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?

  • 6
    Have you googled "why didn't Austria join NATO?" Nov 19 '17 at 18:58
  • 3
    Ah, then this is less of a "why didn't" and more "why hasn't" Nov 19 '17 at 19:09
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    @Alexei If you're looking for reading, there's also the converse question of why Austria joining the EU in 1995 didn't contravene its constitutional policy of neutrality.
    – origimbo
    Nov 19 '17 at 19:43
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    Austria has very deep feelings for neutrality. You can't be neutral if you join NATO. Its like joining a gang in prison: at some point the other members may expect you to shank somebody for them. But since you were literally Hitler just 50 years ago you feel like you had more than your fair share of shanking and would like focus on other things instead. Nov 19 '17 at 21:46
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    Thought the question was "Australia" at first. Glad I read the whole thing before looking like an idiot by commenting or answering based on that. Dec 18 '18 at 17:38

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.

  • 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 '17 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 '18 at 0:34

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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