A hypothesis (model) for the superior national security of a neutral country

Imagine six even countries. Two pairs have formed alliances, and these alliances might go to war with each other sometime in the future.

A fifth country is situated geographically in between both alliances and is being invited into both.

It could join either alliance, but the sixth country (which is a bit distant) might consider this a threat. It wouldn't tolerate an imbalance of power, for this would sooner or later lead to the triumph of the superior alliance over the inferior one - and hegemony would follow. Somehow country #6 doesn't think that's a good scenario.

Thus if country #5 enters an alliance, it would soon turn into a 3 vs 3 alliance situation and the next war would be a great, terrible one.

Now if it instead stays neutral and just tells everyone it'll defend itself and ask the non-aggressor alliance for help in the event of an aggression - wouldn't that deter aggression? An aggression would tilt the balance of power against the aggression. That's not encouraging ... for warmongers.

Let's call this the 1900 scenario.

Now let's think about another scenario.

Two huge blocks face each other, and even a small misunderstanding or border firefight could lead to a great war. This time there's no balance of power-obsessed 6th country; it's all about the 5th country. It could tilt the balance of power by joining a bloc, but it could not prevent a spark in the powder keg.

Wouldn't it be safer for everyone - especially the country #5 in between both blocs - if country #5 remains neutral and just defends itself? It could still call the non-aggressor bloc for help in the event of an aggression - and thus throw its weight systematically against aggression - whatever side it originates from.

Let's call this the 1950's scenario.

- - - - -

Both models together form a simple hypothesis*; a tiny building block for a full understanding about how to pursue national security.
The scenarios appear to be plausible to me (not that surprising, after all I authored them). I doubt that there's a decisive logical flaw in them.

These scenarios suggest that neutrality can actually enhance national security and even reduce the probability of war in the region. Neutral countries may be able to influence the balance of power more effectively with their neutrality than they could by joining an alliance.

All this is certainly not entirely new. Ten thousands of people have thought seriously about neutrality strategies before, after all.
It's not the novelty that's interesting, but the distance to mainstream talk. It's probably been years since I heard about neutrality as national security enhancer. Most often, it's understood (by authors) as self-evident that being part of an alliance is the way to go for national security.


* (Science often produces a model / hypothesis to explain a tin facet of the whole. Such models are not comprehensive, but they may depict underlying forces that occasionally become decisive for events.)


  1. Sven, speaking purely from experience of Diplomacy (the boardgame), in the 1900 situation, isn't country 5 best served by making an alliance with country 6, thus providing a tripod of alliances?

    And for the 1950s situation, if country 5 doesn't ally with either grouping, it is in dire danger of Polandization: that is, both alliances tacitly or openly decide that it's continued existence is a threat that they might join with the opposing side, and if the 2 alliances partition country 5, then that danger is removed.

  2. Oops, forgot to add - OTOH I definitely agree there are times and places where staying out of alliances and remaining neutral is a far superior position. This is usually ignored or hand-waved by those who have other, usually financial, motivators to inculcate joining alliances.

  3. The 1900 scenario would be Germany or Italy as #5 and UK as #6. That combination would not be defensible, but would still be considered threatening.
    The other two alliances could also join for aggression against a new alliance, so three alliances would equate a three countries scenario.

    The point of a model is to simplify, though; simplification and focus in order to point out one facet of how the world works. You need to accept a model scenario at least preliminarily in order to understand the hypothesis.

  4. My first thought was, Poland.

  5. The funny thing about all these associations with Poland is that the 1950's scenario was basically about Stalin's '52 offer for a unified, neutral Germany (historians are still not sure about how serious that offer was).
    So the option of being allied meant to be divided, while the neutrality option meant to be unified - exact opposite of the 'Polandization'.

  6. Not saying its impossible, just my first thought.

    If we were to add a nation 7 and 8, to right of 3 and 4, a perfectly normal, historicaly, alliance system would be 1-4 and 5-8, think France/Russia and Germany/Japan.
    Or England and Prussia against France.

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
    States tend to view their immediate neighbours on all sides as enemies, but their neighbours neighbours as friends.

    For a while, Venice, when it was still a power, was at war with Egypt, and yet despite it being Crusaderish times, Portugal sided with Egypt, and something vaguely Turkish/Ottoman sided with Venice.

    Byzantium was likely doomed in any event, but that its fellow christians were happy to pillage the west whenever its armies marched to defend the east from Muslim expansion cant exactly have helped.

    A neutral Germany might have sided with the US and pushed France into Soviet alliance.

    The two big communist powers should have been best buddies, but werent.