Author: Amb. Irakli Menagarishvili, the Chairman  of the Strategic Research Centre


Lately, the issue of Georgia choosing neutrality as a strategic option has once again been brought to the forefront of both the domestic discussion, as well as during the discussions of Georgia’s future among its foreign partners. Certain political forces and politicians are determined for the public to go back to contemplating this already well-discussed issue. Same recommendation can increasingly and clearly be heard from Moscow as well. Moreover, they are threatening with the devastating consequences for the country if such an option is disregarded. Because of all this, we deem it necessary to remind the public of some major facts about neutrality as a form of relations between the sovereign states, and also remind them of some of the arguments, which were the basis of the choice our country has made about this issue.

Couple of Words about Neutrality

The term neutrality describes the relations between states as well as a legal status of a state, which does not participate in the military actions between other states.

A state can declare neutrality in the context of one specific conflict. That said, however, the practice of the international law also recognizes other forms of neutrality as well:

  • Permanent Neutrality – refusal to participate in any future wars;
  • Armed Neutrality – if, when declaring neutrality, a country reserves the right to maintain its armed forces and protect its status of neutrality
  • Legal Neutrality (established through a domestic or international legal act) – examples include Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Moldova;
  • Factual Neutrality (without any formal acts) – examples include Sweden and Finland;

In our case, we are discussing the possibility of permanent neutrality as those who wish for Georgia to be neutral demand for us to choose this option specifically.

Permanent neutrality means an international status recognized by others, which creates an obligation for the given state to refuse to participate in wars for good. The country only maintains the right to defend itself against external aggression. In addition, the state must also obligate itself not to join any bilateral or multilateral military alliances. The country with permanent neutrality cannot unilaterally refuse to hold this status later.

Naturally, a country chooses a status of permanent neutrality in order to protect its independence and sovereignty and boost its security. Usually, such states are either small or medium-sized.

As already pointed out above, the declaration of neutrality can be backed up through an international legal act (Switzerland, Austria, Turkmenistan); however, such a formal act might not be created at all and a country may simply become factually neutral. In addition to this, the country will necessarily be subject to all the obligations described above (Sweden and Finland).

History remembers numerous cases when the states used the declaration of neutrality for getting the assurances of security. The number of successfully neutral countries, however, is much smaller. Let us try to find the underlying cause of this occurrence.



What is the Reality?

The international legal basis for permanent neutrality is not firm enough. Neither the operating legal acts nor their existing practice provide reliable guarantees of protecting neutral countries from external aggression. Hence, declaring one as permanently neutral certainly does not mean automatically receiving security assurances.

The country seeking permanent neutrality will simply be deluding itself if more powerful countries do not approve of this case of neutrality and do not consider it desirable to their own interests.

There are several clear examples of such painful lessons from not-so-distant past:

  • Belgium was an internationally recognized and legally established neutral state from the 19th century. This did not prevent Germany to brutally violate its neutral status during both World Wars and occupy it. Ultimately, Belgium moved away from neutral status and became a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  • In 1956, after the anti-communist uprising, Hungary attempted to protect itself from external aggression by declaring neutrality. Despite this, however, the Soviet armed forces suppressed the Hungarian attempt to determine its own future in a bloody show of force.
  • In order to boost the country’s security, more specifically to re-instate its territorial integrity and remove foreign armies from its soil, Moldova already tried out the way, which is now being offered to Georgia when in 1994 it officially declared its permanently neutral status in its constitution. Needless to say, this step did not bring the desired consequences.

The examples presented above lead us towards two important conclusions:

The formulation of the first conclusion I will borrow from Aleksandre Rondeli:

“A neutral country cannot be an important object of another country’s policy.”

The second conclusion dictates that in order for the permanent neutrality project to be successful, the regional context, meaning what the environment around the country in question is like and who its neighbors are, is vital. This is especially true if you are being offered to declare neutrality by a neighboring state. It is not an overstatement when they say that a country’s neutrality is, in fact, a choice of its neighbors and should be upheld by them as well. This is why neutrality is a complete dependence on the neighboring states.

You would probably agree that both of the conclusions presented above argue definitively against Georgia’s declaring of permanent neutrality.

Some Additional Issues

For the success of a permanent neutrality project, it is also necessary for a state to be able to defend itself. The best example for this is Switzerland. This small, mountainous country has a very effective military service, which is based upon the principle of territorial defense and is, according to the assessment of many experts, characterized with a very high combat-readiness. Switzerland’s defense system is one of the important guarantees of its neutral status. If we look at the list of neutral countries, it becomes obvious that the lack of external threats enables them to maintain their neutral status and abstain from joining any defensive alliances.

Hence, neutrality is a luxury, requiring the country to be able to defend itself through its own forces alone, which, as of today, is an impossible thing for Georgia to do.

In addition, such a decision excludes the possibility of alliances, which means that for Georgia, declaring neutrality would only mean refusing its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

If we look the truth in the eye, it becomes clear that the ultimate objective of our northern neighbor and those of our citizens who support neutrality is to change Georgia’s strategic decision. We have already pointed out that they are no longer hiding this objective. Moreover, Moscow demands this from Both Tbilisi and Kyiv.

We should also remember that the foreign policies of the Russian Federation and its predecessor, Soviet Union, heavily featured and still feature the practice of the so-called forced neutrality.

It was through the demands of the Soviet Union that Austria was forced to adopt neutral status. The issue of neutrality was a condition for the removal of the Soviet occupation forces from Austria and it was adopted through an agreement signed with the Soviet Union itself. There are some sources claiming that Stalin’s condition for agreeing to the unification of Germany was that the country should declare permanent neutrality. Hence, the Russian Federation is simply upholding the established tradition.

Finally, let us quote an Austrian scholar, G. Storz, who, when discussing the permanent neutrality for small states, points out the so-called proximity paradox associated with this issue. “The proximity paradox manifests itself in a fact that was pointed out by Machiavelli himself – friends ask for alliances, whilst your enemies ask for your neutrality. This means that neutrality of a country is potentially more favorable for a hostile power, than for a friendly power or block.” We would probably be wise to share this point of view.

In Place of Conclusion

Neutrality is not entirely foreign for Georgian foreign policy. Indeed, Georgia has a successful experience of using the policy of neutrality. This was the position Georgia took during the military confrontation between two of its closest neighbors. This was undoubtedly the only correct choice to make in that situation. It helped us to prevent the spillover of the conflict to the territory of our country and created a basis for a type of a balance in the region after the stabilization of the situation.

Neutrality is an interesting instrument of international relations, which will hopefully be used by Georgia numerous times in the future as well. However, it will use it after serious discussions and in the interests of our country, not due to the dictates of an aggressively disposed neighbor. This is a neighbor, which first occupied a part of our country’s territory and is now trying to fully subvert Georgia to its influence.