Thomas M. Buchsbaum, Yauheni Preiherman, Alisiya Ivanova (eds.)


This edited volume has attempted to make a modest contribution to reviving scholarly and policy debates on the concepts of neutrality and neutralism in international relations, which appeared to have lost their prominence during the two decades after the Cold War and seem to be regaining attraction, at least for some categories of states, against the current background of growing geopolitical tensions. As Anahit Nalbandyan notes in her chapter, the role of neutrality has often been challenged in international affairs, owing to the fact that it has played out differently throughout history and in different structural conditions. As was stressed at the EaP policy workshop “Security Options of the EU’s Eastern Partners: Is there a role for neutrality?” held in November 2018 in Minsk, and as demonstrated by the authors in this publication, neutrality policies are pursued by each country in its own specific way, and can have different definitions, purposes and implementation models.

The volume has specifically addressed the question about whether the neutrality/neutralism toolkit has anything practical to offer to the category of international actors often referred to as in-between states. These are normally small and medium-sized states that find themselves inbetween the all too often conflicting interests of larger powers and, thus, have to design their foreign policy behaviour accordingly. In the Eastern Partnership context, such states sit primarily in-between the competing geostrategic rationalities of the EU and Russia. For some of them, neutrality rationale naturally turns, as Gerhard Jandl puts it, into a kind of a grand strategy. For others, on the contrary, neutrality looks as a non-option, which policy-makers do not even keep on their strategic radars. To some states, neutrality appeals as a low-key “safe haven”. Yet, others, as Hannu Himanen discusses, pursue proactive forms of neutrality. Moreover, in the words of Ilgar Gurbanov, neutrality can take diverse forms, such as isolationism, non-commitment, unilateralism and non-involvement.

These differences are not unique to the specific realities of Eastern Europe and South Caucasus and are easily found across time and space. It is for this reason that, besides the exploration of individual Eastern Partnership cases, the volume presents a comparative analytical overview of several cases of established neutrals.

Neutrality is defined in this volume as a political concept, not a legal one, giving us more flexible grounds to critique its different dimensions and draw links with other concepts. For example, Kjell Engelbrekt claims that behaviour encapsulated in neutrality and non-alignment encompasses some core elements of “hedging”. Pursuing such a policy, a state intends to mitigate major risks it faces in the international environment. Dzianis Melyantsou, on his part, links situational neutrality to multi-vector policies, which, in his assessment, have a similar rationale – minimising risks for a country in the face of increasing international uncertainty and disrespect for international law. Importantly, as Benno Zogg contends, neutrality does not prescribe a comprehensive and firmly established set of foreign policy tools and methods, but is rather shaped-in-progress by concrete political decisions and can, therefore, be as diverse as the countries pursuing it.

Likewise, elites and societies at large can arrive at strikingly different conclusions about the value and relevance of neutrality due to their specific formative experiences with or without neutrality. For instance, in Turkmenistan, according to Begench Matliyev, the principle of neutrality is widely perceived as one of the safest and most peaceful ways to ensure international security. In Georgia, on the contrary, as maintained by Kornely Kakachia, because of the territorial dispute, neutrality does not allow to balance out a big hostile power, which creates the need to seek for protection from another big power. Volodymyr Khandogiy makes a similar argument in regards to Ukraine: at a certain point, Ukrainian decision-makers concluded that neutrality and non-alignment were the least effective strategies for Ukraine.

In no way does this volume aim at forcing neutrality ideas upon any countries, including the in-betweens of Eastern Europe and South Caucasus, or at convincing them to drop neutrality debates. Indeed, as stressed by Thomas M. Buchsbaum, neutrality is certainly neither a panacea for all security situations nor an evil in itself nor a concept to be demonised. Yet, as Alberta Borg argues, neutrality concepts seem to continue to respond well to the everchanging global political environment. Hence, both the academia and policy world will benefit from further research on neutrality as major structural shifts are disintegrating the post-Cold War order. In his contribution, Heinz Gärtner submits that neutrality could be a sustainable conceptual option for the future. However, Helmut Tichy reminds us that the choice of neutrality needs to reflect its perceived usefulness by the neighbours of a state in question, as well as the credibility and capacity of the state to avoid conflicts.

We would like to thank all the contributors to the volume for their time and great expertise and the partner organisations for their support of the project. We hope students and practitioners of international relations in different corners of the world will find the volume worth reading. 


The entire book is available in the PDF format.