Country neutrality (international relations)

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World map showing countries' degrees of neutrality:
  neutral countries
  countries claiming to be neutral
  countries neutral in the past

A neutral country in a particular war is a sovereign state which officially declares itself to be neutral towards the belligerents. A non-belligerent state does not need to be neutral. The rights and duties of a neutral power are defined in Sections 5[1] and 13[2] of the Hague Convention of 1907. A permanently neutral power is a sovereign state which is bound by international treaty to be neutral towards the belligerents of all future wars. An example of a permanently neutral power is Switzerland. The concept of neutrality in war is narrowly defined and puts specific constraints on the neutral party in return for the internationally recognised right to remain neutral.

Neutralism or a "neutralist policy" is a foreign policy position wherein a state intends to remain neutral in future wars. A sovereign state that reserves the right to become a belligerent if attacked by a party to the war is in a condition of armed neutrality.

Rights and responsibilities of a neutral power[edit]

Belligerents may not invade neutral territory,[3] and a neutral power's resisting any such attempt does not compromise its neutrality.[4]

A neutral power must intern belligerent troops who reach its territory,[5] but not escaped prisoners of war.[6] Belligerent armies may not recruit neutral citizens,[7] but they may go abroad to enlist.[8] Belligerent armies' personnel and material may not be transported across neutral territory,[9] but the wounded may be.[10] A neutral power may supply communication facilities to belligerents,[11] but not war material,[12] although it need not prevent export of such material.[13]

Belligerent naval vessels may use neutral ports for a maximum of 24 hours, though neutrals may impose different restrictions.[14] Exceptions are to make repairs—only the minimum necessary to put back to sea[15]—or if an opposing belligerent's vessel is already in port, in which case it must have a 24-hour head start.[16] 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.[17]

List of neutral states[edit]

Note: Whether a state that is a member of the European Union may be considered neutral is a point of debate. This is discussed in the section below.

Recognised as neutral[edit]

countryneutrality period/beginning yearnotes
Austria1920–1938 (after World War I to occupation by Germany)
1955–1995 (Declaration of Neutrality to EU membership)
Is a member of the European Union.
Maintains external independence and inviolability of borders (expressly modeled on the Swiss neutrality).
Costa Rica1949Neutral country after abolishing its military in 1949.[18][19]
Also an observer country in the Non-Aligned Movement.
Finland1935–1939 (to Winter War)
1956–1994 (from return of Porkkala rental area to EU membership)
Is a member of the European Union.
Malta1980–2004 (to EU membership)Is a member of the European Union.
Policy of neutrality since 1980, guaranteed in a treaty with Italy concluded in 1983.
Former member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Liechtenstein1868Neutral since its army was dissolved in 1868.[20][21]
Panama1989The neutrality of the Panama Canal is enshrined by the Panama Canal Treaty.[22]
Also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Switzerland1815Self-imposed, permanent, and armed, designed to ensure external security. Switzerland is the oldest neutral country in the world; it has not fought a foreign war since its neutrality was established by the Treaty of Paris in 1815. Although the European powers (Austria, France, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain and Sweden) agreed at the Congress of Vienna in May 1815 that Switzerland should be neutral, final ratification was delayed until after Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated so that some coalition forces could invade France via Swiss territory (see the minor campaigns of 1815 and the Act on the Neutrality of Switzerland signed on 20 November 1815 by the Great Powers (Austria, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia).
Sweden1814–1918 (to Finnish Civil War: Swedish military on the Åland Islands)
1918–1994 (after Finnish Civil War to EU membership)
Is a member of the European Union.
Turkmenistan1995Declared its permanent neutrality and had it formally recognised by the United Nations in 1995.[23]
Also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Vatican City1929The 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.

Claim to be neutral[edit]

countryclaimed neutrality period/beginning yearnotes
Cambodia1955–1970 (to Vietnam War)
Member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Ghana2012August 2012, the Government of Ghana announced the introduction of a closed policy of neutrality.
Also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Mexico1939With the exception of its participation on the side of the Allies in World War II. Opened its borders in the 20th century to political refugees fleeing the military dictatorships of South America and Spain. Since 2000, Mexico ignored the neutrality policy under foreign secretaries Jorge G. Castañeda and Luis Ernesto Derbez. Whether historical neutrality is to be kept is now internally debated. The Mexican formulation of neutrality is known as Estrada doctrine.[24]
Also an observer country in the Non-Aligned Movement.
Moldova1994Article 11 of the 1994 Constitution proclaims "permanent neutrality".
Serbia2007The National Assembly of Serbia declared armed neutrality in 2007.[25]
Also an observer country in the Non-Aligned Movement.
The country's neutrality may possibly change in the future if the country decides to join NATO, as its prime minister Aleksandar Vučić does not rule out the possibility of his country joining in the (non-near) future.[26]

