A neutral country is a state that is neutral towards belligerents in a specific war or holds itself as permanently neutral in all future conflicts (including avoiding entering into military alliances such as NATO or CSTO). As a type of non-combatant status, nationals of neutral countries enjoy protection under the law of war from belligerent actions to a greater extent than other non-combatants such as enemy civilians and prisoners of war. Different countries interpret their neutrality differently:[1] some, such as Costa Rica, have demilitarized, while Switzerland holds to "armed neutrality", to deter aggression with a sizeable military, while barring itself from foreign deployment.

Not all neutral countries avoid any foreign deployment or alliances, as Austria, Ireland, and Sweden have active UN peacekeeping forces and a political alliance within the European Union. Sweden's traditional policy is not to participate in military alliances, with the intention of staying neutral in the case of war. Immediately before World War II, the Nordic countries stated their neutrality, but Sweden changed its position to that of non-belligerent at the start of the Winter War.

There have been considerable changes to the interpretation of neutral conduct over the past centuries.[2] During the Cold War, Yugoslavia claimed military and ideological neutrality, and that is continued by its successor, Serbia.[3]

Terminology

Rights and responsibilities of a neutral power

Belligerents may not invade neutral territory,[7] and a neutral power's resisting any such attempt does not compromise its neutrality.[8]

A neutral power must intern belligerent troops who reach its territory,[9] but not escaped prisoners of war.[10] Belligerent armies may not recruit neutral citizens,[11] but they may go abroad to enlist.[12] Belligerent armies' personnel and materiel may not be transported across neutral territory,[13] but the wounded may be.[14] A neutral power may supply communication facilities to belligerents,[15] but not war materiel,[16] although it need not prevent export of such materiel.[17]

Belligerent naval vessels may use neutral ports for a maximum of 24 hours, though neutrals may impose different restrictions.[18] Exceptions are to make repairs—only the minimum necessary to put back to sea[19]—or if an opposing belligerent's vessel is already in port, in which case it must have a 24-hour head start.[20] A prize ship captured by a belligerent in the territorial waters of a neutral power must be surrendered by the belligerent to the neutral, which must intern its crew.[21]

Recognition and codification

Neutrality has been recognised in different ways, and sometimes involves a formal guarantor. For example, Austria has its neutrality guaranteed by its four former occupying powers, Switzerland by the signatories of the Congress of Vienna and Finland by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The form of recognition varies, often by bilateral treaty (Finland), multilateral treaty (Austria) or a UN declaration (Turkmenistan). These treaties can in some ways be forced on a country (Austria's neutrality was insisted upon by the Soviet Union) but in other cases it is an active policy of the country concerned to respond to a geopolitical situation (Ireland in the Second World War).[22]

For the country concerned, the policy is usually codified beyond the treaty itself. Austria and Japan codify their neutrality in their constitutions, but they do so with different levels of detail. Some details of neutrality are left to be interpreted by the government while others are explicitly stated, for example Austria may not host any foreign bases and Japan cannot participate in foreign wars. Yet Sweden, lacking formal codification, was more flexible during the Second World War in allowing troops to pass through its territory.[22]

Armed neutrality

Switzerland is a key example of a country outside of any military alliance, but maintaining a strong deterrent force
Switzerland is a key example of a country outside of any military alliance, but maintaining a strong deterrent force

Armed neutrality is the posture of a state or group of states that has no alliance with either side of a war but asserts that it will defend itself against resulting incursions from any party.[23] This may include:

The term derives from the historic maritime neutrality of the First League of Armed Neutrality of the Nordic countries and Russia under the leadership of Catherine the Great, which was invented in the late 18th century but has since been used only to refer to countries' neutralities.[26] Sweden and Switzerland are independently of each other famed for their armed neutralities, which they maintained throughout both World War I and World War II.[27] The Swiss and the Swedes each have a long history of neutrality: they have not been in a state of war internationally since 1815 and 1814, respectively. They pursue, however, active foreign policies and are frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world.[28] According to Edwin Reischauer, "To be neutral you must be ready to be highly militarized, like Switzerland or Sweden."[29]

In contrast, other neutral states may abandon military power (examples of states doing this include Costa Rica and Liechtenstein) or reduce it, but rather uses it for the express purpose of home defense and the maintenance of its neutrality. But the lack of a military does not result in neutrality as countries such as Iceland replaced a standing military with a military guarantee from a stronger power.

