Austria and Switzerland are neutral which mean (as far as I understand) that they don't supply any military or double-target anything to the fighting countries, don't treat the wounded soldiers, etc.

Why I'm asking about this is because

  1. both countries supported EU sanctions against Russia and condemned Russia in the UN votes (which, even in Russian government's words) is a violation of neutrality; and it's indeed quite intuitively not a neutral stance
  2. both countries seem to accept Ukrainian refugees
  3. both countries seem to provide some kind of humanitarian aid to Ukraine (at least Austria)
  4. both countries produce some kind of military equipment that's being sold to other countries
  5. Finland, Sweden and Germany seem to have similar policies (either on full neutrality as in Sweden, or about warzone tabu as in Germany; not sure about Finland) but changed them after the Russian invasion

It was reported recently that Switzerland didn't allow Germany to supply the shells for Gepard tanks to Ukraine since they (or some component of them) were produced in Switzerland.

To me, this sounds hypocritical because they

  • support the sanctions, vote in the UN, visit Kyiv, express concerns but don't really help in the most useful way;
  • produce weapons but don't allow others to send the weapons simply having components that you co-produced
  • don't fully align with their allies who are essentially shielding them: both countries are literally surrounded by the NATO members, so it's quite easy to support neutrality in such a case compared to, say, Finland.

So what is the rationale for maintaining this policy? Doesn't it have any internal opposition to being hypocritical? Doesn't it have any external opposition from their EU/NATO neighbors?

Germany, just like Austria, is an example of a country that increased its gas dependency on Russia (and thus financed its war machine) after the 2014 annexation of Crimea instead of imposing harsh sanctions. But now Germany is the 2nd largest supporter of Ukraine (after the US) in terms of total aid and they carry serious economic losses from the partial reversal of their energy dependency. They also changed their war zone policy. Austria is a very similar example, but they didn't change. I'm curious to understand why since it seems to be a tougher blow for Germany, and still the government took it.


3 Answers 3


Switzerland has a long tradition with a relatively strict interpretation of neutrality. The international community benefits from having Switzerland as a potential meeting place, with offices in Geneva being less 'Western-dominated' than those in New York.

Economically and culturally, Switzerland has close ties to the EU, but the armed neutrality remains a significant part of their self-image.

What you call "hypocritical" might also be called "principled." The old rules for neutral powers in wartime made a clear distinction between trade in contraband (war materials) and other trade. And terms in weapons sales which forbid the re-sale are actually very common. Note the criticism Germany faced for blocking the Spanish re-sale of Leopard tanks, until it became clear that they had deteriorated in storage.

Austria is in a slightly different position. After WWII, which Austria fought as a not-quite-unwilling part of Germany, it was occupied by the Soviet Union and the Western Allies. As part of the developments which got the Soviets to leave, Austria declared perpetual neutrality. (That voluntary declaration came a day after the Soviets had left. Niceties had to be observed.) Since then, Austria insisted on exceptions e.g. to the defense clauses of the EU, and didn't join NATO. It joined the NATO Partnership for Peace after Russia did.

  • It was a very interesting part about the Spanish tanks. I knew that they were labeled as unusable and thus not sent, didn't know that Germany initially blocked the deal. Also, a very nice perspective on the historical differences between Austria and Switzerland. I'd like to see more answers before accepting one, but I feel that I learned something new from yours. Thanks.
    – Igor
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 23:53
  • @Igor. the 'West' could probably come up with a couple hundred second-hand western tanks and donate them. Instead they donated just about every ex-Soviet tank they could find. Because there seems to have been a collective decision that modern tanks would drive President Putin into a panic reaction.
    – o.m.
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 5:59

Neutrality is not an on/off switch: there can be various grades/shades of grey of it. Condemning Russia is not inconsistent with not helping to fight it.

Compare it with an ordinary citizen having some political preferences. They would have a strong view and diligently vote for what they think is right. But they wouldn't go persuade others and wouldn't run campaigns themselves. They have their own life to go about, and dedicating a lot of effort to the political view they support is just not what they live for. There is no hypocrisy or inconsistency in this.

Same works at the country level. Neutrality basically means not directly helping any sides in the war. It doesn't mean not having / not expressing a view on who is right and who is wrong.

  • Thank you for the response, but I think you slightly missed my point. They are not neutral by imposing sanctions (economic warfare) and not abstaining from the UN votes (political warfare). Humanitarian support and refugee acceptance are also not neutral and have economic and internal political costs. So they do help one of the sides in several ways. The question asks specifically about weapons supplies which are cheaper than maintaining dozens of thousands of refugees + these are not pacifist countries; they actually produce weapons.
    – Igor
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 1:30
  • @Igor I think our definitions of "neutrality" differ. Check this. I don't think sanctions/ecomonical warfare sufficiently make one not neutral. Even if they do, I guess there is nothing hypocritical in choosing the level of neutrality: it is not just an on/off switch.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 1:33
  • Thanks, I glanced over the Wikipedia article. Do you think I should reformulate the question to highlight military neutrality?
    – Igor
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 1:36
  • @Igor I don't know, up to you. That might become a different/separate question.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 1:37
  • I slightly changed the header. Your answer is definitely relevant. I just think there might be some views specifically on the weapons supply part.
    – Igor
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 1:40

So what is the rationale for maintaining this policy? Doesn't it have any internal opposition to being hypocritical?

Of course it has opposition - both Austria and Switzerland are democracies, after all. Other answers have outlined the historic reasons for how the current positions have formed. As for current political discussions in Austria, all you have to do is to go back to the campaigns for the recent presidential elections to find calls for immediately dropping the sanctions. These positions are somewhat popular, mostly among voters of the right wing parties and their candidates. The far-right party FPÖ also opposes financial support for Ukraine, claiming that this is effectively just a subsidy for US arms manufacturers.

On the other hand, there are also voices stating that neutrality is outdated and should be dropped, as Austria is surrounded by NATO members anyway, and already cooperates with them on multiple levels. This is currently not a popular opinion, however. E.g. the party NEOS wants a stronger "EU Army" and Austria to join that (2019, derStandard, in German): Neos fordern EU-Armee statt Neutralität, but there was limited interest from EU NATO members for that idea.

The current government of Austria is a coalition of the ÖVP (conservative, traditionally center-right) and Green party. Their positons certainly also differ, with the greens usually taking a pacifist stance, while the ÖVP position is less clear. Towards the end of the 1990s, for example Wolfgang Schüssel, then foreign minister (and later chancellor) publically discussed potential ways for closer integration with NATO, but the party has since officially abandoned this idea.

One example of public discussions on Neutrality in Austria (March 2022, derStandard, in German): ÖVP stellt Neutralität zur Diskussion.

The official government position is a compromise.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .