The Irish Neutrality Concept as an Example for Foreign Policy Strategies of Small States

Term Paper, 2019

17 Pages, Grade: 1,0




1. Introduction

2. Theory of small states
2.1. Definition in international relations
2.2. Strategies of small states

3. Neutrality as a strategy of small states
3.1. History of the concept
3.2. Forms of neutrality
3.3. Neutral rights

4. Irish foreign policy of neutral military
4.1. Historical background of the Irish foreign policy
4.2. Irish participation in international organizations
4.3. Neutrality conflicts?

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

“The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State.”1 This article 29.9 of the Irish constitution was again highly discussed with regard to the passing of the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), which formed the basis of the European Union by altering the Treaty of Maastricht (1992) into the Treaty on European Union (2007) and the Treaty of Rome (1952) into the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2007). These two treaties build the substructure of European law and thus not surprisingly affect national law on various occasions.

The only country of the European Union, in which all constitutional changes must be decided in a referendum, is Ireland. That's why there was a referendum in 2008 over the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon - because it touches the national law. Same as with the ratification of the Treaty of Nice in 2001 the Irish voted no at first. The main reason of the no-voters for it was the lack of information depending the treaty (22%), but the protection of the Irish identity (12%) and the safeguarding of the Irish neutrality in security and defence matters (6%) were the second and third most important reasons to vote against the treaty.2 This result is already an early indication in the 21st century, that traditionally neutral small states in the European Union, like Ireland, are increasingly struggling with keeping their neutrality in their foreign policies. Also the recently once again debated subject of a possible European army, which is widely being promoted by France and Germany, is definitely gonna put the neutrality of the few neutral European states to the test.3

This work takes a look at how small states are characterized in the political science discipline of international relations, and what kinds of strategies they use to secure their interests in a globalized world. With the example of Ireland as a small and classically neutral state, the focus thereby lays on the foreign policy strategy of neutrality. Why do small European states adopt a neutral foreign policy and how does this strategy influence the development of the state? To understand the theoretical background of this theme and to get a clear understanding of the term, first the theoretical concept of small states in international relations needs to be explained in a small overview including various definitions and approaches regarding their foreign policy. Proceeding from a review of their different strategies, the specific neutral strategy gets examined depending the the early political-historical background, different kinds of neutrality and neutrality rights. This will then be applied to the specific Irish case. More in-depth focused here is the question: can the Irish foreign policy in the 21st century still be phrased as neutral and what consequences are entailed in the answer? To achieve this, there is the need for an analysis of the Irish neutrality concept and it's development. This will be done in the third part of this work by reviewing the political-historical background of the Irish derivation of the neutrality concept and later also taking into account the latest white paper regarding Ireland's foreign policy from 2015. Also a glance at the meso-level in form of the Irish participation in international organizations like the European Union will be helpful to evaluate Ireland's degree of neutrality. At the end, cases of neutrality conflicts are gonna be pointed out and discussed in regard to the research question.

Because there are seldom consistent definitions in the International Relations of political science, this work is gonna orientate itself towards introductory volumes to construct an own understanding of the term small states. Practically the same also goes for the second aspect of the paper, but furthermore will be tried to conclude the state of research regarding neutrality, especially the neutrality of the small state Ireland, in combination with the consideration of latest political proceedings in form of news articles to an objective and contemporary assessment of the neutrality degree and also a extensively merged comprehension of the term.

2. Theory of small states

The concept of measuring states by their power, and also the power concept itself, is a changing one. Throughout history, nations were always referred to as powers. Simultaneously they were referred to with a power describing adjective. “The traditional view was that military power dominated other forms, and that states with the most military power controlled world affairs. But the resources that produce power capabilities have become more complex.”4 For the measurement of small states or small powers and great states or great powers (following both terms are gonna be used synonymous), this means that the size of a state's power, whether it may be small or great, can not solely be linked to their military power anymore like sheer number of soldiers, planes and tanks.

For the theoretical aspect of defining a state as small or great, this contains a few problems. Of course on the one hand it makes it hard to find a consistent definition, as will be shown by various approaches in the following sub item. On the other hand it means that some states may have a slightly distorted self-perception of their own power capacity, depending on their understanding of power and therefore of small states. Thus it possibly could happen, that a state describes itself as a great power, while in the eyes of others nations it gets only perceived as a small state. That makes it so important to have a consistent definition, which will be tried to conclude now from different approaches.

2.1. Definition in International Relations

The definition of small states obviously varies with the factor chosen for measuring the magnitude of states. The most common ones are the classical population size or size of the country and economic size or the influence in the international relation. But just using the materialistic factors contains possible wrong conclusions. Seen globally, for example, Germany only takes the 17th place in population size and even only the 64th place in geographical size,5 but surely no one would argue that Germany is a small power. Also no one would call Kazakhstan or Australia a great power, despite their enormous size, at most relatively in their regions. So it is important to review the size as seen relatively in regions or absolutely globally. But this also shows that small states by size or population are not always small powers and vice versa with great powers. Consequently just considering the sheer size and population of a state isn't enough.

