By now, many people have likely become familiar with the map that shows which European countries are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance with 28 European countries and two North American countries.
In the map, a big white (sometimes grey) area appears right in the middle of Europe: Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland are famously not a part of the alliance.
Austria’s non-membership comes from its long-standing neutrality.
In 1955, when the last foreign troops left Austria a decade after the end of the Second World War, the parliament adopted the constitutional law on the Neutrality of Austria, committing the country to permanent neutral status.
The law cemented certain provisions from the Austria State Treaty signed by the government and representatives of the allied forces, which paved the way for the foreign armies to leave the country.
The Treaty, in turn, was largely based on the Moscow Memorandum signed between Austria and the Soviet Union in 1955. Moscow had set Austria’s perpetual neutrality as a condition of the agreement.
As per the Treaty, Austria can’t join a military alliance, allow the establishment of foreign military bases within its borders or participate in a war.
In other words, as a neutral country, Austria is not allowed to join NATO, which defines itself as a political and military alliance.
Nevertheless, the alpine country is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) organisation, promoting bilateral cooperation. Austria also participates in NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), a forum for dialogue and consultation on political and security-related issues in the Euro-Atlantic region.
The Austrian military also participates in the United Nations peacekeeping operations and currently has deployments in several countries, including Kosovo (273 soldiers), Lebanon (182) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (174).
Neutral but not silent
Despite Austria’s neutrality, the country still voices opinions and sanctions other countries. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Austria has sent humanitarian help, including defensive equipment and fuel, to Ukrainians.
As a member of the European Union, the country has also adopted severe sanctions against Russia and condemned the Russian military action in the United Nations.
Before a trip to Kyiv with his counterparts from Slovakia and Czech Republic, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said: “Even if Austria is a neutral state from a military point of view, we are not neutral when it comes to violence.
“When it comes to the territorial integrity of a sovereign state, we will never remain silent, but always stand up for it resolutely.”