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Taking a look at the following map of Europe highlighting NATO members, I saw a rather strange hole in the center. Switzerland, Austria & Liechtenstein are the only Central European countries that are not NATO members.

NATO countries in Europe

Switzerland has a long tradition of neutrality (more than 200 years) and this can be a strong argument for not joining NATO. On the other hand, Austria was involved in both World Wars (as the Austro-Hungarian Empire in WW1) and, theoretically, it is placed closer to Russia than Spain or France.

Question: Why is Austria virtually the single Central European country that has not joined NATO?

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  • Recent events may cause Austria to renegotiate this arrangement.
    – RedSonja
    Apr 25 at 11:34

3 Answers 3

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Short answer: it is not allowed to join NATO.

By the end of WW2 Austria and Germany were occupied by the Allies. In 1955 Austria signed a treaty with the Allies, which - in essence - ended Allied occupation in return for a declaration of perpetual neutrality. This is the reason why there are foreign military bases in Germany (e.g. Ramstein Air Base of the US Air Force), but there are none in Austria, as the Allies left in 1955. Part of the commitment to perpetual neutrality is the ban on joining military alliances, such as NATO.

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  • It should be stated, that it is part of a variety of NATO cooperations. It also participates in a lot of UN missions.
    – mike
    Nov 21, 2017 at 16:44
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    While this is technically correct, the "Moskauer Memorandum" you are referring to was an agreement and not a treaty - it is not legally binding (German Wikipedia has more details than the English one). Since Austria joined the EU, its neutrality has been severly constrained. There has been much discussion in Austria about giving up neutrality and joining NATO but the actual reason is that neutrality is part of the Austrian culture and the majority of Austrians wants to stay (officially) neutral.
    – divB
    May 22, 2018 at 0:34
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A philosophy of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" may apply here. Austria has enjoyed more than 60 years of stability and prosperity while remaining neutral; so there are no obvious benefits to giving up its neutrality.

Other countries like Poland experienced much more upheaval, and have greater reason to fear Russia; so their governments welcomed the security guarantees offered by NATO.

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Because Austria's constitution says it is a neutral country in military terms.

However - that neutrality is only existing on paper if one takes a closer look. Firstly, Austria is part of the EU which has a mutual defense mechanism. If Russia attacked Finland tomorrow, Austria among others will be obliged to declare war on Russia. Secondly, Austria's military forces (Bundesheer) for quite a long time are taking part in peace missions all over the world, from Israel to Bosnia, Mali, and Libya.

The common Austrian as well as most of its politicians are in support of maintaining that "neutrality" while knowing that their country is surrounded by friendly EU partners who are also all in NATO, basically protecting Austria on all sides (yet despite that, Austria still maintains a 6-month conscription service for its young men).

TLDR: There is no need for them to join NATO because of their neighbors and their EU membership and also there is no public support for joining NATO because of the so-called "neutrality" status the Austrians perceive their state to have.

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