Robert Rothstein tries to implement the influence in international relations: “A small power is a state which recognizes that it can not obtain security primarily by use of its own capabilities, and that it must rely fundamentally on the aid of other states, institutions, processes, or developments to do so; the Small Power's belief in its inability to rely on its own means must also be recognized by other states involved in international politics”.6 But what if a small state does not recognize that it can not obtain security and therefore has a distorted self perception? This definition depends too much on a clear self perception of states. Hans Morgenthau formulates his definition of small and great powers a lot more pedestrian: „A Great Power is a state which is able to have its will against a small state ... which in turn is not able to have its will against a Great Power”.7 That includes not only the influence in international relations, but also the materialistic factors depending a strong assertiveness towards other states. But this also can only be accepted in a relative context, as small states have developed strategies that allow them to sometimes have their will against great power, as shown in the next subitem. Taking into account the thought of Archer, Bailes and Wivel that define small states qualitative and relational “as the weaker part in an asymmetric relationship, which is unable to change the nature or functioning of the relationship on its own”8, visualizes the need for an averting of the search for a universal definition of small states. Hence small powers can simply be defined as states that are struggling to establish their interests in the international relations, because of the dominance of the big powers (like mentioned several times, the relation is most important). Thus they have to find other specific strategies for competing in international politics, which will be overviewed in the next subitem. Finally regarding small states remains to say, that it is also important to distinguish them from so called micro states like Monaco or the Vatican, which are even smaller than small states (or simply micro) with a population of under 1 million.9

2.2. Strategies of small state

As pointed out in the last item, because of the power relationship resulting from the natural arrangement of states in great and small powers, the small ones need to find different strategies to assert themselves in the international politics. “Great powers have, by definition, greater access to resources as well as moral authority,”10 and that's logically also why they act in different ways than small powers. This means that small powers are exposed to bigger security threads, which the big ones are lacking, and thus have to get creative to obtain their security. How do these small states strategies appear? In the following paragraph a few different of them are going to be presented.

The classical strategy for a small state to protect itself against threats is the entering of alliances with both big and small powers. This type of hard security banks on inter-state diplomacy. States “either align with threatening powers (bandwagoning) or join alliances to balance against powerful actors (balancing).”11 So this way they either eliminate the threat directly by aligning with it or indirectly by getting partners that protect them from the immediate threat. The importance of those alliances can be verified with a quick glance at the history and the various instances of such federations. States are voluntarily sacrificing independence to gain security: David Lake argues that in order to gain or obtain protection small powers are willing to subject to others.12 This may even lead to a strong dependence on their mightier partners and to a search for specific capabilities useful for the alliance, quasi a niche, which itself anon can lead to the undermining of the ability to develop an own full-spectrum capabilities.13

Another rather new strategy that tries to avoid bandwagoning and balancing and hence places itself in between these subordinate tactics, is called strategic hedging. By pursuing only multilateral and no bilateral politics, small states are trying to avoid a side or fraction in conflicts as an aim to prevent higher security risks.14 Brock Tessmann explains that “strategic hedging behavior helps second-tier states cope with the threats and constraints they are likely to encounter under conditions of unipolarity, (especially), in a deconcentrating unipolar system such as the one that has characterized the early twenty-first century”.15 After this explanation, the strategy of strategic hedging is suitable for an unipolar system, which is one system of power distribution in the world centered on one big state that exercises most of the influence (opposed to the other bipolar and multipolar systems with 2 and 4 or more dominant powers).

A similar, but slightly different strategy to joining an alliance, is the alliance shelter strategy. “Small states seek to reduce their social, economic or political vulnerability by aligning with great powers or joining international organizations.”16 This implies that they not only get assisted in military concerns depending immediate threats, but in economic and political matters as well. Such an alignment can be seen as a general obligation to cooperation with other states and may involve various states across a variety of issues.17 In general, these three presented strategies must not be seen with a kind of sole claim, but rather as complimentary, quite simply because “it is not hard to think of situations where elements of all three can be combined.”18

3. Neutrality as a strategy of small states

If a state does not want to align or ally with other states, it can pursue a completely different strategy – neutrality. “Neutrality of a state means his non-participation in belligerent conflicts.”19 The main idea is, instead of interfering, states can proclaim themselves neutral. By actively deciding not to take part in such conflicts and thus showing the world that they don't constitute a threat for either party, they hope to increase their own territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.20 In the following subitems the historical development and the different kinds of neutrality are going to be reviewed, furthermore the specific rights in connection with a neutral status, which are the result of states proclaiming themselves as neutral.

