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Overview of Austrian security-politics

The following should give you basic information about important security-political topics in Austria. The questions of Austria's neutrality, its security-political future, as well as the purchase of Eurofighter jets have been of importance over the last time.

Austria's neutrality

Austria has been a neutral country since 1955. Austria's neutrality was one of the conditions for the withdrawal of post-war Soviet occupation forces, pathing the way for a free and independent Austria in 1955.To lift neutrality a qualified parliamentary majority is needed, requiring the votes of the opposition greens and social democrats, opposing the cancellation of neutrality. The conservative People's Party and the rightist Freedom Party, which form the current Austrian government, want to lift neutrality, as Austria has practically been no longer neutral since it has joined the EU. Austria should rather be called "alliance-free". The Austrian Officers' Association does consider Austrian neutrality as obsolete.

NATO-membership or participation in an EU security-and defence policy?

There exists consensus over the issue of Austrian participation in the EU security-and defence-policy among the parties represented in the Austrian parliament. All parties support full Austrian participation. However, many experts doubt that the EU security-and defence policy will make much progress in the near future. The EU lacks the military capabilities, as well as the political will, according to many experts.

As the future of the EU security and defence-policy is still unclear, NATO membership remains an option, according to the latest Austrian security-and defence doctrine ( approved by the main chamber of the Austrian parliament in 2001 with the votes of the government-parties). However, none of the parties represented in the parliament is supporting Austrian NATO-membership at the moment. The fact that that neutrality still enjoys high popularity among the Austrian population (according to various polls more than two thirds of Austrians still favour neutrality), certainly is a decisive factor for the reluctance of Austrian parties towards NATO. However, the Austrian Officers' Association is in favour of Austrian NATO-membership, as no alternative to NATO can be seen in the near future.

Overflights and troop-transports

From a legal point of view Austria still is a neutral country. Therefore, troop-transports of foreign troops or military overflights are generally not allowed. Troop-transports and overflights must either be unarmed or they must have UN-blessing. During NATO's Kosovo-campaign, NATO-overflights were not allowed, as NATO did not have authorisation by the UN Security Council. On the other hand, overflights for the US Afghanistan-war were allowed, as the US did have UN-authorisation. Therefore, whether Austria will allow US overflights for a war against Iraq depends on whether this war will be authorised by the UN Security Council or not.

Eurofighter jets

In the summer of 2002 the Austrian government has chosen the Eurofighter Typhoon combat jet to upgrade its air force. Austria rejected rival bids from Sweden's Saab, offering the Gripen, and from the largest US manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, offering the F-16. The Eurofighter jets will replace Austria's aging fleet of Saab Draken fighters. The deal was opposed by the opposition parties (social democrats and greens). Even a petition was organised in order to halt the deal. More than 620.000 Austrians did sign the petition and as a consequence the Eurofighter deal was discussed in parliament. The opposition argues that Austria doesn't need a fleet of high-tech jets and that the money should rather be spent on welfare issues. During the election-campaign last year the opposition parties vowed to halt the deal, if they came to power.

However, the victory of the conservative People's Party in the parliamentary-elections in November 2002, has to be seen as a sign of support of Austrians for the purchase of Eurofighter jets. The government argued that Austria as a sovereign country definitely needs to be able to secure its air-space. Austria's sovereignty does not end 10 meters above the ground. Therefore, the Austrian Officers' Association does strongly support the Austrian government.

The Austrian Officers' Association does consider Austrian neutrality as obsolete, as Austria is a member of the European Union and taking part in its security-and defence policy. Furthermore, the Austrian Officers' Association is in favour of Austrian NATO-membership, as no alternative can be seen at the moment. Concerning the purchase of Eurofighter jets, the Austrian Officers' Association does strongly support the Austrian government, as Austria definitely needs fighter jets to secure its airspace and guarantee its sovereignty.

Etienne Berchtold

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