Neutrality in Times of War

Neutrality in Times of War

The concept of neutrality is under scrutiny - militarily and politically. In the context of Ukraine, experts and politicians have repeatedly brought up the "Finnish model" as a possible conflict resolution mechanism since 2014. The political discussions surrounding the rapprochement of neutral states such as Sweden or Finland with NATO since the beginning of 2022 show that military neutrality or non-alignment is no longer perceived by the states concerned as a conflict resolution mechanism to the same extent as it was 10 or 20 years ago.

For Ukraine itself, the status of military neutrality is also being discussed as a possible means of de-escalation. In a commentary in Foreign Policy at the beginning of April, for example, Anatol Lieven says: A treaty of neutrality for Ukraine would have to include certain essential conditions guaranteeing Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. The first is that Ukraine should have the complete ability to develop its own armed forces to defend itself. NATO bases and exercises in Ukraine would be excluded, but Ukraine would be free to buy all necessary weapons systems, with the possible exclusion of intermediate-range missiles capable of hitting Moscow.

But things are not that simple, as Noam Chomsky demonstrated in a recent interview using Mexico as an example: Mexico is a sovereign state that can choose its own way in the world, no limitations, but it can’t join a Chinese-run military alliances in placing advanced weapons, Chinese weapons, on the U.S. border, carrying out joint military operations with the People’s Liberation Army, getting training and advanced weapons from Chinese instructors and so on. In fact, that’s so inconceivable that nobody even dares to talk about it.

What value does "neutrality" still have today?
According to the principle of neutrality under international law, it is possible to keep military conflicts away from spaces. A "neutral state" or a "zone of neutral states" can thus keep military rivals apart.

However, the two quotations from Lieven and Chomsky mentioned at the beginning show why there can be no lasting solution to the conflict in the military neutralisation of Ukraine. There would be no military bases on Ukrainian territory, but the encroachments of the techno-complex, above all the arms industry, which are in the domain of the USA, would not be stopped.

The arms industry is only one of several powerful interests that influence states and their actions without appearing as official participants in the conflict. Digitech corporations (e.g. Meta-Platforms) enter conflicts in a destabilising way without being readily held accountable. They are uncontrolled actors under international law without subjectivity to international law, just like high finance or biotechnology companies. The pressure that this technostructure [1] is able to exert on states can be seen very well in the case of the Ukraine conflict in the economic sanctions imposed on Russia.

The behaviour of neutral states such as Austria or Switzerland in the Ukraine conflict makes it clear that the "classical concept of neutrality" is becoming less and less effective. Why is Switzerland increasingly adopting a "foreign policy tightrope walk" and supporting sanctions against Russia, as is currently the case? Only partial implementation of the sanctions against Russia would have led to harsh reactions from the USA and the EU and in all likelihood to retaliatory measures against Switzerland, is how a commentator in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung succinctly summarises the reasons in a report dated 11.3.2022.

The zigzag course of the (former) neutrals
When it comes to arms deliveries, however, the Swiss do remember the rights and obligations of a neutral state under customary international law, according to which all warring parties are to be treated equally with regard to the export of arms. Swiss neutrality and arms export regulations prohibit the supply of arms to countries engaged in civil war or international conflict. Arms sales are also subject to a "non-re-export declaration", which prevents arms manufactured in Switzerland from being delivered to another country without prior authorisation.

In Austria, there were already heated neutrality debates in parliament in 2014 when the EU imposed economic sanctions against Russia for the first time. In February 2022, the restrictive measures were extended. Among other things, a government statement spoke of the need for Europe to respond as sustainably as possible with civil options, such as sanctions. However, Austria cannot afford to take this stance on the purchase of Russian natural gas, just as the country has been showing an impressive zigzag course with regard to Russia and Ukraine for the past two months.

Thus, four Russian diplomats were expelled after much hesitation, because - according to the Federal Chancellor - We are militarily neutral, but we are not neutral when it comes to naming the crimes...which is why he immediately went to see first the Ukrainian and then the Russian president. There is as much speculation about the content of these talks as there is about the Austrian Foreign Minister's recent statement that he does not see Ukraine joining the EU for a long time yet.

While Sweden and Finland are seriously considering joining NATO, there are others, such as the aforementioned Anatol Lieven, who still cling to the neutrality classic: Ukrainian politicians might wish to study the examples of Finland, Sweden, and Austria during the Cold War. These states lost nothing through neutrality and developed as prosperous, law-abiding, democratic Western societies that were able to join the EU after the Cold War ended.

Hybrid wars provoke armed conflicts
The flaw in this is that we no longer live in the 20th century.

Today, the potential for conflict is increasingly being discharged in non-military disputes, such as trade wars, economic sanctions, cyberattacks. In the process, actors without subjectivity under international law, such as technology corporations, are enabled by the new technologies to wage wars and also to destabilise large states without being readily held accountable. Even military neutrality or non-alignment does not protect against this form of hybrid warfare. However, it poses an additional threat to neutral or non-aligned states if this hybrid warfare leads to other states resorting to military means.

The current debate among neutral or non-aligned states, like the question of arms deliveries, therefore has nothing to do with "values". In any case, this debate concerns the question of military protection and the ability to react to military aggression with the help of allies.

But even defensive alliances are not an adequate response to the threat potential emanating from the new colonial masters of the 21st century: corporations and high finance use their means of power to subjugate states and turn them into their colonies. The new colonial masters decide when and how to wage hybrid wars from the territory of a state. How they do this and why states react too slowly and half-heartedly, you will read soon in another analysis.

[1] referring to the "technostructure" as mentioned by J. K. Galbraith in „The New Industrial State“

This analysis was first published in: Le Courrier des Stratèges on May 3rd, 2022