Presentation of study findings: Austria's neutrality
Presentation of the main findings of the expert-study on Austrian neutrality
06.09.23 / Vienna / Austrian Foreign, Security, Defence Policy
On September 6, 2023, the authors Christoph Schwarz (AIES Research Fellow) and Adam Urosevic (AIES Research Associate) presented the AIES study “Austria's Neutrality - Role and Options in a Changing World Order”. The two-part study comprises of an expert survey with 106 participants from the fields of research, diplomacy, and the military, as well as a social network analysis of the discussion on neutrality on the platform Twitter (now X). The aim of the study was to survey the opinions of the Austrian expert community, from which recommendations for politics and society are derived.
The presentation of the study results was complemented by the assessments of Ambassador Dr. Franz Cede and Dr. Elisabeth Hoffberger-Pippan (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt), as well as a discussion with the audience.
The key findings from the survey were presented by AIES Research Fellow Christoph Schwarz:
- There is a discrepancy between claims and reality when it comes to Austria's actual mediating role in the international system. About two thirds of the survey participants are of the opinion that, from today's perspective, this state does not apply or does not apply at all.
- A third of the experts are of the opinion that Austria's EU membership and participation in CFSP/CSDP have a strong influence on the credibility of neutrality towards non-EU states or that this credibility does not exist anymore.
- A strong majority of are in favour of the fact that a further transition in the central framework of the European security and defence policy towards NATO has far-reaching implications for Austria as well, which will require deeper cooperation and the strengthening of interoperability with the alliance.
- The majority of experts consider the tension between Austrian neutrality and European solidarity to be irresolvable in the long term. In this context, a clear majority is in favour of military support from Austria if the EU mutual defence clause is activated, and against invoking the so-called Irish clause.
- The participants identify an urgent need for action, particularly in the area of educating the Austrian population about the actual legal status of neutrality and its development since joining the EU in 1995.
- There is a consensus among experts for a long-term increase in defence capabilities and spending to at least 1.5% of GDP. However, an increase in spending also requires more clarity in the strategic direction of the Austrian Armed Forces.
The time series analysis on Twitter, presented by AIES Research Associate Adam Urosevic, shows that Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had a significant impact on the debate on Austrian neutrality.
- The number of tweets and users involved has increased significantly since then.
- The majority of contributions are now written in English (previously in German), and the topic is firmly anchored in the context of the Russian invasion and the associated European political developments. This shift suggests that the debate has a more reactive nature.
- The method for identifying opinion clusters also showed that, among other things, there is an unexpected connection in retweeting behaviour between fringe political groups. This supports the so-called “horseshoe” theory.
The following recommendations were derived from the study:
- There is an urgent need to educate the Austrian population about the actual legal status of neutrality and its further development since joining the EU in 1995.
- A discussion of the long-term compatibility of Austrian neutrality and European solidarity must be conducted and clarified.
- It is in Austria's domestic and foreign policy interest to provide clarity about what type of assistance it is willing to provide in the context of the EU mutual defence clause (Art. 42/7).
- It is in Austria's interest to strengthen its cooperation with NATO and to ensure interoperability with NATO states.
- To adequately conduct the tasks of national defence, domestic assistance operations and international crisis management, as well as to meet the requirements of military neutrality, Austrian defence spending should be permanently increased to at least 1.5% of GDP.
- The public debate should not be reduced to the binary question of maintaining or abandoning neutrality but should be directed towards the purposeful further development of it.
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