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Cold War Neutrals Now Taking Sides, Timidly

ABC News

Austria has stuck to the neutrality label even though it also is an EU member and cooperates closely with NATO. Unlike Sweden and Finland, Austria's neutrality is established by law.

Ireland also describes itself as neutral, even though it has allowed the United States to use Shannon airport for deployments back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 100,000 U.S. troops annually have passed through Shannon since 2001. The Irish Army had to deploy troops around the airport's perimeter in 2003 after pro-neutrality protesters attacked a U.S. Navy plane with a meat cleaver.

When pressed on the issue, former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern explained that Ireland's neutrality means that any belligerent can land its aircraft at Shannon and can even transport munitions or other weapons if granted special permission. He said if the Iraqi Air Force had wanted to land there, he wouldn't have had a problem with it.

"Anybody from any country can land at Shannon. We pride ourselves on being an open economy for everyone," he said in 2003.

Public opinion remains firmly against joining NATO in all five countries and none is likely to do so anytime soon.

But all except Switzerland are so closely linked to the alliance, through joint military exercises and international missions, that analysts say very little separates them from being actual NATO members.

"Nothing in substance," said Austrian security analyst Gerhard Karner. "Basically we are taking on all duties of member countries except we're not paying membership fees."

Source: ABC News

Post-Crisis World Institute