Leagues of Armed Neutrality

Peacekeeping

Irish units on UN patrol in the Golan Heights, Syria.
Irish units on UN patrol in the Golan Heights, Syria.

For many states, such as Ireland and Sweden, neutrality does not mean the absence of any foreign interventionism. Peacekeeping missions for the United Nations are seen as intertwined with it.[35] The Swiss electorate rejected a 1994 proposal to join UN peacekeeping operations. Despite this, 23 Swiss observers and police have been deployed around the world in UN projects.[36]

Points of debate

The legitimacy of whether some states are as neutral as they claim has been questioned in some circles, although this depends largely on a state's interpretation of its form of neutrality.

European Union

There are five members of the European Union that still describe themselves as a neutral country in some form: Austria, Ireland, Finland, Malta and Sweden. With the development of the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy, the extent to which they are, or should be, neutral is debated. For example, former Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, on 5 July 2006, stated that Finland was no longer neutral:

"Mr Pflüger described Finland as neutral. I must correct him on that: Finland is a member of the EU. We were at one time a politically neutral country, during the time of the Iron Curtain. Now we are a member of the Union, part of this community of values, which has a common policy and, moreover, a common foreign policy."[37]

However, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä on 5 December 2017 still described the country as "militarily non-aligned" and that it should remain so.[38] Ireland, which sought guarantees for its neutrality in EU treaties, argues that its neutrality does not mean that Ireland should avoid engagement in international affairs such as peacekeeping operations.[39]

Since the enactment of the Lisbon Treaty, EU members are bound by TEU, Article 42.7, which obliges states to assist a fellow member that is the victim of armed aggression. It accords "an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in [other member states'] power" but would "not prejudice the specific character of the security and defense policy of certain Member States" (neutral policies), allowing members to respond with non-military aid. Ireland's constitution prohibits participating in such a common defence.

With the launch of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in defense at the end of 2017, the EU's activity on military matters has increased. The policy was designed to be inclusive and allows states to opt in or out of specific forms of military cooperation. That has allowed most of the neutral states to participate, but opinions still vary. Some members of the Irish Parliament considered Ireland's joining PESCO as an abandonment of neutrality. It was passed with the government arguing that its opt-in nature allowed Ireland to "join elements of PESCO that were beneficial such as counter-terrorism, cybersecurity and peacekeeping... what we are not going to be doing is buying aircraft carriers and fighter jets". Malta, as of December 2017, is the only neutral state not to participate in PESCO. The Maltese government argued that it was going to wait and see how PESCO develops to see whether it would compromise Maltese neutrality.[40]

Neutrality during World War II

Main article: Neutral powers during World War II

"Neutrality is a negative word. It does not express what America ought to feel. We are not trying to keep out of trouble; we are trying to preserve the foundations on which peace may be rebuilt.”
Woodrow Wilson

Many countries made neutrality declarations during World War II. However, of the European states closest to the war, only Andorra, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (with Liechtenstein), and Vatican (the Holy See) remained neutral to the end.

Their fulfillment to the letter of the rules of neutrality has been questioned: Ireland supplied important secret information to the Allies; for instance, the date of D-Day was decided on the basis of incoming Atlantic weather information, some of it supplied by Ireland but kept from Germany. Ireland also secretly allowed Allied aircraft to use the Donegal Corridor, making it possible for British planes to attack German U-boats in the mid-Atlantic. On the other hand, both Axis and Allied pilots who crash landed in Ireland were interned.[41]

Sweden and Switzerland, surrounded by possessions and allies of Nazi Germany similarly made concessions to Nazi requests as well as to Allied requests.[42] Sweden was also involved in intelligence operations with the Allies, including listening stations in Sweden and espionage in Germany. Spain offered to join the war on the side of Nazi Germany in 1940, allowed Axis ships and submarines to use its ports, imported war materials for Germany, and sent a Spanish volunteer combat division to aid the Nazi war effort. Portugal officially stayed neutral, but actively supported both the Allies by providing overseas naval bases, and Germany by selling tungsten.

The United States was initially neutral and bound by the Neutrality Acts of 1936 not to sell war materials to belligerents. Once war broke out, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt persuaded Congress to replace the act with the Cash and carry program that allowed the US to provide military aid to the allies, despite opposition from non-interventionist members.[43] The "Cash and carry" program was replaced in March 1941 by Lend-Lease, effectively ending the US pretense of neutrality.