Formerly neutral[edit]

countryneutrality periodnotes
Belgium1839–1914 (to World War I) & 1936–1940Neutral stance since 1839, abolished through the Treaty of Versailles after WWI (and again after WWII), proclaimed neutrality in October 1936 and severed 1921 alliance with France, non-neutral alignment after 1945 confirmed by membership of NATO. Member of European Union.
Denmark1864–1940 (after Second Schleswig War to World War II)A NATO member since 1949. Member of European Union.
Estonia1938–1939Declared its neutrality 1938, but was thereafter forced to allow troops of the Soviet Union to enter in 1939 and was occupied by it 1940 in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Now a NATO and European Union member.
Hungary1956 (attempted neutrality during the Hungarian Revolution)Now a NATO and European Union member.
Ireland1939–1945 (neutral during World War II)Exercised a policy of neutrality during World War II, known as the Emergency in Ireland. Has since displayed a policy of non-belligerency while calling it neutrality. Member of the European Union. Was granted a special acknowledgement in the Seville Declarations on the Treaty of Nice due to its views on the use of force in International Politics. Is not a signatory to the Hague Convention of 1907 parts V and XIII on neutrality.
Laos1962–1964 (to Vietnam War)
1975 (after Vietnam War)
The International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos was signed in Geneva on July 23, 1962, by 14 nations, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. However throughout the Laotian Civil War, Laos was fighting the PAVN and Pathet Lao with the help of the USA among other anti-communist countries. Laos's neutrality can therefore be described as a "false neutrality".
Latvia1938–1939Declared its neutrality 1938, but was thereafter forced to allow troops of the Soviet Union to enter in 1939 and was occupied by it 1940 in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Now a NATO and European Union member.
Lithuania1939Declared its neutrality 1939, but was thereafter forced to allow troops of the Soviet Union to enter in 1939 and was occupied by it 1940 in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Now a NATO and European Union member.
Luxembourg1839–1914 (to World War I)
1920–1940 (after World War I to World War II)
Neutral stance since 1839, abolished through its constitution in 1948, non-neutral alignment confirmed by membership of NATO. Member of European Union.
Netherlands1839–1940 (to World War II)Self-imposed neutrality between 1839 and 1940 on the European continent. Now a NATO and European Union member.
Norway1905–1940 (to World War II)A NATO member since 1949.
Portugal1932–1945 (neutral during World War II)A NATO member since 1949. Member of European Union.
San Marino1914–1918 (to World War I)
1939–1945 (to World War II)
Declared neutrality in World War I and World War II.[27][28]
Spain1914–1918 (to World War I)
1940–1945 (to World War II)
A NATO member since 1982. Member of European Union.
Turkey1940–1945 (neutral during World War II)A NATO member since 1952.
United States1914–1917 (to World War I)
1939–1941 (to World War II)
Pursuant to the non-interventionist policy set forth by George Washington, the U.S. declared its neutrality at the beginning of both world wars but was forced into entry in World War I on the side of the Allies in 1917 following the series of German U-Boat attacks on American merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean and was forced into entry in World War II on the side of the Allies in 1941 following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii. The U.S. is a NATO member since 1949.
Ukraine1990–2014Ukraine's parliament voted to drop non-aligned status on December 23, 2014.[29]

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). Neutrality was then enshrined in the 1996 Ukrainian Constitution, based upon the Declaration of Independence of August 24, 1991, containing the basic principles of non-coalition and future neutrality.[30] Such policy of state non-alignment was re-confirmed by law in 2010.[31] Also a former observer country in the Non-Aligned Movement

Points of debate[edit]

European Union[edit]

The neutrality of some countries now in the European Union (Austria, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden) is under dispute, especially as the EU now operates a Common Foreign and Security Policy. This view was supported by the Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, on 5 July 2006, while speaking to the European Parliament as Council President;

"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."[32]

Later, the 'solidarity clause' in the Lisbon Treaty was deemed sufficient to replace the Western European Union (WEU) military alliance's mutual defence clause (where an attack upon one state is deemed an attack on all, resulting in military support from other members). As a result the WEU was closed down with its mutual defence role having been absorbed by the European Union.[33]

Irish neutrality is similarly debated; the state's "traditional policy of military neutrality" is not defined in law, and referendums on the Treaty of Nice and on the Treaty of Lisbon were lost in part because of fears these would undermine Irish neutrality.[citation needed]

