Permanent neutrality is usually constituted in the form of an international legal status of a country that undertook not to take part in wars and to refrain from actions that can engage such a state in war. In this regard, the permanently neutral states do not take part in military and political alliances, refuse to host foreign military bases on their territory and exclude the use of the own territory for military purposes against another state. International practice shows the status of permanent neutrality for a country is set by an international treaty and by a national legal act. It is yet important for this status to be reorganized by other states in this last case.
With and without international support
In the historical past, the status of permanent neutrality was held by Belgium (since 1831 until 1919) and by Luxemburg (since 1867 until 1944). Currently, this status is held by such states as Switzerland, Austria, Laos, Cambodia, Malta, and Turkmenistan. All these countries, except for Malta, obtained recognition of their status of neutrality through different international documents. As to Malta, the government of this county in 1981 approved the Declaration of Neutrality, refusing to take part in any military alliance and excluding the permanent presence of foreign armed forces on its territory.
The Republic of Moldova assumed the status of neutrality by provisions of the Constitution of 1994. Nevertheless, in time the Moldovan diplomatic service didn’t manage to strengthen this status at international level. This failure was predetermined by the initial discrepancy between the basic conditions of the Republic of Moldova and the status of neutral country owing to the presence on its territory of a foreign military contingent (Russian) and of paramilitary forces of the Transnistrian separatists on which the norms of international law do not have an effect. In such conditions, the status of permanent neutrality for the Republic of Moldova became purely declarative and has the character of a unilateral obligation from which international political and legal consequences do not result. This way, the status of neutrality does not lead to the appearance of conditions for sustainably ensuring the military-political security of the Republic of Moldova, but rather blocks any possibility of increasing the country’s defense capabilities by different international military and political actions.
Instrument for ensuring vassalage
The declared neutrality of the Republic of Moldova at the initial stage aimed to achieve two objectives that were important for the young Moldovan state. First of all, the neutrality status served as a screen that guaranteed the non-attraction of the Republic of Moldova into the military dimension of the political-military block under the auspices of Russia (CSTO), this being the only beneficial consequence of the status of neutrality. Secondly, Chisinau erroneously expected that the declaring of the status of neutrality will help hasten the process of withdrawing the Russian troops from the country’s territory. It was a serious calculation mistake and this thing became evident in a short period of time, after Russia showed that it does not intend to de facto support the neutrality of the Republic of Moldova by withdrawing its troops, simultaneously demanding that Chisinau should maintain its neutrality in the relations with other international players.
This way, the Moldovan neutrality became a kind of instrument for ensuring the Republic of Moldova’s geopolitical vassalage to Moscow. The Russian military aggression against Ukraine showed that any attempt by the young states from the former Soviet space to overcome the geopolitical dependence on Russia makes the regime in Moscow to start a war against the recalcitrant “vassal”. At the same time, Moscow’s arsenal of actions includes both hybrid warfare and direct military aggression, as it happened in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine currently, in 2022.
According to criterion of civilizational choice
The states of spirit about the revision of the attitude to the status of neutrality as to a means of confidence in ensuring national security in the long run have intensified in Moldovan society. In practical terms, these feelings characterize the supporters of the pro-European civilizational choice for the Republic of Moldova, whose aspirations are incompatible with the geopolitical dependence on Moscow. And vice versa, the supporters of Moldova’s orientation to the Eurasian civilizational values aim to keep the vassal neutrality of the Moldovan state to the former parent state. It is evident that only the ending of the war in Ukraine will put an intermediary full stop to this public intra-Moldovan debate on the status of neutrality. For now, in its current form Moldova’s neutrality survives even if it is unable to hamper the war danger in a reliable way, while the Moldovans are saved not due to the status of neutrality, but due to geography and to the people of Ukraine who resist the Russian military aggression heroically.
A new state national security concept is being designed in the Republic of Moldova at present. In the public debate on the issue, the opinion of a series of experts and ordinary citizens about the necessity of reconsidering the place and role of the principle of neutrality in ensuring national security in the Republic of Moldova is increasingly conspicuous. The ordinary circumstance in which Moscow insistently demands that Chisinau should strictly respect the status of permanently neutrality, at a time when Russia itself flagrantly violates the conditions of Moldovan neutrality by keeping its illegal military presence in our country, generates serious concern and reasonable suspicions about the efficiency of the principle of neutrality in ensuring the national security of the Moldovan state.
With nostalgia against NATO
At the same time, the public debate on the necessity of maintaining neutrality takes place in an ambiance of relics of Soviet mentality, with inherent geopolitical prejudice and ideological clichés that fully fuel the public atmosphere in Moldovan society with feelings of nostalgia for the Soviet past. Among these, a separate place is occupied by the suspect and often hostile attitude of most of the Moldovan citizens to the most powerful and efficient international military-political alliance, NATO. The refusal to take into consideration the possibility of the Republic of Moldova’s accession to the defensive alliance NATO seriously undermines the perspectives of finding the best option for building an efficient system of national security for the Moldovan state. At the same time, the denial of NATO’s role significantly weakens the negotiation positions of Chisinau in the political dialogue with Moscow, including in the problems of withdrawal of the Russian military contingent from Moldova and the Transnistrian settlement.
Nevertheless, the revision of the official approaches of Chisinau to the role of neutrality as regards the place of the NATO factor in the perspective of developing an efficient national security system is closely related to the overcoming of mental stereotypes of affiliation to the former Soviet empire. A viable national security system cannot exist if many of the citizens of the state share mental values fuelled by nostalgia for the Soviet past. In other words, the national security of the Republic of Moldova should be ensured not only by a well-equipped and well- trained army. It is vital to also have patriotic soldier-citizens with mentality that is not affected by the prejudice of the former Soviet propaganda.
Surrendering predispositions inspired by status of vassalage
For now yet, namely in this regard Moldovan society does not show internal unity, which is the only one able to stop the danger of imperial revenge. One of the last sociological surveys revealed the unwillingness of at least half of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova to defend the state with arms in their hands. These surrendering predispositions in Moldovan society have been cultivated by the status of permanent neutrality of the state that, in reality being a form of vassalage of the Republic of Moldova to Moscow by its content, perfectly matches the policies inspired by the theory of anti-Romanian Moldovenism as identity construct. Now as never before, it is clear that only the return to the identity Romanianism, including by abandoning the harmful practices of permanent neutrality, by ensuring national security through affiliation to NATO, is the only way out in the geopolitical context of the Russian imperial avatar. In such conditions, we will yet see if the new national security concept of the Republic of Moldova, which is being designed, will include the real, correctly-identified risks and efficient mechanisms for guaranteeing national security, which are needed for promoting policies to definitively detach Moldova eastward the Prut from the colonial oppression past
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.