Is Neutrality a Luxury Austria Can Afford?

Posted in Europe | 07-May-05 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Austria's geo-strategic environment

Austria celebrates the 50th anniversary of the so-called “Staatsvertrag” that brought Austria its sovereignty back 10 years after WWII. The price tag: Ever-lasting neutrality.

A historic review shows that Austria benefited from this treaty. Austria is well accepted in the world because of its political, social and economic achievements – apart from some political irritations caused by Jörg Haider.

After the end of the “Cold War” with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, Austria leaned closer to the West. In 1995, Austria joined the European Union and the NATO-led program “Partnership for Peace.” Austria plays a fair role in peace support operations. Through its membership in the EU's “European Security and Defense Program,” Austria has de facto crossed the Rubicon of neutrality.

Now, Austria has reached a strategic crossroads in security politics. Due to financial restrictions, the balance between modern weapons procurement, research and development as well as attractive salaries for qualified soldiers has been broken. The gap between the increasing missions and financial resources has widened.

Looking to future worldwide challenges, Austria must decide whether it can any longer afford its “official neutrality” or if it should seek out international cooperation or even membership in NATO. Austria would be strong partner in NATO in a strategically significant region. On the other hand, Austria could benefit from division of labor, burden sharing and the role of specialization. There is the risk of “overstretch” sailing alone through troubled waters.

Regarding the Austrian military forces, there hard and non-popular decisions to be taken:

  • Prioritizing of missions and tasks

  • Give up some missions – i.e. homeland defense

  • The question whether to keep the conscript system or to change into a professional army

  • The length of duty time in the conscript army

  • To buy and maintain the Eurofighter

  • The structure of the armed forces after an almost 50% reduction

We proudly offer an exclusive interview with the Austrian Minister of Defense, Guenther Platter, who answers our questions.

The interview was conducted by Dieter Farwick, Global Editor WSN.