Non-NATO Countries of Central and Western Europe
written by A. L. Hart Havens on June 15, 2022
A month ago, Liberated Services showcased two Scandinavian countries that have to date astutely remained outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the powerful international military alliance commonly known as NATO.
That article explained that Sweden and Finland, both of which maintained cordial relations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, have suddenly jumped aboard the pro-Ukrainian bandwagon and are seeking to join NATO. The two countries now appear intent on abandoning their longstanding traditions of neutrality, peace, and military noninterventionism.
Speculation is rampant that this newfound belligerence and cavalier attitude toward war with Russia is a result of intense pressure emanating from the United States, as assertions by the Swedish and Finnish governments that a NATO accession will make their countries safer would strike any reasonable observer as patently ridiculous. Unsurprisingly, the submission of the two NATO membership bids provoked an immediate response from the Russian government that has included the placement of nuclear-capable missiles at the Finnish border.
Since the aforementioned article was published a month ago, the Swedish and Finnish NATO bids have interestingly been thwarted by Turkey, which has accused Sweden and Finland of harboring Kurdish terrorists. The Turkish government has issued a lengthy list of conditions that must be met before it would consider approving the Swedish and Finnish membership bids, and this has led to significant anti-Turkish resentment among many of the bloc’s member countries.
And even if NATO succeeds in strongarming Sweden and Finland into acquiescing to Turkey’s audacious demands, it would not be impossible to imagine another country like Hungary or even Croatia vetoing or at least delaying the membership bids. It is notable here that Greece set a precedent in this area by delaying North Macedonia’s NATO accession for an entire decade over a petty dispute.
Turkish involvement in the Swedish and Finnish NATO membership bids has certainly added an intriguing new wrinkle to the geopolitical struggle for Ukraine. This unfolding situation is worthy of further monitoring, as there is great potential for major new developments to emerge at any time.
Today’s article, which marks the second and final part of the series on non-NATO countries of Western Europe, will explore the historical circumstances that led to Austria, Switzerland, and Ireland remaining outside of the NATO alliance. Compared to Sweden and Finland, these three countries are less eager to pick a fight with Russia and Belarus, however the foundations of their once firmly held principles of military neutrality now appear to be quickly eroding.
And as explained in the article on Sweden and Finland, the non-NATO Western European countries of Malta, Cyprus, Northern Cyprus, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, and Vatican City are not covered in this series due to their small territories, low populations, and military and geopolitical insignificance.
Relations between the Russian Empire and the Austrian Empire (from 1867 onward the Austro-Hungarian Empire) were quite good throughout the 1700s and 1800s, and the two bordering states often fought alongside one another in regional wars. That changed, however, when Russia under Tsar Nicolas II (House of Romanov) and Austria-Hungary under Franz Joseph I (House of Habsburg) entered World War 1 on opposite sites and engaged in four years of bloody conflict that resulted in the abolition of both empires at the war’s end in 1918.
It is interesting to note in view of today’s Russia-Ukraine conflict that the Austro-Hungarian Empire encompassed the western territory of modern-day Ukraine and conscripted ethnic Ukrainians to fight against neighboring Russia.
Post-WW1 Austria, which covered merely a fraction of the former empire’s territory, was annexed by Germany in 1938 without a shot being fired in what is known as the Anschluss. Later, the decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 made by Adolf Hitler — Austro-Hungarian native turned German Führer — would unwittingly place Austria within reach of the advancing Soviet forces in the waning days of the war due Austria’s unfortunate location on the eastern edge of the pre-war Third Reich. It is ironic that Austria (as part of Germany) was involved in providing weapons to Ukrainians in an armed struggle against Russia (as part of the Soviet Union) in the early part of the war, while the final days of the war saw Ukrainian divisions in the service of the USSR besieging and capturing Vienna.
