Sunday, January 24, 2010

'Europe's Neutral States: Partners or Profiteers in Western Security?'

This book review appeared in the Fall 1987 edition of Strategic Review, a publication of the United States Strategic Institute. A shorter version was published in the Spring 1988 edition of Millennium: Journal of International Studies (Vol. 17, No. 1).

Balance-Sheets of Nonalignment

EUROPE’S NEUTRAL STATES: Partners or Profiteers in Western Security?

By Stephan Kux
London: Institute for European Defense and Strategic Studies
1986. 42 pages. $8.00

Reviewed by Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

What is the role played by neutral states in the international political system? Is the concept of neutrality still a truly meaningful one in contemporary international politics? Or has neutrality become merely a narrowly legal (and convenient) concept bereft of any real political cutting-edge?

If, as Professor Roderick Ogley asserts, neutrality is “an enormous subject, almost coterminous with world politics as a whole,” these questions deserve further exploration. What surprises the student of international relations today is the absence of relevant material. While descriptive analyses of the politics of individual neutral states are plentiful, no substantial, book-length study of neutrality has been published during the past twenty years — at least in the English language. There certainly have been no new challengers to Philip Jessup’s comprehensive, four-volume study of neutrality published in the mid-1930s.

This short monograph by Stephan Kux, a Swiss political analyst, makes a concise contribution to the literature on neutrality by focusing on Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland. He asks if these four countries are getting a “free ride” for their security on the back of the Western Alliance. He concludes that, except for Switzerland, none of them can adequately provide for their own defense, and that they lean instead on mutual nuclear deterrence between the superpowers and their alliances as their principal pillar of security.

Two of Kux’s examples best illuminate the phenomenon. One is Ireland. There is broad domestic-political support for Ireland’s neutrality, and public opinion in its favor hovers around 85 per cent. Neutrality is not rigorously defined in Irish law or politics, however, and it has “come to be regarded by the general public as an essentially nationalistic symbol, fraught with nostalgia toward a hard-won independence and with a persistently anti-British flavor arising from its irredentist claim to a united Ireland.”

Ireland is much too weak to defend its territorial integrity in the event of a major war. This is clear from the “strength” of the Navy of this island nation, which consists of approximately 1,500 men in 7 offshore patrol vessels and 3 helicopters, operating from a single base in Cork with a mandate to cover all of Ireland’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The Air Force features less than 900 personnel manning but 15 combat aircraft. According to Kux, “by far the greatest part of the country’s defense expenditure” — amounting to only 1.8 per cent of the gross national product and 3.1 per cent of the government budget — “is devoted to assistance of the civil power in policing the Irish conflict,” with much of the rest going to sections of the 12,000-strong Irish Army seconded to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Ireland’s hope for resisting invasion is vested not in the military defense of its integrity and neutrality but in the presumption that its territory will not be considered a prize by either NATO or the Warsaw Pact in the event of war. There are two geostrategic perspectives on Ireland’s importance. One argues that the country is unimportant and that any needs that NATO may have in the region are covered by permanent access to British bases in Northern Ireland. The second perspective sees Ireland as a “missing link” in the defense of the North Atlantic, because the country could “provide the opportunity for extending the reach of electronic surveillance systems, anti-submarine warfare and air defense systems.” The island would also provide a useful logistics base for resupplying NATO forces in the event of a protracted conflict on the continent.

The ambiguity of this geostrategic role has to some extent made Ireland’s neutrality a bargaining chip for Dublin. As early as 1940, Winston Churchill suggested that unification could be the reward for Irish participation in the war against Nazi Germany. The offer was repeated, sotto voce, upon the formation of NATO. On the latter occasion, the Irish refusal was accepted easily because it appeared that the Alliance’s strategic needs could be fulfilled without Irish membership in the Alliance.

