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Thursday
May042017

DC Think Tank Explores “Permanent Neutrality”

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) senior vice presidents Heather Conley and Kathleen Hicks recently published their views on the current trend among some European policy experts to promote permanent neutrality as a way to create a new security order in Europe.  The concept was practiced by Finland during the Soviet era after entering the 1948 treaty with the Soviet Union that was the basis of Finlandization.  Today’s version involves ending NATO expansion and establishing the area lying between NATO and Russia as a zone of nations allowed to “choose their forms of government and diplomatic relations, yet [denied] the freedom to join any formal security organizations.”  

In Ukraine, the constitution mandated neutral status by stating that the nation would not pursue NATO membership.  This may have seemed reasonable given the security assurances offered by the Budapest Memorandum, but the events of 2013-2014 made clear that maintaining neutrality was not in Ukraine’s interest, and it is now a close partner with NATO.  While Finland ended its Soviet-imposed nonaligned status in 1995 by joining the EU, it – along with Sweden – has so far maintained relative military neutrality, but now both nations are forging security alliances with their neighbors and considering making moves to join NATO.  Georgia and Moldova have also sought closer ties to NATO since the Soviet Union collapsed.  In each case, it is Russia’s actions that have prompted nations to turn to the West for security relationships and away from the Kremlin’s influence.

The authors advocate against the use of permanent neutrality, identifying it as a flawed approach for appeasing Russia because it comes at the expense of the “core democratic and international legal principles of sovereign choice” and the resulting destabilization of European and U.S. security structures.  They suggest that “[w]hat antagonizes Russian president Vladimir Putin is not simply NATO expansion but the Alliance’s very and continued existence.”  The contradiction between allowing the nations in question freedom over their forms of government and diplomacy while blocking their freedom to choose their security alliances plays directly into Putin’s agenda.

OSCE flags outside U.S. Mission (Photo: osce.usmission.gov)The article underlines that along with NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the enduring but oft-forgotten twin pillar of European security, and Russia is an active member.  Before proposing the return to a construct that limits the choices of sovereign nations and undermines an effective and relevant security architecture, the authors endorse revisiting and implementing the successful institutions that are already equipped to address today’s challenges.  While it may be in fashion for pundits, politicians and others to call for a new European order, those advocates are ignoring the validity of the current structure and the harm they’re doing to upholding the values of democracy and sovereignty.

The full CSIS article is available at CSIS.org > Analysis > There Is No Alternative to Sovereign Choice, April 27, 2017.

- Karin Shuey