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Neutrality in the nineties.

IN each of the years 1988 and 1990 I tried in these pages to assess the position of neutral states in the polity of Europe and to formulate ideas about the future role of the concept of neutrality in the continent.

In 1988 Mr. Gorbachov, although widely criticised within the Soviet Union, had attained a degree of popularity and influence abroad which had never before been reached by a Soviet leader. Among the rather vague generalisations with which he was wont to bombard the West was a suggestion that Afghanistan be neutralised after Soviet evacuation. This gave encouragement to the idea that an extension of neutrality among states lying between the super powers could be used to reduce tensions and stimulate the process of arms reduction to which Mr. Gorbachov had proclaimed himself dedicated.

When the second article was written in the winter of 1989-90 the immense strength of the Soviet super-power was still the prime factor in the European situation although its satellite state were discarding Communism and the Warsaw Pact was looking increasingly fragile. It still seemed that there were two constants which would continue to obstruct any dream solution of European security. The first was that while the Soviet leader was preaching democracy it was clear that he either would not or could not loosen the hold of the Communist Party on absolute power in the USSR. Democracy, Gorbachov style, merely meant the lifting of some restrictions on private property and a good deal of window dressing in the Byzantine hierarchy of Soviet representative bodies. The second constant was what seemed implacable Soviet opposition to the unification of Germany except on terms which were certain to be unacceptable to the Federal Republic and its Western allies. In the circumstances of 1988 and 1990 it seemed that the best security outcome which could reasonably be foreseen for Europe was the establishment of the largest possible area of neutrality, even perhaps ultimately extending to a united Germany, which would form a permanent barrier between the forces of the two hostile super powers.

At that time the ending of the Warsaw Pact could be seen as a possibility but no one foresaw the collapse of Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, followed by declarations of independence in all its constituent republics. Within a year not only had all this happened but Germany was unified and allowed to remain in NATO. One of the many consequences of these great events has been a tendency to question the future of permanent neutrality which has, through all vicissitudes, been maintained in Europe by a number of states. According to the Hague Convention the term neutrality applies only in time of war but in practice those states who in peacetime have refused to take sides in the bi-polar military confrontation have been classified as either neutral or non-aligned. Now that bi-polarity no longer dominates Europe it is legitimate to ask whether permanent neutrality has any meaning as a primary foreign policy orientation.

With the unity of Germany settled, the problem area of Europe has shifted to the East. Although the Republic of Russia is clearly the main successor state of the defunct USSR and has accepted as such in the UN Security Council, the instability which followed the splitting up of the centralised union of fifteen republics is little, if at all, less than it was after the collapse. Among the many questions which remain unanswered that of security arrangements for the whole of Europe is among the most prominent. The West, however, has been so preoccupied with economic problems and with what it sees as the inadequacy of control over nuclear weapons and the dispersal of under-employed nuclear experts that it has scarcely been able to devote thought, let alone action, to the subject of the long term relationship which the Western powers need to build with Russia and the other newly democratising states of what was the Communist bloc. These new nations have widely differing problems but all share the determination to cherish the newly won independence which gives them responsibility for their own security, a field in which they have virtually no experience and in many cases very slender resources.

The present phase of indecision bears hardly on the ring of states which were bullied or tricked into the Communist bloc after the war and were then coerced into the Warsaw Pact. Some, perhaps all, of them have cherished hopes that their release from Soviet control would make them candidate members in the Western institutions of the European Community and NATO. Those dreams have faded and these nations, inevitably weak and disorganised after their years of Communist bondage, have some reason to feel that they have been rejected by the West. This, together with the slow pace at which material benefits are transpiring, has engendered a tendency to disillusion with democracy, reinforcing the endemic instability of the area, suspended between the East from which it has escaped and the West to which it has not been made welcome.

In contrast to the shifting scene in the East, NATO stands as a pillar of stability, but even here the wind of change is blowing. The historical fact that an alliance needs an opponent to justify its existence has not been lost on the Western Powers and NATO has been issued with a 'New Strategic Concept' designed to give the organisation credibility at least while the military build-up in the East remains in being.

This new brief gives no green light for reckless disarmament but it does acknowledge profound changes in the situation NATO has successfully faced for so long. It emphasises that the military capacity of the East is still the most significant factor in any strategic assessment of Europe and that therefore the maintenance of adequate military capacity, including the nuclear deterrent of the great American ally, remains central to the security of the members of the Western Alliance. The modification of, and changes to, the military stance are considerable and a significant novelty is the admission that the Alliance must now concern itself with social, economic and environmental elements as well as with the politico-military slant which has been its brief until now.

