Skip to content

Neutral Western European States Align with NATO

Neutral Western European states align with NATO, EFE

Leer en Español

SWITZERLAND is a small, remarkably prosperous country and officially neutral since 1815. But its armed forces are very well prepared to act jointly with NATO in any European conflict scenario that would include Switzerland. Currently, 52% of the Swiss support closer military collaboration with NATO. After the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, between 22% to 25% of Finns supported joining NATO. Polls in April 2022 showed that 76% of Finns supported their country’s membership in NATO. In April 2022 already 57% of its population supported Sweden’s NATO membership, while in 2014 just under 32% of Swedes supported their country’s NATO membership.

The exception to this political shift among the neutral Western European countries would be Austria, where in 2019 polls indicated that neutrality was important for 81% of the population and this year 91% of respondents rated it as important, while 64% of Austrians oppose joining NATO and only 16% support NATO membership.

A 2014 survey of 64 countries had already revealed that only 25% of Western Europeans would be willing to take up arms to defend their country. But in neutral Western European countries, 74% of Finns would indeed take up arms to defend their country—in Sweden 55% and in Switzerland about 40%. In Austria, only 21% would do so. In addition, the Austrian military forces are ill-prepared and have not improved as much as could be expected after joining the European Union (EU) in 1995 and sending Austrian soldiers into crisis areas. Austrians take it for granted that being surrounded by NATO member states they will be protected by the Western alliance’s forces in any conflict scenario that includes them.

Senior Austrian diplomat Thomas Mayr-Harting recently recalled in an article that, unlike Switzerland, Austria’s strong support for neutrality never included significant support for defense. Already in the Cold War, Mayr-Hartinf pointed out, we tacitly assumed that in the face of an external attack, others would come to our aid. But for Austria to be effectively supported by NATO, Mayr-Harting warned, Austrian defense forces must be interoperable with NATO’s and trained to NATO standards. Today’s Austrians have forgotten the 1968 Soviet invasion of neighboring Czechoslovakia and are blithely unaware of the ominous implications for Central Europe of the Kremlin’s current ideology.

Austria’s military spending, even after modest recent increases in the defense budget, barely amounts to 0.8% of GDP. The defense analyst and member of the Institute for International Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES) has repeatedly pointed out that Austria’s defense and intelligence weaknesses are serious and estimated that it would take Austria 10 to 20 years to create an operational defense force comparable to Switzerland.

Gady is one of the signatories of the open letter to the Austrian government and people published in May by 50 prominent Austrian academics, diplomats and journalists, including Brigadier General Walter Feichtinger and former Defense Minister Friedhelm Frischenschlager, calling for an urgent national discussion on security and defense, in which they question a neutrality they describe as an “untouchable secular religion” about which:

“…was never checked for its up-to-date functionality, but raised to a supposedly untouchable myth. … Despite urgent warnings from experts, our armed forces and intelligence services were not only not strengthened, they were even weakened. We are now unprepared, and this [is] the worst security crisis in Europe since 1945 (…)“ We are united in the conviction that the status quo of our security policy is not only unsustainable, but dangerous for our country.”

Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros

Leave a Reply