The Non-aligned Movement and the Role of Austria

Multilateralism and the movement to ban nuclear weapons could be platforms for co-operation even today

by Professor Dr Dr h.c. mult. Hans Köchler*

zf. From 10 to 12 February 2021 the 5th international conference “The Rise of Asia in global history and perspective” was held online about the topic: “60 years after Belgrade: what non-alignment in a multipolar world and for a global future?” About 140 scientists from a broad range of academic fields (regional studies, cultural studies, ecology, economics, geography, history, humanities, linguistics, business management, political and social sciences) participated, as well as experts involved in an equally diverse scope of areas (economy, civil society, education, private business, governance, management, parliament, public relations, social and transnational movements), as well as artists and writers from various countries (Africa, North Central and South America, Australia, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Oceania, the Pacific). One of the speakers was Professor Hans Köchler.

After World War II, Austria regained its independence on the basis of a constitutional commitment to a non-aligned foreign policy. In the Moscow Memorandum of 15 April 1955, the Austrian government declared to work for the adoption of a law that would enshrine in the Constitution a provision of permanent neutrality according to the model of Switzerland. The law was to be passed after the ratification of a “State Treaty” with the four Allied Powers on the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Austrian territory. Following the conclusion of the Treaty on 15 May 1955 and the completion of the ratification process on 27 July of the same year, the Austrian Parliament, on 26 October 1955, decided that Austria will permanently refrain from joining military alliances and will not allow any foreign military basis on its soil. This happened exactly on the day after the last foreign soldier had left Austria, as was stipulated in the State Treaty.
  As the country’s negotiators made clear at the time, Austria’s concept of neutrality was not to be understood as equidistance vis-à-vis ideological blocs, a position they polemically described as “neutralism” (and which some commentators, later, attributed to the Non-aligned Movement [NAM]). Austria always saw itself as part of the Western world. “Military neutrality,” tied to a commitment to “comprehensive national defense” (enshrined in Art. 9a of the Federal Constitutional Law) has become a defining element of Austrian state identity ever since the post-World War II period.
  In the 1970s and early 1980s, in the era shaped by Chancellor (Prime Minister) Bruno Kreisky, Austria practiced a so-called policy of “active neutrality,” which meant, inter alia, support to causes of the then-Third World, in particular for the establishment of a New International Economic Order, the struggle against apartheid, and the aspirations of the Palestine Liberation Organization for the establishment of an independent state. This was the time of Austria’s constructive engagement with the Non-aligned Movement. Austria also played an active role in the debates on development policies and North-South dialogue. The Chancellor, a founding member of the North-South Commission (“Brandt Commission”), entertained close relations with non-aligned leaders such as Indira Gandhi, Tito or Yasser Arafat. Together with President José López Portillo of Mexico, he convened the North-South Summit of October 1981 in Cancún (“International Meeting on Cooperation and Development”)1 where the Prime Minister of China suggested the establishment of a “New International Economic Order.” At the European level, within the framework of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), Austria also coordinated its foreign policy with Yugoslavia, in an effort aimed at the implementation of the Helsinki Accords of 1975.
  The Austrian Chancellor also took an active interest in, and was supportive of, conferences convened by the International Progress Organization on the New International Economic Order (held in Vienna in April 1979, and attended by Austria’s Minister of Finance), the Question of Palestine (held in Vienna in November 1980, and inaugurated by Austria’s Foreign Minister), and the Principles of Non-alignment (held in Baghdad in May 1982, with Leo Mates, Chief of Staff to President Yosip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia when NAM was founded in 1961, as General Rapporteur of the Conference). In the summer of 1983, at the initiative of Bruno Kreisky, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attended an International Dialogue Conference at the Austrian mountain village of Alpbach.
  In the context of the policy of active neutrality, Austria saw its position as neutral meeting place and facilitator of dialogue. This was evident in two of the major superpower summits of the Cold War period that were hosted in the Austrian capital, namely the meetings between President John F. Kennedy of the United States and Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union in June 1961, and between President Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in June 1979. The latter meeting concluded with the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II). Also, since 1960, Austria has provided non-combatant troops for United Nations peacekeeping and observer missions, e. g. in Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. Since the 1960s, Austria has become the host country of an increasing number of intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (Preparatory Commission), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
  After the end of the Cold War, the country’s focus shifted to full integration with the European Community (later, European Union). Immediately after the accession to the European Union on 1 January 1995, Austria joined NATO’s “Partnership for Peace” on 10 February of the same year. As member of the European Union, the country also takes part in “EU Battlegroups” within the Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy. The integration into the intergovernmental structures of the EU has been perceived by many as incompatible with the country’s status of permanent neutrality and, thus, its Constitution. Accordingly, the Parliament amended the neutrality law of 1955, inserting an article into the Constitution that allows for the active participation in military operations within the framework of Austria’s EU membership.2
  Currently, Austria’s relationship with the Non-aligned Movement is mainly of historical importance. The actual relationship is rather formal, or ceremonial. Together with other neutral European countries and some NATO members, such as the United States or the United Kingdom, Austria is listed, by NAM, as “Guest Country” (not, “Observer Country”). In this capacity, it is invited – on an ad hoc basis – to the opening and closing ceremonies of Non-aligned Summits and Ministerial Conferences.
  Austria’s foreign and defense policies are oriented towards the European Union and, to a certain extent, the United States and NATO. Also, in recent years, Austria did not adopt a clear position regarding neo-liberal globalisation. This has meant a constant erosion of the country’s neutrality in favor of Western-centered realpolitik. It is worthy of note, however, that the majority of Austrians, unlike the governing elite, still adhere to a more traditional understanding of neutrality in the sense of strict non-alignment. They consider a non-aligned foreign policy as indispensable for preserving the country’s independence.
  In spite of the obvious paradigm change in Austria’s foreign policy since the Cold war era, the country’s continued commitment to multilateralism and its active participation in the movement against nuclear arms could open the way for constructive cooperation, albeit limited in scope, with countries of the Non-aligned Movement.  •