This important development is exemplified by the formation within NATO of a North Atlantic Co-operation Council (NACC) which has been joined by all the States of the former Warsaw Pact and has been given a wide and interesting 'work plan for dialogue, partnership and co-operation' in subjects ranging from defence planning to air traffic management. It is unfortunate that the 'old' neutral states of the West seem to have been deliberately excluded while states who were in the Warsaw Pact have been given places. It is believed that the neutrals would have been willing to take part and much of the content of the Council's Work Plan certainly concerns them as closely as anyone else.

The attitude of accepting change but exercising caution in reacting, has communicated itself to the neutrals. Although all share the stance of neutrality, their options for change vary since some, (Austria, Finland), are bound by treaty, while others can, if they wish, unilaterally change their whole orientation. Each can of course adjust the practical measures employed in furtherance of neutrality and it may be assumed that all are likely to be pondering what security attitudes may be available to them in the future within their present legal undertakings and according to how the situation in Europe develops.

The precarious security which Europe has enjoyed for nearly half a century was based on a balance of power whose foundations lay in the confrontation between the ideologies of democracy and communism. Security derived from the rough balance between the military forces of the rival alliances which at least ensured that a rapid or decisive victory was not available to either side. Invisible to the world but high in everyone's consciousness brooded the huge strategic nuclear arsenals, each capable of destroying the other's country but not his power to retaliate. Thus was 'peace' assured... Now that that confrontation is suspended there is a security vacuum in Europe and the instability engendered seems likely to increase and certainly shows no sign of going away. While the likelihood of a great war, never considerable, has further decreased, events in former Yugoslavia and in Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia demonstrate how absolutely essential it is that a new security system be constructed to fill the vacuum and pre-empt at least some of the dangers.

There are two general forms which such a system is likely to take and the time to choose between them is not to-morrow or the next day but NOW. The neutral powers have as much interest in the choice as anyone else because their security policies and their place in the future world depend directly on what evolves in the rest of Europe.

The first option is to rely again on some form of balance of power. This would have to be based on a renewed, if less rigid, division of Europe and therefore on a modified resumption of the confrontation between East and West. The other possibility is the formation of an institutionalised system of co-operation, in effect a security alliance embracing the whole region.

The balance of power option would entail neutral status for the ex-satellite states of central and Eastern Europe, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech and Slovak Republics, to which should be added the three Balkan Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The position of the successor states of the Soviet Union which lie to the West of Russia would be equivocal in the extreme since they would likely be under pressure to renew their security relationship with Russia but, being drawn to the West, might also be inclined to neutrality. To accede to the desire of all or any of these states to join the West could only be seen as provocative to Russia and it is highly unlikely that they would wish to renew a security relationship on the lines of the Warsaw Pact. Neutrality therefore would be their only option and while there would be some benefits in this extension of neutrality, these effects would almost certainly be offset by a renewed tendency to the isolation of Russia and a high degree of instability in the area surrounding her. The prospects for peace and disarmament would not be enhanced.

The alternative would be the construction of a Grand Alliance based on a West-East Security Treaty which, like the North Atlantic Treaty would take care of the security concerns of all its members. Like the North Atlantic Treaty, the West-East Treaty would take account of political realities but would not envisage any specific political or economic ties between its signatories. It would, however, include provision for close co-operation between them in the new non-military fields of security as well as in the maintenance of traditional military deterrents to aggression.

The Treaty, like the North Atlantic Treaty, would require an operational arm, let us call it the West-East Treaty Organisation (WETO) which, by including the successor states of the defunct Soviet Union and the ex-satellites and neutrals searching for a role, would fill the glaring security hiatus in the new Europe.

An institutional framework is essential within which the nations which have emerged from the shadow of communism can take their proper place in the democratic world. The sense of isolation and frustration which is overtaking them and pushing them back into separation from the West can only be dispersed by welcoming them formally into the democratic family. Since the restrictive nature of the European Community and its onerous regulations rule out entry in the foreseeable future for any of the Eastern group of states, a security organisation is the only basis for that partial fusing of East and West which will lead on to further and closer co-operation in other fields. Security now has many concerns as well as the military and has to deal with such matters as terrorism, population movements, international crime, drug rings and environmental degradation. Belonging within an institution which covered these non-military concerns would have immense moral as well as practical effect in stabilising the dangerous situations which are evolving in many countries in the real, larger Europe with which we now have to deal. Here is the chance and the method to help these territories to begin to take their proper place in the democratic world.

