Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushes Europe’s neutral nations further away from impartial foreign policy
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was met with widespread condemnation from NATO and the European Union, who responded to Russia’s aggression with severe economic sanctions intended to weaken the Russian state’s capability to make war. In addition to this, NATO and the EU member states reaffirmed their position on collective security, with President Joe Biden assuring the US’s allies that Article 5 would be enforced in the case of a Russian attack on a NATO member. Such was this backlash to Russia’s invasion that seemingly neutral and militarily non-aligned states such as Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland took active measures in showing their opposition to Russia. Switzerland adopted the same sanctions package as the EU and most notably Sweden and Finland have both submitted applications to join NATO. This came as a surprise to many commentators and pundits who hailed this as a turning point in the history of European defense. However, when analyzing the history of these countries’ neutrality, specifically Switzerland and Finland, it becomes apparent that these measures were a long time in the making.
It is important to establish the nature of what it means to be neutral. It means that the state should not involve itself in armed or political conflicts between other countries. Switzerland can be said to be the country that most heavily adheres to this policy, having had its neutrality established at the Treaty of Paris in 1815. Switzerland refused to partake in World War One and even during World War Two, the Swiss government prevented British and American bombers from entering Swiss airspace, even going so far as to imprison British and American airmen for trespassing, until the war had finished.
Whilst Switzerland voluntarily adopted and preserved its neutrality, Finland on the other hand was coerced into neutrality by the USSR. After having initially repelled an invasion by the USSR, in the Winter War of 1939-1940, Finland by the end of the Second World War found itself at the mercy of a USSR backed by its international allies in the fight against Nazi Germany. It was forced to cede 10% of its territory and become a neutral country, which was ratified by the ‘Agreement of Friendship Cooperation and Mutual Assistance’ in 1948. Finland demonstrated its neutrality by refusing to accept aid from the United States through the Marshall plan and by refusing to take a side during the cold war. Although Finland survived as a liberal democracy, its foreign policy became dominated by the USSR. It was banned from joining any western military alliance and actively censored anti-Soviet Finnish media outlets and politicians.
Both countries maintained their neutrality into the 1990s which saw a rapid change in the geopolitical landscape. The USSR collapsed and the EU as it is structured today was established. Both Switzerland and Finland joined the European single market and Finland became a full member of the EU in 1995. In military terms whilst Switzerland maintained its neutral military policy, Finland freed from the influence of the USSR, became an official partner of NATO participating in missions in Iraq and Kosovo. Since the end of the cold war Finland has always kept the ‘NATO’ option open, that is the capability to decide to join NATO swiftly if needs must. It expanded its army to 280,000 soldiers with 900,000 reserves and already meets NATO’s 2% defense spending requirement. Military service is mandatory, large scale military exercises take place twice every year and civil defense shelters have the capacity to house 3.6 million civilians.
Economically speaking, in recent history both countries have not shown neutrality. Both have previously undertaken sanctions, in response to military or political conflict in other nations. In 2014, as part of the EU, Finland supported sanctions, in response to the Russian occupation of Crimea and reaffirmed its support in 2016. Switzerland implemented targeted sanctions against Russia in the same year and later even expanded their scope so that EU sanctions could not be circumvented in Swiss territory, seemingly breaking its stance on neutrality in the process.
In this way both countries have violated their supposed ‘neutral’ stance on foreign policy, both militarily and economically. So what is driving this move away from neutrality? Switzerland, although not abandoning its militarily neutral stance has slowly moved away from its neutrality economically. Switzerland is an ever-smaller cog in an increasingly globalised world and since joining the single market, Switzerland has opened itself up to influence from the EU. In an age where sanctions are used as a political weapon Switzerland has become a belligerent in the EU’s economic war on Russia. Furthermore, as Russia continues to violate international law and threaten the security of Europe it becomes ever-more difficult for Switzerland to justify its neutral stance. Fully complying with EU sanctions as of 2022 is the next logical step in Switzerland’s increasing integration with the EU’s foreign policy.
For Finland, its move away from neutrality has always been driven by the prospect of a return of Russian domination. Finland as we have seen, has spent years increasing its military capacity and integrating with the EU in order to move out of the shadow of Russian influence. It has always kept the ‘NATO option’ available and the invasion of Ukraine has given the Finish government the justification to act on this. The invasion has shown that Russia is willing and capable of launching a full-scale invasion of its neighbors. Russia’s ever-growing volatility and aggression over the past two decades has created the looming threat of a return to the years of Russian domination, making Finland’s abandonment of its neutrality and accession to NATO inevitable.
In a world where both countries near and far away from the invasion are compelled to take sides, by their economic and historical interests there seems to be no longer any room for truly neutral nations in Europe.
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