It is not commonly known that Austria, like Germany, was in 1945 divided into four occupation zones operated by the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. And the Austrian capital of Vienna, like the German capital of Berlin, was divided into four zones completely surrounded by the greater Soviet occupation zone. Following the death of Stalin in 1953, however, the new Soviet government under Nikita Khrushchev agreed to a joint withdrawal of the military forces of all four occupying countries from Austria if certain conditions were met.
The USSR’s three non-negotiable conditions were that (a.) the 1955 Austrian State Treaty, which served as the new Austrian constitution and reestablished Austria as an independent sovereign country, must include an official declaration of neutrality preventing Austria from joining NATO, (b.) a clause prohibiting Austria from seeking to unify its territory with another German-speaking country, and (c.) a promise to indefinitely maintain the Soviet War Memorial in Vienna. It is also widely speculated that the USSR received ample financial compensation for agreeing to the joint withdrawal.
Austria has remained firmly committed to peace and neutrality since 1955 and has maintained friendly trade and political relations with the Soviet Union and Russia for the past 67 years. And the Austrian population, which is arguably the most socially conservative in Western Europe, clearly rejects the idea of Austria reneging on the 1955 agreement and abandoning the country’s longstanding policy of geopolitical neutrality.
In fact, opinion polls conducted in recent weeks revealed that a mere 15% of Austrians wish to see their country submit a NATO bid. The overwhelming public opinion may not matter though if the Austrian government in the face of pressure from the United States and other NATO countries follows the lead of Sweden and Finland and declares the country’s prospective NATO membership a matter to be settled by parliament rather than by way of a public referendum. By the way, the same polls also show a strong aversion among the Austrian population to Ukraine joining the European Union.
The Austrian government, which imports the vast majority of the country’s natural gas requirements from Russia, seems content to remain outside of NATO for now, however. The Austrian foreign minister recently clarified that the country would not be following in the footsteps of Sweden and Finland and would not consider sending military aid to Ukraine.
Switzerland has a longstanding tradition of both political and military neutrality that arguably dates back more than 500 years, although it was briefly interrupted during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras.
A decade after the 1789 French Revolution, neutral Switzerland was overrun and conquered by the French and subsequently served as a battleground between French and Coalition forces. As part of this struggle, the Russian general Alexander Suvorov, with his forces fighting in Switzerland and severely outnumbered by the French, pulled off an unlikely and heroic feat in 1799 that is still celebrated to this day.
Suvorov led his beleaguered and outnumbered army on an extremely treacherous trek through the snow-packed Swiss Alps, managing to escape the French with his army largely intact and earning him the reputation as one of the most brilliant military geniuses of all time. The amazing achievement has been celebrated regularly in Russia, and the spirit of Suvorov was invoked by Tsar Nicolas II and Joseph Stalin in the two world wars in a patriotic appeal to the Russian population.
After the demise of Napolean in 1815, Switzerland reasserted and reaffirmed its policy of neutrality and has not been engaged in any conflicts since. The Swiss successfully maintained a policy of armed neutrality throughout World War 1. However, during this time Switzerland dubiously took in large numbers of Bolshevik agitators and communist sympathizers seeking refuge from Tsarist Russia. The most notable among them was Vladimir Lenin, who would later lead the Russian Revolution and establish the Soviet Union.
Switzerland also remained neutral during World War 2, but there was much concern early on because the country from 1940 onward was nearly completely surrounded by Axis territory — Nazi Germany (which encompassed Austria), Fascist Italy, and German/Italian-occupied France. The only exception was the tiny microstate of Liechtenstein on its eastern border.
However, it was ultimately not only the Axis countries that caused problems for Switzerland, as the country also struggled with recurring American and British violations of its airspace. Initially willing to turn a blind eye to the Allied violations, a series of deadly and destructive bombings of major Swiss cities carried out by the US Air Force (which the US government implausibly claimed were all accidental), Switzerland eventually took a more aggressive stance and began attacking foreign aircraft breaching its airspace with fighter planes and flak, shooting down dozens of American, British, and German planes. Any surviving airmen were placed in internment camps, many of which were makeshift facilities at temporarily abandoned ski resorts (including Davos).
