Conference on “Active Neutrality, a possible approach for a foreign policy of peace, disarmament and peoples’ diplomacy for Italy”


In his “A critique of foreign policy” Ekkehard Krippendorff delved into the concept of neutrality as a possible paradigm for foreign policy, pointing to the prerequisites needed to ensure a radical transformation of international relations, on the basis of nonviolence as a principle and pratice.
According to Krippendorff, “A neutral foreign policy means as a constructive contribution to the esablishment of a political order of international society, suffers – in practice – of a weak spot, notably it lacks alternative instruments. As far as neutrality is only a tactic variable of States’ strategies of self-conservation, it will never develop new methods for a “dissident” foreign policy”. Furthermore, “in the framework of a “real neutrality” non governmental organizations should be considered not as the completion of a non violent foreign policy, but rather as its essence”. 

In the current historical phase characterized by a deep crisis of the multilateral model as traditionally meant, the transformation of the concept and practice of war, now asymmetrical, humanitarian, “against terrorism” or to prevent migration flows, it is of utmost importance for the peace movement, with a view to revitalize thinking and elaboration on the issue of neutrality, as a paradygm of foreign policy and/or practice and approach to conflict management and solution.

Furthermore, the current overlap of local conflicts and revolutionary and/or democratization processes in the Middle East and North Africa, together with the unfolding of an hegemonic conflict among regional and global powers underlying them makes it harder to take sides and for the peace movement to address the currentl challenged posed by the withering away of US unipolarism.

It should be noted that the concept of neutrality as embodied in the past by countries like Sweden, Norway or Finland on the one hand, and Switzerland and Austria on the other, has been progressively eroded or put into question.  Some of these countries have joined the European Union and therefore its system of collective security, as well as – to different degrees – the system of collective security of NATO. Others have experienced an internal debate on the concept and reach of armed neutrality (Switzerland) or other modalities (Austria and Ireland) such as the participation to UN peacekeeping operations  or to the “war against terrorism”.  It should also be noted that other countries have chosen a neutrality status such as Turkmenistan or Moldavia, while Costa Rica has recognized neutrality in its legal system.

Back to the 50’s the Bandung Conference had introduced the concept of neutralism as a key principle of foreign policy for the so-called “Third World”, in an era of decolonization. The concept, then watered down into “non-alignment”  and the Non Aligned Movement was then affected by the crisis of bipolarism and revamped in the Brandt report “A Program for Survival” in the 70’s.

In Italy, the issue of neutrality (a principle that is recognized by international law, with related rights and duties for those states that opt for such status) has  been prominent in the debate within the Left before WWI , a cultural heritage that is worth revisiting and bringing up to date. The same applies for the debate in the peace movement  in post WWII, when “neutrality” was adopted as one of the keystones of its theory and thought (i.e. with the ideas of Aldo Capitini and then of the Movement for Unilateral Disarmament in the 80’s) , and translated in pratice in the call to leave NATO and close foreign military bases in the country.

Noteworthy elaborations on active neutrality have also been produced by the feminist movement, such as the proposal and definition of neutrality by the Women’s Permanent Convention against the War (Convenzione Permanente delle Donne contro la Guerra). Neutrality, in the words of Lidia Menapace, would therefore be “ the position of a political subject (a state) that declares its decision to renounce to the use of war and to commit itself towards the international community not to carry out aggressive policies that could lead to armed conflict, and to allow the international community to intervene in case of violation of these commitments by means of condemnation, severance of diplomatic or commercial relations, embargoes etc. The territory of a neutral state does not host military based of anybody, nor does it allow the transit of ground troops or aircraft”.

Such a choice of non-engagement and non-support to the logic of war is accompanied by a commitment to active work . In the words of Movimento Nonviolento “oppose to war, to all wars, rescue victims, all victims, oppose all killings, build convivence. This is neutrality, this is nonviolence”

Or as pointed out by Etienne Balibar when referring to the possible role of Europe as“vanishing mediator” in the management and prevention of conflicts in the Mediterranean “ is not a principle of non-intervention, in violent conflicts that today constitute a growing part of global politics, It must be on the contrary a principle of intervention, not only “humanitarian”, but rigid, by those means offered by yhe interlinkage of economic, cultural and technological processes, without excluding “interposition forces”   when the conditions of their presence are verified.”