The tasks of WETO will be much wider than those of NATO which until lately has been preoccupied with the now redundant defence of Western Germany. It is important that Eastern viewpoints and skills have full weight in the organisation and nothing should detract from the necessity to build a strong integrated East-West military presence. The continued existence of NATO in spite of its lack of obvious opponents has been and is a powerful influence for stability in Europe. All must hope that it can remain so until an efficient WETO (owing a great deal to NATO) is equipped and qualified to deal with the variegated security problems facing us as the twenty-first century looms.

The new Treaty will have to carry a stipulation that all members are bound together to consult and assist one another in all forms of security, military and civil, and that a security threat to one shall be considered as a security threat to all. The possession and training of an efficient force of all arms will be essential for the maintenance of the confidence of its members and the respect of the world and in spite of the obvious difficulties of administration inherent in the number of its members and the diversity of its cultures and languages, it will need the active participation of all. This force should be available to support the increasing security concerns of the UN and respect for the principles of Chapter VII of the UN Charter would be written into its brief.

The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which came into being in 1975 to address certain specific issues, has grown to be an institutionalised body with a Secretariat and specialised agencies including a Conflict Prevention Centre. It is accepted as the most important forum for security contacts between the nations of Europe and the North American partners. Since all the territories of Europe, including the neutrals and the Republics which formed the defunct Soviet Union, are members of the CSCE it seems that that body is admirably qualified to initiate and conduct the preliminary discussions.

The 'old' neutrals, closely incorporated economically and ideologically with the West, have been active members of the CSCE, whose roots are in Helsinki and Stockholm, since its first meetings. Some of them are already accepting the possibility of a new, wide, security system for Europe. In 1990 the Swiss Federal Council noted in a report to the Federal Assembly that 'it remains to be hoped that sometime in the future a collective security system for all European states will evolve, offering security and protection. Switzerland is prepared to contribute to this end...'. Provided that their special status is recognised there is little doubt that the neutrals will play a full part in the foundation of a new security system such as is envisaged above.

WETO will have members of widely differing circumstances and background and consequently will have to be flexible in what it expects from its members. NATO has shown that in an association of democratic nations this is possible without seriously detracting from the effectiveness of an Alliance. Denmark, France, Iceland, Germany, Norway and Spain have all declared to NATO that circumstances and the democratic wishes of their people entail different contributions and different reservations within the Alliance while they continue fully to subscribe to its objects. Bearing in mind the wide responsibilities of the new Alliance little adaptation is required of the principle established in NATO to ensure that there is no bar to the 'old' neutrals being welcome and efficient members. It can give them what they have long desired and was impossible in a bi-polar confrontation, a formal collective security system which can absorb them without conflicting with their principles.

The threat to which WETO will be responding is wider and even more important than that which faced NATO. Basically it is the threat of world wide instability and there is very little chance that such a threat will not be with us for some long time. Subsumed in this generality are the new security concerns like terrorism, international crime, drug peddling, population movement and environmental degradation. It is not yet time, alas, to dispense with military precautions but it is primarily in response to these other dangers that WETO will establish its stability and become an essential security tool whose writ will stretch from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The participation of the 'old' neutrals will give it a pacific and impartial dimension and a slant towards disarmament.

The ending of the Cold War has brought talk of the Death of Neutrality. It has been said, with some reason, that the interdependence of states leaves no room for a concept which requires for its existence at least the probability of war and which predicates a degree of independence in its practitioners incompatible with the realities of the new century.

In the previous articles, written before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the communist dream, the extension of old-type neutrality could be seen as a positive factor helping the world towards the abolition of war and the rise of disarmament. Now, although it is not impossible that such a scenario may confront us, it can only be seen as second best. If confrontation is allowed to resume, at however low a level of intensity, there will be signalled the loss of the greatest opportunity for stable peace the world has ever seen. That opportunity starts with the building of a new, wide security system for Europe, incorporating all the states of the region, however poor, unstable or threatened they may be, into one great security family in which the American super power and the Russian adversary it has confronted for so long will be equal members.

The neutrals, with whom may be included any or all of the new states of the East cannot, will surely not wish, to stand aside, but they will make their best contribution if they remain true to the principles of their neutrality. They will make available, as some of them always have, trained and experienced personnel for conflict prevention and peace-keeping forces. They will continue to offer the traditional mediating and humanitarian services in which they have so much expertise. It may be that, after the first growing pains of the New System have subsided, these specialties of neutrality will prove the most important functions of the Great Alliance. If that comes to pass men will talk in the future not of the Death of Neutrality but of its Triumph.
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Title Annotation:political instability in Europe
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:3169
Previous Article:Lying at anchor.
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