Neutrality has worked, especially for Finland, through both the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. Based on the 1947 allied peace treaty with Finland and the 1948 Finno-Soviet Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, Finnish neutrality meant that the country was not to “conclude or join any coalition directed against” the Soviet Union in exchange for an allied guarantee of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Finland’s application for NATO membership might therefore be seen as a breach of its treaty obligation. The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties is very specific about the fact that “every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith”. This is often referred to with the notion of pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept).
However, the convention also establishes that a “fundamental change of circumstances” may be invoked as a reason to withdraw from a treaty if “the existence of those circumstances constituted an essential basis of the consent of the parties to be bound by the treaty”. Clearly, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine constitutes such a fundamental change of circumstances.
NEUTRAL COUNTRIES ARE BECOMING DIVIDED
The consequences of Russia’s challenge to the established European security order, however, go beyond likely Finnish and Swedish NATO membership. Ukraine, together with Georgia and Moldova, has already been pushed into submitting a bid for EU membership.
These bids might take years to come to fruition. But they signify a trend not only of further alignment but also of deeper division within Europe. As the antagonism between the East and the West grows, it reduces the space for states to exist in between rival powers.
This, in turn, is also likely to have implications for other neutral states. Switzerland has increasingly aligned with the EU on Russian sanctions. Austria and Ireland have long participated in the EU’s common security and defence policy. The strong and united Western response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is only going to further consolidate this trend.
On the other hand, the pressure to take sides on currently non-aligned states elsewhere in the post-Soviet space, including Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, will increase.