Neutrality an outdated concept?
In the past, especially after some neutral/non-aligned countries joined the EU and especially after the breakdown of the Eastern Block and the Warsaw Pact, neutrality was seen as an outdated concept. Furthermore it was often seen as immoral. The neutral countries were seen as free-riders who would benefit from security guaranteed by members of military alliances. If I mention alliances in the plural, this is not quite correct. Because there is only one fixed alliance and that is NATO.
So the real question is the following: Is it right and morally justified, that some European countries do not join NATO and stay outside this military alliance, besides some links, like the Partnership for Peace?
The easiest answer to this question would be to create one military alliance across the Atlantic connecting the US and Europe, the whole Europe. This would have been a reasonable and logic consequence of the dramatic changes after 1989/1990! It would have created a new transatlantic security system with obligations for everybody in that hemisphere. In addition the Europeans could have organized inside of that structure additional security elements.
One can now discuss the reluctance in different states against such an overall transatlantic /European security system and military alliance. Mutual mistrust inside the West especially in some Baltic countries, Poland, Romania etc. was meeting mistrust on the Russian side. But a big chance has been missed to reorganize the security and military structure of the whole of Europe and the transatlantic ties and connections in this respect. The substitutes found like the NATO-Russia Council were not able to meet even the low expectations at the founding of such weak „institutions“.
So the continent stays divided more than necessary. The enlargement of the European Union and of NATO was a one-sided process and could not overcome that division. In some way it even widened the gap. And Russia, especially with Putin’s policies towards Georgia, Moldavia and finally Ukraine did its steps towards widening the gap and in continuing the long term Russian/Czarist strategy of extending its territory or at least its zone of influence.
Can one stay neutral in view of such an expansionist policy on the basis of direct military intervention? No, one cannot accept and tolerate it. So is the only just way to react, to give up and suspend neutrality and join NATO? In fragile situations and crises we have to act with determination, but also with caution and patience.
As we have seen, the West expanded its military alliance and its economic and ideological zone of influence. All this was done in a peaceful way and on the basis of sovereign decisions of the new member countries of NATO and EU and in respecting international law. The Russian extension was done by force and by violating national sovereignty and international law. (As some Western interventions like that in Iraq, which was also a clear violation of international law!) But definitely the West was on the winning side and changed the balance of power to its benefit.
So the question is not one of international law or morality. It is one of finding a way out of the present stalemate and crisis. I do not see, how deviating from neutrality by the still neutral countries could contribute to peace and stability in Europe. In the contrary, a further extension and expansion of NATO without a strategy for an all European security system and a design for a new comprehensive military alliance could lead to more conflicts and instability.
And also Russia knows the result of opinion polls in Europe which show the low readiness to go into war with anybody including Russia. So it would be very risky to play with our readiness to meet Russia’s potential further steps with the threat of fighting back military. So strength and determination has to be combined with reason and moderation.
The neutral/non aligned countries could in the contrary use their position to contribute to a new security structure from reenergizing OSCE and creating new discussions and links between EU and the Eurasian Union. The neutral/non-aligned countries are small but they could change the course to the positive or the negative. They should insist on stability, security and a new comprehensive European security system. The security and military links to the US must remain, but should not prevent some European initiative.