Austrian neutrality is special, as for many Austrian citizens neutrality is a main element of the Austrian state. So while in fact neutrality currently only exists on paper, politicians do not dare to adjust the constitution to reflect reality. Furthermore the topic is very complicated as strong political powers are against any ties to NATO while in fact NATO can be regarded as the major European defence institution.[citation needed]

Neutrality to forestall invasion[edit]

Other countries may be more active on the international stage, while emphasising an intention to remain neutral in case of war close to the country.[34] By such a declaration of intentions, the country hopes that all belligerents will count on the country's territory as off limits for the enemy, and hence unnecessary to waste resources on. The neutrality of Republic of Moldova is an interesting case. According to Ion Marandici, Moldova has chosen neutrality in order to avoid Russian security schemes and Russian military presence on its territory.[35] Even if the country is constitutionally neutral, some researchers argue that de facto this former Soviet republic never was neutral, because parts of the Russian 14th army are present at Bendery.[35] The same author suggests that one solution in order to avoid unnecessary contradictions and deepen at the same time the relations with NATO would be "to interpret the concept of permanent neutrality in a flexible manner".[35]

Many countries made such declarations during World War II. Most, however, became occupied, and in the end only the states of Andorra, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (with Liechtenstein), and Vatican (the Holy See) remained neutral of the European countries closest to the war. Their fulfilment to the letter of the rules of neutrality have been questioned: Ireland supplied some important secret information to the Allies; for instance, the date of D-Day was decided on the basis of incoming Atlantic weather information secretly supplied to them by Ireland but kept from Germany. Also, German pilots who crash landed in Ireland were interned, whereas their Allied counterparts usually went "missing" close to the border.[citation needed] Sweden and Switzerland, as embedded within Nazi Germany and its occupied territory, similarly made some concessions to Nazi requests as well as to Allied requests.[citation needed] Sweden was also involved in intelligence operations with the Allies, including listening stations in Sweden and espionage in Germany, as well as secret military training of Norwegian and Danish soldiers in Sweden.[citation needed] Spain also pursued a policy of "non-alignment" and sent a volunteer combat division to aid the Nazi war effort.[citation needed] Portugal officially stayed neutral, but actively supported the both Allies by providing overseas naval bases and Germany by keeping its war machine alight with the extensive sale of tungsten .

According to Edwin Reischauer, "To be neutral you must be ready to be highly militarized, like Switzerland or Sweden."[36] However, other countries—like Costa Rica—have claimed that having no army would strengthen their neutrality and democratic stability.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Second Hague Convention, Section 5
  2. ^ Second Hague Convention, Section 13
  3. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.1
  4. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.10
  5. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.11
  6. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.13
  7. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.4,5
  8. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.6
  9. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.2
  10. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.14
  11. ^ Hague Convention, §5 Art.8
  12. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.6
  13. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.7
  14. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.12
  15. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.14
  16. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.16
  17. ^ Hague Convention, §13 Art.3
  18. ^ "Costa Rica". World Desk Reference. Retrieved 2008-02-27. [dead link]
  19. ^ El Espíritu del 48. "Abolición del Ejército". Retrieved 2008-03-09.  (Spanish)
  20. ^ "Background Note: Liechtenstein". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  21. ^ "Imagebroschuere_LP_e.indd" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  23. ^ "A/RES/50/80; U.N. General Assembly". Retrieved 29 December 2009. 
  24. ^ La Jornada (27 April 2007). "Adiós a la neutralidad - La Jornada". Retrieved 2013-09-19. 
  25. ^ Enclosed by NATO, Serbia ponders next move AFP, 6 April 2009
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Ukraine's Neutrality: A Myth or Reality?". Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  31. ^ "Ukraine Parliament Ok's neutrality bill". Kyiv Post (Kiev, Ukraine). AP. 4 June 2010. 
  32. ^ Presentation of the programme of the Finnish presidency (debate) 5 July 2006, European Parliament Strasbourg
  33. ^ Statement of the Presidency of the Permanent Council of the WEU on behalf of the High Contracting Parties to the Modified Brussels Treaty – Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, Western European Union 31 March 2010
  34. ^
  35. ^ a b c Marandici, Ion (2006). "Moldova's neutrality: what is at stake?" (MS Word). Lviv: IDIS-Viitorul and the Center for European Studies. 
  36. ^ Chapin, Emerson. "Edwin Reischauer, Diplomat and Scholar, Dies at 79," New York Times. September 2, 1990.
  37. ^ Military of Costa Rica Military of Costa Rica

External links[edit]