Yet, the topic continues to be raised. Enoch Powell, the former Conservative Member of Parliament for South Down in Ulster, told a reporter for the Financial Times in May 1987:  “Without the island of Ireland there is a yawning gap in NATO.... NATO strategists have never been satisfied that Ireland is absent from their ring.” Powell believes that the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 (the so-called Hillsborough Agreement) was the consequence of pressures from Washington designed to get the British to disengage from Northern Ireland, speed up the process of Irish unification, and in the end deliver a united Ireland for membership in the Atlantic Alliance. That none of this was discussed publicly by either Dublin or Westminster escapes Powell’s argument, which thus rings hollow. Nevertheless, the fact that the point is raised at all indicates both the sensitivity and continued liveliness of the issue.

Kux’s other telling case study is Sweden. Since 1815 Sweden has managed to stay neutral in all wars and to follow a policy of what is now called nonalignment. In the Twentieth Century invitations to join military alliances have never found a strong resonance among Swedish political leaders. Membership in NATO was firmly refused by Sweden. Immediately after the war, serious consideration was given to Swedish participation in a Nordic neutrality pact, but the idea was stillborn when Norway and Denmark joined the Atlantic Alliance

Swedish national security policy is geared to military defense of the nation’s neutrality and territorial integrity. It seeks to employ a defense force adequate to deter any potential attacker. Whether or not Sweden has that capability is moot.

The series of violations of Swedish territorial waters by Soviet submarines over the past six years has brought some of the inadequacies of Swedish territorial defense into focus. It has also brought an impetus to defense spending. There will be a rise in spending over the next ten years to begin to compensate for the steady decline between 1966 and 1986, when defense spending as a proportion of gross national product fell from 4.2 to 2.9 per cent. Nonetheless, Swedish Commander-in-Chief General Bengt Gustafsson has quipped: “We are still going to become gradually weaker, but more slowly than before.” He expects defense spending to rise to 3 or 3.5 per cent of GNP in the 1990s.

In response partly to the intruding Soviet submarines but also other developments, the recognition has grown in Sweden that its northern region holds more strategic value than it did twenty or thirty years ago. Indeed, George Richey of the Institute for European Defense and Strategic Studies has posited that “Sweden is the key to the northern flank, and the northern flank is the key to Central Europe.” This view reflects the Soviet buildup in the Baltic and on the Kola Peninsula, and the construction of the world’s largest naval base at Murmansk.

Pending the proposed increase in defense spending — and provided that it is allocated to an optimal mix of manpower and weaponry — it is unlikely that Sweden will be capable of a viable defense of its neutrality in any general European conflict. As former Commander-in-Chief General Lennart Ljung has admitted: “There is a growing gap between the demands which have been placed on us and our actual capabilities.” An annual increase of 3 per cent over five years, he told a parliamentary committee, would be sufficient to redress the erosion of the past two decades. Certainly the infrastructure is there to inspire confidence — an arms industry of growing sophistication, a civil defense program that is nearly the equal of Switzerland’s, and 30 new Gripen multirole aircraft now on line. The details remain to be debated and implemented.

Notwithstanding these defense deficiencies and their strategic implications for NATO — which apply also in one measure or another to the other neutrals — any effort to steer these countries into an explicit embrace by the Atlantic Alliance may not be wise, let alone promising. Kux notes that “to exert direct pressure upon them to develop a closer relationship with NATO and the European Community could well prove counterproductive.” It is better, he believes, to accept the neutrals as “very much a part of the wider Western community.” As long as they share Western political values and practices, “the Western democracies should assist them in every appropriate way to maintain robust and credible defenses, and to pursue assertive but realistic foreign policies based upon a mature and informed public opinion.”

One drawback to this study is the author’s choice not to include Finland as one of Europe’s neutral states. The relations of Finland with the Soviet Union on the one hand, and with the West on the other, have strongly influenced some views of Europe’s future evolution. Indeed, Helmut Sonnenfeldt has spoken of possible “Finlandization of Eastern Europe,” just as other Western analysts have speculated fearfully about a subtle process of “Finlandization” in Western Europe. At any rate, Finland certainly meets the criteria of neutrality, and thus should have been included in Kux’s lineup.

This omission notwithstanding, Stephan Kux has given us a good, if brief, introduction to the problems and prospects of neutrality in Europe in the late Twentieth Century. Hopefully it will inspire more comprehensive and searching inquiry into these important but neglected factors of Europe’s geostrategic and political equation.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based foreign policy consultant.

No comments: