Neutrality is an important term in international warfare. A neutral country does not take sides with belligerents in a specific war and has permanent neutrality in all future conflicts. Many nations have also demilitarized or have no military.
In the Hague Convention of 1907, a neutral country means that the country has declared nonparticipation during a war and cannot be counted on to help fight a belligerent country. “Non-belligerent” countries are ones that offer non-combative support in times of war.
Countries interpret neutrality differently. Switzerland, a notoriously neutral country during World War II, held Nazi funds in their banks. Today, Switzerland has a sizable military to deter aggression, holding to “armed neutrality” but forbidding foreign deployment. Other countries, such as Costa Rica, have demilitarized. While some countries see neutrality as avoiding political and military alliances, Austria, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces and a political alliance with the European Union.
Today, the countries considered to be genuinely neutral are Finland, Malta, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkmenistan, and Vatican City. Many other countries are also considered to be neutral.
Finland gained its independence from Russia in 1917. It signed a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in 1948, which started its history of being a neutral nation. This friendship treaty is “null and void” following the collapse of the Soviet Union; however, Finland still maintains friendly relations with Russia despite being a part of the European Union.
Because of Malta’s location between Africa, Europe, and the Middle East in the Mediterranean Sea, governments have wanted to build a military base on the island. Malta became a neutral country in the 1980s, preventing military power from gaining a strategic position on its island.
Ireland’s neutrality is tricky because Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, not a neutral country. Although Ireland is not obligated to aid England in a time of war, it would protect Ireland in conflict if they were to side with England.
Japan’s constitution states its neutrality, reading “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” Japan has a Self Defense Force that helps the country rebuild from disasters such as the 2010 tsunami.
Liechtenstein is located between Austria and Switzerland, two other neutral countries, explaining why it decided to be neutral. The small country remained neutral in World War II and continues to do so today.
Sweden declared itself a neutral state in 1834. During World War II, their neutral status was controversial as the country both let Nazi troops cross its borders to Finland and sheltered people who fled from Nazi persecution. In 2016, Sweden allowed NATO to use its land for military operations.
Turkmenistan has been neutral since December 12, 1995, a date celebrated every year with fireworks and concerts. Its neutrality came as a result of a UN resolution, which guarantees its status.
Vatican City was recognized as an independent and sovereign state in the Lateran Treaty in 1929. In exchange for Italian President Benito Mussolini signing the treaty granting independence, the Vatican City remained neutral in all international matters.
Throughout history, there have been various nations around the world that have been neutral. Currently, nations that are neutral against future conflicts are:
- Costa Rica
- Vatican City
In the past, there have been neutral countries that are no longer neutral. These nations include: