius/Devine 2011: p. 267).

Additional to permanent neutrality, there are other forms of neutrality as Agius / Devine describe in their article “Neutrality a really dead concept? A reprise” (2011: p. 268):

Classic’ or ‘traditional’ neutrality is activated when war erupts and is often not codified, as in the example of Sweden (Wahlbäck, 1986; Ross, 1989: 7), but differs from ad hoc neutrality, which refers to a state wishing to keep out of a particular war as it chooses (Ogley, 1970: 2–4).

Further distinctions are made between the categories of neutralization, non-belligerency and non-alignment. Neutralization refers to the circumstance when neutrality is imposed by other powers after war. To a certain extent this suites to the examples of Austria and Finland after the Second World War. Neutralization can happen voluntary or coercive, although in most cases the state accepts the conditions voluntary as there is already a certain degree of coercion behind the whole concept (cf. Agius/Devine 2011: p. 268).

As for non-belligerency, the concept involves that one state does not participate in a war but still favours one war party over a particular other war party. An example for this strategy would be the position of Sweden in the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union. The last form non-alignment is a slightly different case, as it is not really a legal position but more of a political idea. Non-alignment had a large importance during the cold war and at this time the idea was to take no side between the two blocs in Europe. This measure was created to protect national interests (cf. Agius/Devine 2011: p. 268).

This brings us to the last point of distinction of the term neutrality – The legal and political differentiation. From a legal perspective, a country has certain responsibilities and rights which have to be met and respected by the neutral country as well as the international community.

From a political standpoint neutrality serves a nation’s certain interest and thereby it can happen that the circumstances change and with them the interpretation of neutrality (cf. Agius/Devine 2011: p. 269).

At last I have to note, that the concept of small states using neutrality as a national strategy, with the exception of the ad hoc neutral policy, is mostly a European small state phenomenon (cf. Karsh 1988: p. 7).


To understand the initial position of small states, Jean-Marc Rickli (2008) gives an interesting input in his article “European small states’ military policies after the Cold War”. He describes the ‘small states strategic dilemma’. The dilemma describes the difficulties of small states to choose security strategies. He argues that small states always have to decide between three factors – security, autonomy and influence (cf. Rickli 2008: p. 209).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Strategic Dilemma of Small States (cf. Rickli 2008: p. 309)

Due to the lack of resources, small states can either aim for autonomy or influence. If the country decides to go for influence, it will use a cooperative strategy which normally leads to ending up in an alliance. If the country decides to go for autonomy, it will use a defensive strategy which secures its sovereignty. In this case the state does not expect any help in case of a conflict or war. It is important to say that small states cannot adopt an offensive strategy due to the deficit of power (cf. Rickli 2008: p. 210).

Compared to Rickli´s strategic dilemma, it is apparent that small states have to choose a defensive strategy if they aim for neutrality. A lot of small countries decided to exchange influence for autonomy which secures their sovereignty in the long run.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Neutral Small States in the Strategic Dilemma (Dressler 2018)

Furthermore I will highlight several circumstances and historical facts to enable the drawing of a bigger picture in the end. To give a deeper insight in the different conditions small states have been in before adopting neutrality, I will work out several examples. To answer the research question the examples will be further examined in the conclusion.

An Austrian Example – Neutrality to regain Sovereignty

Austria saw itself in a difficult position after the Second World War. After losing two World Wars, Austria was on the verge of a fragmentation between the allied forces. From 1945 on, foreign forces held the Austrian territory occupied. While the country was rebuilt from the terrors of the war, Austrian diplomats negotiated terms with the different winning powers in preparation of an independence in the future. In 1955 the final phase of the proceedings was reached. Key factor in the scheduled treaty would be the permanent neutrality (“Immerwährende Neutralität”) of Austria. The former Austrian chancellor Julius Raab pleaded for an adoption of neutrality on a voluntary basis as an enforced neutrality wouldn´t have the same effect in the Austrian society (cf. Verdross 1958: p. 513).

After the final negotiations in Moscow, the occupation forces sat together with Austrian representatives. In June 1955, the Austrian government agreed to most of the conditions of the treaty unanimously. As a result the Austrian State Treaty (“Staatsvertag”) was formed which was anchored in the Austrian constitution later on 26 October 1955. One of the most famous sentences in the Austrian history was spoken by former foreign minister Leopold Figl on this day, when he stepped in front of the waiting crowd and announced: “Österreich ist frei!” (Austria is free!). He promised the Austrian people a happy and independent future under the banner of neutrality (cf. Verdross 1958: p. 513). His exact words were:

„…daß dieses Vertragsinstrument (die Neutralität) den Ausgangspunkt einer neuen und glücklichen Epoche der österreichischen Geschichte darstellen wird, die sich künftig unter dem Zeichen einer Politik der Neutralität und Unabhängigkeit gegenüber aller Staaten entwickeln wird“ (Verdross 1958: p. 513-514).

After signing the treaty Austrian officials started looking into European integration matters, which had been neglected strongly in the shadow of the independence. In a short time, many questions arose whether and how the permanent neutrality is compoundable with European economic cooperation. After struggling with trade agreements at first, Austria slowly included itself into the European society again (cf. Gehler/Kaiser 1997: p. 86).

At the same time, neutrality emerged to be extraordinary for Austrian politics. Bruno Kreisky and the social democratic party used the neutral status to rationalise the non-membership of Austria in the European Economic Community. Additionally Austria kept its distance to the Federal Republic in order to sustain the building of the Austrian Nation again. The idea was to stabilise the economic core interests of the country through intergovernmental cooperation but at the same time trying to stay as autonomous on the foreign policy level as possible. Through this strategy, Austria was able to benefit from both blocs at the same time during the Cold War. The government´s pragmatic foreign political choices turned out to be great for Austria. The role of being an arbiter between the East and the West advanced domestic interests strongly and enhanced the countries role on an international scale (cf. Gehler/Kaiser 1997: p. 98).

An Irish Example – Neutrality for Self-Determination

Ireland is a special example as they adopted neutrality not only because of an external threat but more to escape an “old friend” - the British hand, which still clung to the old Commonwealth. For centuries Ireland found itself in a much protected position as the country coexisted in the shadow of the British Empire. The fact that the big neighbour provided military protection, created a considerable dependence. Ireland supported the partnership due to their lack of own defences. On paper Ireland adopted neutrality in the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, but this was at the best of political value. As a member of the Commonwealth, the country was still not free to determine their own foreign policy. The formal neutrality was a call for independence, but still on several occasions the Irish government betrayed it by following British measures in military matters (cf. Jesse 2006: p.9).


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The Correlation of Small States and Neutrality
University of Iceland
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correlation, small, states, neutrality
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Paul Dressler (Author), 2018, The Correlation of Small States and Neutrality, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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