While Finland and Sweden are poised to join NATO, Austria is not even contemplating it.

Austria's NATO membership: A neutral backwood

According to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, "Black Thursday," or February 24th, the day on which Putin's invading army entered Ukraine, marked a "turning point" for all of Europe. "Black Thursday" was the day on which Putin's invading armies invaded Ukraine. Annalena Baerbock, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, expressed it thus way: "Today we woke up in a new world."

Not only has Europe's fragile security infrastructure been decimated, but also all of its previously established routines. The application for membership in NATO was filed by Finland on May 12, and it was met with support from a sizable portion of the nation's populace. Of all regions in the country, Finland was the one in which the neutralist balance between the blocs had taken root the most profoundly. Because of its self-image as a "peace power" and the small-state idealism that goes along with it, neighbouring Sweden wants to participate in this action as well, which is another surprising turn of events. In any case, the nations of Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries are more content than they have ever been to be members of NATO and to take use of its mutual help provision. In addition, other nations that were once part of the Soviet Union, such as Georgia

If you take all of this into consideration with a level head, you are forced to admit that it is impossible for Putin to be pleased with the developments that he has single-handedly brought about. It's impossible to imagine a PR stunt that would have been more beneficial to NATO than their war on Ukraine.

Surprisingly, the discussion and the paradigm change passed one nation entirely by: Austria. There may have been as few as two or three televised discussions in which the topic of joining NATO was discussed, but it was swiftly shut down each time it was brought up. The neutrality of the government was "not up for question," as the chancellor Karl Nehammer said. Pamela Rendi-Wagner, the head of the SPO and an aspiring candidate for the job of chancellor, swears under oath at every available occasion that Austria's neutrality is "non-negotiable." The right-wing nationalist FPO, known for its aggressively passive-aggressive kind of mini-state patriotism, has the same point of view. For the Green Party, shifting their stance from one of pacifism and nonviolence to that of an organisation that advocates for membership in NATO would be an abrupt and unpleasant transformation. And in such case, there would be the conservative Neos,

There is absolutely no room for dispute over Austria's entry into NATO and the end of the country's neutrality. Neutrality and non-alignment are so well-liked in Austria that nobody wants to participate in this conversation; hence, the spirit of neutralism continues to predominate. This is the apparent and straightforward explanation.

The fact that Austria is bordered on all sides by countries that are members of NATO, with the exception of its borders with Liechtenstein and Switzerland, certainly plays a role in this. In order for Austria to reap the benefits of the mutual aid provision included in Article 5 of the NATO treaty, it is not necessary for Austria to become a member of NATO. An invading force must first launch an assault on a member of NATO before they are allowed to enter Austrian territory. If you were located on the NATO's external boundary, the security issue – as well as the argument – would undoubtedly be quite different.

However, this only accounts for a portion of the explanation. The concept of neutrality is strongly ingrained in Austrian culture. However, in contrast to Germany, Austria was referred to as a "liberated" nation despite the fact that it was occupied by the Allies following World War II and split into zones of occupation. For a very long period, the status of the state was not obvious, but the main parties all shared the objective of achieving complete sovereignty as their political aim. After Stalin's death, the Soviet Union under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev intended to send signals of a "thaw policy" in both internal and international policy; the leadership in Moscow determined that Austria should be this gift in the realm of foreign policy.

As of today, we are aware of the fact that the Soviet Union had already made up its mind to cede sovereignty to Austria in return for neutrality. However, when several Austrian delegations travelled to Moscow in 1954 and 1955 to negotiate an end to the occupation that had been going on since 1945 as well as a state treaty, they knew nothing about it, and many observers had doubts as to whether or not the delegations would return alive. The negotiations took place in the Soviet Union. Therefore, in the cultural memory of Austrians, neutrality is connected with the recovery of "freedom," but it is also associated with the astute and deft actions taken by the government at the time, which was led by a coalition of OVP and SPO.

After then, over the course of many decades, the concept of neutrality gradually evolved into a "civil religion" on the national level. On the territory of Austria, which is considered to be neutral, a number of significant interactions between the superpowers took occurred. One of them was the meeting between John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev in 1961, which did not prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis from occurring the following year. 

In addition, a number of UN entities, such as the OSCE, have their headquarters located here. The nation considers itself to be a peacemaker and a mediator; Chancellor Nehammer travelled to Ukraine in April and then met with Putin in Moscow as the first Western head of state to do so since the start of the war. As a result, the nation's history has been somewhat reimagined as a result of these actions. In any event, people of all political stripes are proud of the independent foreign policy that was pursued by Bruno Kreisky, who served as chancellor under the social democratic party.

This "political emotionality of neutrality" has a number of likeable aspects, such as "conversation instead of violence," "peace instead of war," and "big job for the young ones," but it also has a number of less obvious negative aspects. People in Austria have a tendency to set the world in such a manner that all cats are fundamentally grey, and you are expected to take a neutral stance between the undesirable Americans and the undesirable Russians. 

In today's world, ethically questionable appeasement and neutralism are so intertwined that it is difficult to tell the difference between the two with the naked eye. Even while Kreisky's policy of neutrality was still viewed in an internationalist fashion, its ethos grew more and more rural with time. In accordance with the maxim, if we just conceal ourselves by moving behind the next tree, no one will be able to see us, and hence, nothing bad can happen to us. Something along these lines, with a hint of ironic exaggeration added here and there

In point of fact, neutrality has been compromised for a considerable amount of time. An autonomous foreign policy is not only unlikely to be conceivable for a state that is a member of the European Union, but it is also not even something that should be desired. In any case, the nation is included into the common security strategy that the EU maintains.

 Not too long ago, the nations that are members of NATO that are also members of the European Union released a statement of support to the members who are neutral. While Austria may have in the past practised something like a "political policy of neutrality," the country's current stance may be described as "neutral, but without politics."

The author:
Robert Misik, a writer, essayist, exhibition organiser, theatre worker, and event programmer, lives and works in Vienna. He is also active in the city's theatrical community.
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