Sweden also made concessions to the German Reich during the war to maintain its neutrality, the biggest concession was to let the 163rd German Infantry Division to be transferred from Norway to Finland by Swedish trains, to aid the Finns in the Continuation War. The decision caused a political "Midsummer Crisis" of 1941, about Sweden's neutrality.

Equally, Vatican City made various diplomatic concessions to the Axis and Allied powers alike, while still keeping to the rules of the law of neutrality. The Holy See has been criticized—but largely exonerated later—for its silence on moral issues of the war.[44]

List of neutral countries

Some countries may occasionally claim to be "neutral" but not comply with the internationally agreed upon definition of neutrality as listed above.

State Period(s) of neutrality Notes
 Andorra 1914–present
 Austria 1920–1938 (after World War I to annexation by Germany)
1955–present (Declaration of Neutrality)
 Costa Rica 1949–present
 Ireland 1939–present[54]
  • Established a policy of neutrality during World War II, known as the Emergency in Ireland.[22]
    • Despite this policy, Ireland made concessions to the Allied Powers by secretly sharing intelligence and weather reports as well as by repatriating downed Royal Air Force airmen.[55][56]
    • It was believed that Ireland would take the German side if the United Kingdom attempted to invade Ireland, but would take the British side if invaded by Nazi Germany.
    • After the war, it was discovered that Germany had drawn up plans to invade Ireland in order to use the country for launching attacks into the United Kingdom, known as Operation Green.
    • Conversely, had Ireland been invaded, the United Kingdom had drawn up secret plans to invade Ireland in collaboration with the Irish Government to push Germany back out, known as Plan W.[57]
  • Ireland was invited to join NATO but did not wish to be in an alliance that included the United Kingdom.[22]
  • An EU Member since 1973: military non-aligned, see points of debate § European Union.
  • Has provided military aid to Ukraine during the Russo-Ukrainian War.[58][59][60]
 Japan 1947–present
 Liechtenstein 1868–present
  • Neutral because the military was dissolved in 1868.[61][62]
 Malta 1980–present
 Mexico 1930–1942 (to World War II)
1945–present
 Monaco 1814–1942 (to World War II)
1945–present
 Mongolia 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
2015–present
  • During World War I Mongolia was neutral, but became a belligerent country of World War II. In September 2015, Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj in the 70th UN General Assembly speech suddenly announced that Mongolia will implement the "policy of permanent neutrality," and called on the international community to recognise Mongolian neutrality.[65]
  • Is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
 Moldova 1994–present
 Panama 1989–present
 Rwanda 2009–present
 San Marino 1815–1944 (to World War II)
1945–present
  • Neutral during World War I.
  • Declared its neutrality again in 1939, but following its occupation by Nazi Germany in 1944, the Sammarinese government declared war on the Axis, and joined with British forces in Italy to drive them out.[69]
  • A United Nations member since 1992.
 Serbia 2007–present
 Singapore 1965–present
  Switzerland 1815–present
  • Self-imposed, permanent, and armed, designed to ensure external security. Because of that, it is the most globally known example of a neutral country.
  • The 1815 Congress of Vienna re-established Switzerland and its permanent neutrality was guaranteed by France, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom and others.[22]
  • Swiss neutrality was so rigorously defended that the country refused even to join the United Nations until 2002.[73]
  • However, the Swiss announced sanctions against Russia in 2022 in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They had previously only put in place sanctions created by the United Nations Security Council.[74]
 Turkmenistan 1995–present
 Uzbekistan 2012–present
  • In 2012, the law of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On approval of the Concept of foreign policy of the Republic of Uzbekistan" was adopted[76]
  • Is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
  Vatican City 1929–present
  • The Lateran Treaty signed in 1929 with Italy imposed that "The Pope was pledged to perpetual neutrality in international relations and to abstention from mediation in a controversy unless specifically requested by all parties" thus making Vatican City neutral since then.
  • Is a observer of the Non-Aligned Movement.

List of formerly neutral countries

State Period(s) of neutrality Notes
Flag of Afghanistan (1931–1973).svg
Afghanistan
1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1939–1945 (neutral during World War II)
 Albania 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1968 (attempted neutrality during the Prague Spring)
  • A NATO member since 2009.
 Argentina 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1939–1945 (attempted neutrality during World War II)
 Belgium 1839–1914 (to World War I)
1936–1940 (to World War II)
 Bhutan 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1939–1945 (neutral during World War II)
  • In accordance with the Treaty of Punakha in 1910, Bhutan during World War II to deal with foreign relations powers to the United Kingdom, Bhutan became the de facto wartime neutral country.[77]
  • Is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
 Cambodia 1955–1970 (to Vietnam War)
 Chile 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1938–1943 (to World War II)
 Colombia 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1933–1943 (to World War II)
 Denmark 1864–1940 (after Second Schleswig War to World War II)
 El Salvador 1906–1941 (to World War II)
 Estonia 1938–1939 (to World War II)
Ethiopian Empire Ethiopia 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
 Finland 1935–1939 (to Winter War)
1956–2022 (from return of Porkkala rental area to Russian invasion of Ukraine)
  • Finlandization
  • Moscow Peace Treaty was signed on 1940, which ended the Winter War. The peace took effect on March 12.
  • The YYA Treaty (Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance) was signed on 1948, the Soviets sought to deter Western or Allied Powers from attacking the Soviet Union through Finnish territory, and the Finns sought to increase Finland's political independence from the Soviet Union. The treaty came to an end in 1992.
  • An EU Member since 1995: military non-aligned, see points of debate § European Union.
  • Has provided military aid to Ukraine during the Russo-Ukrainian War.[83][84][85][86]
  • Abandoned neutrality in favor of becoming a NATO applicant in 2022.[87]
Iroquois Haudenosaunee 1783–1917 (to World War I)
  • The confederation never made peace with Germany following the end of World War I.[88] They subsequently issued a second war declaration in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States joining the war.[89]
Flag of the Hungarian Revolution (1956; 1-2 aspect ratio).svg
Hungary
1956 (attempted neutrality during the Hungarian Revolution)
 Iceland 1918–1940 (to World War II)
  • Declared its neutrality in 1940 after the fall of Denmark, but was thereafter invaded and occupied by British troops. The government later requested the United States assume the role of its defense for the duration of the war.
  • A NATO member since 1949.
Iran 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1939–1943 (neutral during World War II)
  • Occupied by the Allies in 1941, subsequently declared war on the Axis in 1943.
  • Is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Kingdom of Italy Italy 1914–1915 (to World War I)
Kingdom of Laos Laos 1955–1975 (ostensibly neutral throughout the Vietnam War)
 Latvia 1938–1939 (to World War II)
 Lithuania 1939 (to World War II)
 Luxembourg 1839–1914 (to World War I)
1920–1940 (to World War II)
  • Neutral stance since 1839, abolished through its constitution in 1948.
  • A NATO member since 1949.
  • A EU member since 1957.
 Netherlands 1839–1940 (to World War II)
 Norway 1814–1940 (to World War II)
  • A NATO member since 1949.
 Portugal 1932–1945 (neutral during World War II)
  • While neutral throughout World War II, Portugal became non-belligerent towards the Allies, as evidenced in the Azores Base.
  • A NATO member since 1949.
  • EU member since 1986.
 Spain 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1940–1945 (neutral during World War II)
  • While neutral throughout World War I and World War II, Spain did lean towards the Axis, as evidenced by the Blue Division.
  • A NATO member since 1982.
  • EU member since 1986.
 Sweden 1814–2022
 Tibet 1939–1945 (neutral during World War II)
 Tonga 1845–1939 (until World War II)
  • Tonga retained its sovereignty while a protectorate of the United Kingdom. It declared war on the Axis in 1939 and 1941, respectively. Since the end of the war, Tongan forces have participated minimally in foreign conflicts.
 Turkey 1940–1945 (neutral during World War II)
  • Signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1941.
  • A NATO member since 1952.
 Ukraine 1990–2014 (to Russo-Ukrainian War)
  • Ukraine's parliament voted to drop non-aligned status on December 23, 2014.[94]
    In its Declaration of Sovereignty (1990), Ukraine declared it had the "intention of becoming a permanently neutral state that does not participate in military blocs and adheres to three nuclear free principles" (art. 9). The 1996 Ukrainian Constitution, based upon the Declaration of Independence of August 24, 1991, contained the basic principles of non-coalition and future neutrality.[95] Such policy of state non-alignment was re-confirmed by law in 2010.[96][failed verification]
 United States 1914–1917 (to World War I)
1939–1941 (to World War II)
 Uruguay 1870–1945 (to World War II)
 Venezuela 1914–1918 (neutral during World War I)
1939–1942 (to World War II)
 Yugoslavia
1940–1941 (to World War II)
1949–1992 (to Yugoslav Wars)

See also

References

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