It is notable here that the 1934 Swiss Banking Act, which formally established the tradition of banking secrecy, was utilized in the lead-up to and during World War 2 by German Jewish businessmen as well as by German government officials. The Swiss strictly upheld this policy in the face of massive protest by the victorious Allies following the war. Nowadays, the tradition of Swiss banking secrecy is little more than a historical relic, which can be seen in Switzerland’s complicity with FATCA regulations and its willingness to rat out clients to the IRS and even to the German tax authorities.
With regard to modern Swiss-Russian relations, Switzerland and the Soviet Union did not establish diplomatic relations until 1946 and the two countries had no meaningful interaction of geopolitical importance during World War 2 or the ensuing Cold War. Today, trade relations are strong with Switzerland importing over half of its natural gas requirements from Russia.
However, the outbreak of the Ukraine-Russia war in February has seriously called into question Switzerland’s commitment to upholding its tried-and-test policy of political and military neutrality. This comes in light of the Swiss government’s imposition of Russian sanctions, the freezing of Russian-held bank accounts, the closing of airspace to Russian civilian aircraft, and the outspoken placement of blame for the conflict squarely on Russia. The Swiss president amazingly shrugged off the slew of accusations of a breach of the country’s neutral foreign policy, admitting that the move was indeed unprecedented but insisting that it was nonetheless in line with Swiss neutrality.
And although Switzerland is unlikely to submit a NATO bid any time soon, the country is arguably already doing the bidding of the US government in view of the aforementioned recent developments. Furthermore, it appears doubtful that the three non-NATO neighboring countries of Switzerland, Austria, and Liechtenstein have the necessary clout to create a bulwark of economic prosperity, genuine neutrality, and non-aggression across Central Europe’s Alpine region. Right now, they appear to be moving toward an unofficial NATO alignment while continuing to give lip service to political and military neutrality.
The island of Ireland had been subjected to various forms of British rule for 800 years before the Republic of Ireland, covering five-sixths of the island’s territory, achieved de facto independence in 1922 from the British Empire following the Irish War of Independence (although it remained in the British Commonwealth until 1949). The territory of Northern Ireland, which accounts for the remaining one-sixth of the island’s territory, has remained a constituent region within the United Kingdom.
The independent Republic of Ireland exhibits interesting similarities to the aforementioned non-NATO Western European country of Finland in that neither were independent states during World War 1. While Finland was for centuries ruled by the Swedish Empire and later by the Russian Empire throughout World War 1, Ireland’s placement within the British Empire made it impossible for the Irish to exercise any independent foreign policy. And as the Finns were obligated to fight for Tsarist Russia, the Irish were conscripted into the armies of the British Empire.
Following independence, the newly created Irish Free State opted for a policy of neutrality, which was quickly put to the test during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), a conflict in which many European countries were taking sides. Ireland wisely refrained from participating in that conflict. And with the outbreak of the European theater of World War 2 in 1939, the Irish government voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm its neutrality. This came in spite of factions within Ireland that favored joining the war on the side of the Allies and others, most notably the Irish Republican Army (IRA), that saw an opportunity to achieve its political goals by siding with Germany.
At the outbreak of war with Germany and Italy in 1940, the British government made an offer to Ireland for a unification of the island in return for the Irish government abandoning its policy of neutrality and declaring war on the Axis Powers. When the Irish government rejected what it considered to be an insincere offer, rumors began spreading that the British might forcibly occupy Ireland as they had done with Iceland several months earlier. This, combined with the many centuries of British oppression in Ireland, led to growing sympathy among the Irish with the German war effort against the British Empire.
With tensions between the United Kingdom and Ireland already running high, the arrival of large numbers of American and other foreign troops in Northern Ireland in 1942 enraged the Irish citizenry and particularly the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary organization that has long since sought to unify the entire island under a single Irish government with a neutral foreign policy.
The IRA used the unwelcomed stationing of American troops on Irish soil to rally support for a new military campaign against Britain at a time when World War 2 was raging across Europe. The majority of the fighting in what came to be known as the Northern Campaign took place along the Irish-Northern Irish border over the course of two years. However, despite receiving some German military intelligence support, the IRA’s efforts ended in failure in December 1944.
And much to the ire of the Allies, the Irish government refused to close the German and Japanese embassies in the final months of the war when practically every other country had been pressured to do so. The Irish government even offered its condolences to Germany upon Hitler’s death, which was in line with protocol for the death of any head of state with which Ireland maintained diplomatic relations. This gesture nonetheless triggered massive outrage across the world, particularly among the US and UK governments, which had failed throughout the war to bring an abrupt end to Irish neutrality.
Ireland and the Soviet Union had little interaction to speak of during World War 2 or the Cold War due in part to the location of the two countries at the opposing geographic extremes of Europe. However, it should be noted that in spite of Ireland’s official neutral policy, it accommodated the US military and the CIA during the Cold War on numerous occasions and continues to do so today. In fact, the Irish government regularly allowed US military aircraft to use its air bases, particular Shannon Airport, for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The US government seems to have accepted that it will be difficult to pressure or coerce Ireland into joining NATO, especially in light of the common understanding among the Irish population that an abandonment of neutrality would require approval in a public referendum. At present, the Irish population is strongly opposed to NATO membership and no political parties are openly in favor of it. In light of this, it came as a surprise to many when the Irish head of state Micheál Martin asserted several days ago that Ireland should reexamine its policy of military neutrality and that any decision to join NATO would be made by the Irish government without a public referendum.
However, one potential backdoor solution aimed at eliminating Irish neutrality involves its membership in the European Union. It is speculated that the European Union could require member countries to show solidarity by providing military support to other members engaged in conflicts. And although this may not lead to Ireland joining NATO directly, it would effectively be tantamount to such given the considerable overlap among EU and NATO countries.
Other ideas aimed at pushing Ireland toward NATO have included attempts by politicians and media at subtly reinterpreting and even redefining the concept of neutrality. In denouncing Russia’s actions in the ongoing Ukraine conflict, some voices in Irish politics and media have claimed that Ireland is militarily neutral but not politically neutral, while others have claimed the country is not neutral at all but rather militarily non-aligned.
Advantages of a Multipolar World
It would certainly be odd to learn that anyone reading this article is an advocate of the perpetuation and expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an institution that is the pinnacle of wasteful government spending, the antithesis of sensible diplomatic non-interventionist foreign policy, and the champion of promoting social and cultural degeneracy across the world.
However, let’s assume for the sake of argument that some of our readers do in fact support NATO, for example because they view the United States, Canada, and the European Union countries as historical bastions of freedom which are in need of reform but are also sorely needed to combat the influence of the illiberal governments of Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, etc.
This approach appears quite misguided, however, given NATO’s obvious aim of placing control of the entire planet in the hands of its neoconservative masterminds, with Ukraine serving merely as a stepping stone toward the realization of this goal. It would stand to reason that the elimination of NATO’s rivals across the world could (and would) quickly usher in a tyrannical and woke one world government.
For this reason, the emergence of a genuinely multipolar world with two or more superpowers, each with its own geopolitical sphere of influence, should definitely be viewed as a positive development especially from the perspective of an individual (even if some of those blocs are established on the principles of objectionable ideologies). And in the likely event that each sphere further devolves into economic and political authoritarianism, the simple fact that different independent power centers exist in the world will present opportunities for savvy offshore-minded individuals.
After all, there would be little value in obtaining a second citizenship in a world effectively ruled by a single government. Thus, an unfree world featuring multiple independent illiberal jurisdictions is far preferable to an unfree one world government. And since we can dismiss the notion that the West is capable of being reformed to embody some semblance of the spirit of 1776, pragmatic libertarians should favor a multipolar world in the face of today’s abysmal state of freedom.