3.1 History of the concept

The concept of neutrality has a long history. It could be said that neutral positions exists earliest since the third human walked the earth, because you always need three parties to have a neutral position – the contestants and the neutral. More specific, the history of neutrality can be traced back to the ancient world, in particular the ancient Greece. “Some Greek city-states waged wars with others with one another while the other ones simply preferred to watch it happen refraining from participation in belligerent activities.”21 This could be seen as the first neutral acting in international relations. The first time it was actually contractually referenced was at the end of the 15th century in the Hapsburg-French conflict.22 The Dutch Hugo Grotius, the father of international law, was the first to theoretical analyze neutrality and start the development of the term, its rights and duties in his 1625 book 'On the Law of War and Peace', dedicating even a whole chapter, but without using the the term.23 A century later, building on Grotius' understanding that neutral actors have to act indifferently towards conflicting parties, if the war is not a just war (iustum bellum), the jurists Cornelius van Bynkershoek, Christian Wolff and his scholar Emer de Vattel laid the foundation for the modern neutrality research by dropping Grotius' aspect of a bellum iustum and postulating the fully abstinence of states from war, meaning the total not-interference with both parties, as neutrality, thus establishing the term in the political linguistic usage.24

Since the creative work of these pioneers there has been a wide interest for neutrality theory, which leads to the mostly identical definition of authors like Wheaton, Oppenheim and Guggenheim, whose essences are that neutrality is the legal status of a state, which isn't taking part in wars of other states.25 Over the centuries the practicing of this strategy became more and more relevant in the international relations, for instance at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, where Switzerland and Belgium were given the status of permanent neutrality, until finally in 1907 “the Hague Conventions established detailed legal definitions of the rights and duties of neutral states in war.”26

These have since lead the view on rights and duties of neutrals in times of war. Defining here was the main thought of the legitimacy of war, which most importantly has changed since the First World War to a condemnation of war and thus neutrality was classified as egoistic, but since there are still a lot of wars, the neutral strategy remained popular up til today.27 In the 20th century it additionally has become more difficult for small states to maintain a neutral demeanor, due to the proceedings of the bloody 20th century, like World War II and the Cold War, and also the founding of huge multilateral organizations like the the United Nations, the European Union or the NATO.

3.2 Forms of Neutrality

Neutrality can be categorized under three different aspects: temporal, contentual or according to international law.28 Because of the limited extent of this work and the rather questionable meaningfulness for the political science of the other other kinds, only the classical temporal forms are going to be outlined in the following. In the international relations, there are three different main kinds of temporal neutrality: the ordinary or neutrality in armed conflicts, the factual neutrality and the permanent neutrality.


1 Irish Statue Book: Constitution of Ireland, 2015 ( called 01.09.2019).

2 European Commission: Post-referendum survey in Ireland - Analytical report, July 2018 ( called 01.09.2019).

3 Cf. Fischer, Eva/Hanke,Thomas/Riedel,Donata: Die europäische Armee wird konkret, 16.05.2019 ( d-konkret/24350246.html?ticket=ST-13638183-SrHqgBOnEkeLT6rROKyg-ap3 called 01.09.2019).

4 Keohane, Robert/Nye, Joseph: Power and Independence, Boston 2012, p. 9.

5 Länderdaten: Die größten Länder der Erde ( called 04.09.2019).

6 Rothstein, Robert: Alliances and small powers, New York 1968, S. 29.

7 Morgenthau, Hans: Science Servant or Master, New York 1972, S. 129.

8 Archer, Clive/Bailes, Alyson/Wivel, Anders: Small states and International Security, London 2014, p.9.

9 Bartmann, Berry: Micro-States in the International System, London 2014, p. 18.

10 De Carvalho, Benjamin/Neumann, Iver: Small States and Status Seeking, New York 2015, p.9.

11 Vaicekauskaitė, Živilė Marija: Security Strategies of Small States in a Changing World, 2017, p.10.

12 Cf. Lake, David: Hierarchy in International Relations, New York 2009, p.174.

13 Cf. Bailes, 2014, p.36-37.

14 Cf. Vaicekauskaitė, 2017, p.11.

15 Tessmann, Brock: System Structure and State Strategy – Adding Hedging to the Menu, 2012 ,p.212.

16 Vaicekauskaitė , 2017, p.13.

17 Cf. Gärtner, Heinz/Reiter, Erich: Small States and Alliances, Heidelberg 2001, p.16.

18 Bailes, Alyson: Does a Small State need a Strategy?, Reykjavik 2009, p.12.

19 Pieper, Ulrike: Neutralität von Staaten, Frankfurt am Main 1997, p.2. (own translation)

20 Cf. Vaicekauskaitė, 2017, p.13.

21 Czarny, Ryszard: Sweden – From Neutrality to International Solidarity, Skopje 2018, p.4.

22 Cf. Bender, Lisa: Neutralität als Mittel der Sicherheitsgewährleistung, Frankfurt am Main 2013, p.31.

23 Cf. Ibid.

24 Cf. Pieper, 1997, p.132-137.

25 Cf. Schaub, Adrian: Neutralität und Kollektive Sicherheit, Basel 1995, p.4.

26 Cottey, Andrew: The European Neutrals and NATO, Cork 2018, p.23.

27 Cf. Schaub, 1995, p.5.

28 Cf. Schaub, 1995, p.6.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The Irish Neutrality Concept as an Example for Foreign Policy Strategies of Small States
University of Rostock
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Überblick über die irische Neutralität
concept, example, foreign, irish, neutrality, policy, small, states, strategies
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2019, The Irish Neutrality Concept as an Example for Foreign Policy Strategies of Small States, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The Irish Neutrality Concept as an Example  for Foreign Policy Strategies of Small States

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free