The “active neutrality” approach has been revamped in occasion of the conflict in Ukraine, when some commentators in the nongovernmental realm proposed the recognition of Ukraine as a “neutral” state, a buffer state between Russia and Europe, akin to Finland during the Cold War.

More recently it has been reproposed by Italian NGO Un Ponte Per in its document “ The Option of active neutrality in Libya”, where a series of steps are proposed, from “de-escalation from the logic of war and use of fore, to neutrality towards all groups that oppose the Al Serraj government while counterproposing a peacebuilding strategy that envisage – first and foremost – the launch of a negotiating table with all Libyan actors, political and social, tribes, local governors and all those civil society and administrative structures that would form the backbone of a new “governance” in the country”. Active neutrality in that case means “creating the conditions for a mediation role as a third party, that would envisage the denial of any military option, the adoption or retainment of measures to prevent weapons flows, and the support to peacebuilding activities also by engaging the UN Peacebuilding Commission”.


Why a Conference on Active Neutrality?

We believe that discussing, elaborating and exchanging views on neutrality within the peace movement could offer a useful opportunity to strengthen synergies, identify common elements, and imagine concepts and reference frameworks that can help overcoming divergences that are founded on old worldviews that do not necessarily help in fully grasping the complexity of the challenges we are confronted with.

For this purpose, we propose a national seminar-workshop that could tackle the various aspects of active neutrality, from the historical one to the meaning of neutrality in international relations to its practical implications, and offer a platform for sharing views of various actors in the Italian peace movement.

The Conference could be followed by the publication of a report, and possibly a more pragmatic event, a workshop in which those actors that do put active neutrality into practice nowadays in their activitis and campaigns, meet and exchange views and options for potential common activities.  Such workshop might produce a document-manifesto for a Neutral Italy, for Peace, Disarmament, and Nonviolence in international relations.


Key topics of discussion

What does being neutral mean nowadays? And how can we build active neutrality, given the participation in alliances such as NATO or collective security systems such as that envisaged by the European Union?

Which could be its features: a progressive exit from NATO? How? Would a starting point be the ban of  all US nuclear weapons on the Italian territory and therefore the exit from the NATO Nuclear Sharing program?

Could Italy as a NATO Member  – in full compliance with Art. 11 of the Italian Constitution – opt out from engaging in any armed operation also if vetted by the UN Security Council, , and gradually moving towards neutrality, by means for instance of a lowering of its participation to NATO to membership of the Partnership for Peace, and supporting only activities related to human and civil dimensions of security?

As regards the practical implications of neutrality, would it be possible to bring together all the various activities and proposals of the peace movement, from the reduction of military expenditure, to disarmament, civilian peace corps, solidarity with civilian victims of war, to proposals for nonviolent civil defense, popular diplomacy and mediation “from below” and peacebuilding as concrete expressions of a active neutrality foreign policy? Would it be necessary to relaunch some proposals such as the conversion of weapon industry and nuclear disarmament as additional elements for a concrete proposal of active neutrality?

In a nutshell, we propose an initiative that is meant to explore active neutrality as principle and practice.

As a principle, we intend to try and understand the juridical foundations, the connection with Art.11 of the Constitution, the working options for a transformation of the status of Italy in the current international and multilateral scene. We will explore the “operative” meaning of active neutrality, from a review of current alliances and participation of Italy to NATO, to the possibilities of participation in peacebuilding, peacekeeping or international police operations within the UN System, to the presence of US military bases, to disarmament, reduction of military expenditure, conversion of weapon industry , regulation and embargo of weapons trade.

As a practice, we intend to offer an exchange of views, experiences and best practices on past and present initiatives in peacebuilding, active neutrality “from below”, such as in the cases of the Balkans (in the past) and in Iraq,  the role of civilian peace corps and nonviolent civil defense.

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