* Presentation at the International Conference “The Rise of Asia in World Historical Perspective” with this year’s topic “60 years after Belgrade: What does non-alignment mean in a multipolar world?”, organised by Université Le Havre Normandie (France), in collaboration with Université Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) (France), Universitas Airlangga, Surabaya (Indonesia), Kirori Mal College, University of New Delhi (India), in Le Havre, France, on 11 February 2021.

1 Because of his health condition, he was represented at the summit by Austria’s Foreign Minister Willibald Pahr.
2 Article 23j(3) of the Federal Constitutional Law, in reference to Art. 43(1) of the Treaty on European Union that provides, inter alia, for the deployment of “combat forces in crisis management.”

Additional reading

  • Friends with Enemies: Neutrality and Nonalignment Then and Now. International Conference, Vienna, 2-3 March 2020. Summary by Patrick McGrath. Vienna: International Institute for Peace, 2020,
  • Hans Köchler (ed.). The New International Economic Order: Philosophical and Socio-cultural Implications. Studies in International Relations, Vol. III. Guildford (England): Guild-ford Educational Press, 1980. (Conference convened by the International Progress Organization in Vienna, Austria, 2–3 April 1979)
  • Hans Köchler (ed.). The Principles of Non-alignment: The Non-aligned Countries in the Eighties – Results and Perspectives. London / Vienna: Third World Centre, 1982.
  • Hans Köchler (ed.). The New International Information and Communication Order: Basis for Cultural Dialogue and Peaceful Coexistence among Nations. Studies in International Relations, Vol. X. Vienna: Braumüller, 1985. (Conference convened by the International Progress Organization in Nicosia, Cyprus, 26–27 October 1984)
  • Hans Köchler. “Non-Aligned Movement,” in: Encyclopedia of Global Studies, Vol. 3. Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore/Washington DC: SAGE, 2012, pp. 1248–1250.
  • Paul Luif. Die Bewegung der blockfreien Staaten und Österreich. Informationen zur Weltpolitik, Vol. 3. Vienna: Austrian Institute for International Affairs, 1981.


The countries of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)

ef. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was founded during the Cold War, mainly on the initiative of the then Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, as an organisation of states that did not want to formally ally themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union, but wanted to remain independent or neutral.
  The basic concept for the group emerged in 1955 during discussions at the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia. Subsequently, from 5 to 12 June 1961, a preparatory meeting for the first NAM Summit Conference was held in Cairo, Egypt.
  The NAM Summit takes place every three years, most recently in 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Summit was attended by a delegation from more than 120 countries. The states of the Non-Aligned Movement represent 55 percent of the world’s population and hold close to two-thirds of the seats in the UN General Assembly.
  Every three years, the Non-Aligned Movement Summit takes place, most recently in 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan. The summit was attended by a delegation from more than 120 countries. The countries of the Non-Aligned Movement represent 55 per cent of the world population and hold nearly two-thirds of the seats in the UN General Assembly.
  Tijjani Muhammad Bande, President in 2019 of the UN General Assembly, said on 25 October 2019: “NAM must continue to be a voice of reason and moderation, and must never fail to work, within the framework of the UN Charta, for peace, stability, human progress and justice even when it seems difficult.”

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