From neutrality to non-alignment

Most Member States of the European Union are part of NATO military alliance. There are, however, a few EU members that are not part of NATO. These states are still part of the EU’s own security and defence policy which has been rapidly developing in the recent years. How then have these post-neutral, non-NATO members come to adopt the EU’s common defence as a part of their security and defence identity?

The EU has six Member States that are currently not part of NATO. These are: Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden. Out of these six states, four were neutral during the Cold War, Cyprus and Malta being allied. The members of this sextet have been called neutral or non-aligned states. Interestingly enough all six are now part of the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). Especially Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden are interesting cases given that they used to be fully neutral. What then has changed in their post-Cold War security and defence policy identity that has prompted the shift from complete neutrality in security matters to an alignment with EU defence?

History of Neutrality

Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden were all neutral during the Cold War. The reasons for neutrality, however, varied.
After the Second World War, Austria, much like Germany, was divided into occupation zones among the winners. In 1955 the Soviet Union stated that their zone could be unified with the rest if Austria were to declare itself neutral. Thus, in order to be reunified neutrality was agreed upon. The Austrian Constitution even states that Austria is ‘permanently neutral’. Hence, neutrality came to be deeply embedded in the Austrian defence and security policy identity.
Finland was neutral and militarily non-aligned for an obvious reason: in order to balance between the West and the East. For us, neutrality was a key foreign policy objective in the 1950s and neutrality was considered as necessary to keep the country’s territorial integrity. The infamous Paasikivi-Kekkonen doctrine indeed held that Finland should avoid any politics which were against the Soviet Union and this made neutrality the best option for us.
Ireland has been a neutral state since the 1930s. Irish participation in NATO during the Cold War would have been difficult due to legal issues as NATO members have to accept and respect each other’s borders and back then a territorial claim on Northern Ireland was still a part of the Irish constitution. Arguably, Ireland does not feel much threatened and the country has become used to their neutral standing and thus NATO membership is not seen as needed.
Sweden’s neutrality goes much further back in history than the others’. The Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century led to great territorial losses, such as losing Finland to Russia. After this, Sweden created a new foreign policy and has not been part of any direct armed conflict since then (though some still argue about Sweden’s role in the Second World War).

Abandoning Neutrality, Embracing the EU as a Part of the Post-Neutral Identity

All states, however, aspired to be part of the Western European integration process, and thus part of the EU as well. There were multiple reasons for the transition from neutrality to post-neutrality. One reason was that ideological factors within the states changed. With more and more European states joining the EU, it became more appealing for states to be part of the development and join the community of like-minded countries. The benefits of being part of the EU were far better than those of being neutral and remaining outside of the integration progress.

Hence, first in 1973 Ireland joined the Union followed by Austria, Finland, and Sweden in 1995. Neutrality thus became abandoned in these states but military non-alignment continued. Whereas the identity on neutrality did not suit the states anymore as the EU was seen as essential, the identity on military non-alignment still fit them.

Rise of the CSDP as a Part of the Defence Identity

All of the EU’s post-neutral states were first skeptical about the CSDP. The former culture and identity of neutrality in defence issues lingered. To some extent, for example, Austria and Finland still have neutrality as a key factor in their national identities and the terms ‘neutral’ and ‘non-aligned’ are used in the same context despite their different meanings, especially when speaking militarily.

While the post-neutrals were skeptics at first, they have curiously enough changed their stance on the CSDP. In fact, the former neutral states are now one of most active ones in the participation to the CSDP and especially in the field of crisis management. Finland, for example, has always been highly active in crisis management and peace mediation (albeit sadly we are not as active as we once were) and hence the CSDP fits the Finnish security culture and the participation in the CSDP seems reasonable and rational. This is in contrast to NATO which still remains unfitting for the post-neutrals’ defence and security policy identity.

The post-neutrals wanted to be part of the EU and changed their defence identity because of this. Thus, it is only natural that they wish to be part of the development within the Union and take part in the CSDP, which recently been undergoing even deeper cooperation.  Therefore, the EU and the benefits one can reap from its membership, greatly influenced the decision of the post-neutrals to abandon neutrality and to change their identities on defence and security policy. The EU is thus an influential organization but it is not only a one way road. The post-neutral states can now in turn influence how the CSDP develops in the future and have an active say in what the European defence and security policy will look like.

A Way Forward?

The CSDP has been rapidly developing in the recent years and all the post-neutrals are part of the process. It remains unlikely that they would shy away from the cooperation that benefits them. The CSPD strengthens these states’ security and defence policies because they remain outside of NATO. The states do, however, have their own cooperation with NATO and Sweden and Finland are part of the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO). Every now and then, the NATO question reemerges but it remains to be seen if any of these states ever join NATO.
It seems that the post-neutrals will keep their security and defence policy identity linked with the EU and the CSDP as those serve their interests and fit their identities. Neutrality has thus been abandoned. Military non-alignment, however, still seems to be a significant part of the post-neutrals’ identity and NATO is not a match for their identities at the moment.
TEXT Peppi Heinikainen
PICTURE Free West Media

The author has a BA degree in European Studies from the Maastricht University and a MA degree in International Peace and Security from King’s College London. The author has specialised in the EU defence and security policies, peace processes and negotiations, and Russian politics.