Eastern Partnership Security Policy Workshop “Situational Neutrality – A Strategic Option for In-between States?”

Neutrality as a concept is suited to combine academic research with applied policy in the Eastern European context. Switzerland's experience in researching and applying neutrality is immensely valuable for a debate in the region, and particularly in Belarus between East/Russia and West/EU. In turn, Swiss research can benefit from the experience in applying and tailoring the neutrality concept in such an environment to discuss its interpretation, benefits and timeliness. The interpretation of Swiss neutrality has been undergoing constant change itself (see Heinz Gärtner 2017) depending on the climate in international and European relations, and Switzerland shares a certain notion of an 'in-between state' with Eastern Europe states.

The workshop on ‘Situational Neutrality – A Strategic Option for In-between States?’, organized by the Minsk Dialogue Track-II Initiative (co-PA), shall contribute to clarifications and informed discussions of neutrality and non-alignment in today’s international relations. It will inquire whether these options are available to the Eastern Partnership countries, under which conditions and security implications. The event will have two working languages – English and Russian (simultaneous interpretation provided).

The format of the workshop should be a closed one-day track-II-meeting in Minsk, bringing together think tankers, representatives of EaP and EU countries, institutions, and academics. Its methodology will rely on structured and focused analysis. This will ensure comparable data for ‘an orderly, cumulative development of knowledge and theory’ (George and Bennett, 2005: 69). Three sessions will discuss 1) neutrality (cases of Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland - supported by ETH's CSS (PA)); 2) the need for neutrality in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine; and 3) situational neutrality as a security policy for in-between states.

The workshop will be followed by an on-the-record evening panel discussion (open to journalists, professors, selected students) that will address Neutrality in Today’s International Relations. The workshop will thus combine a focused in-depth deliberation with a public panel discussion to disseminate the workshop’s immediate findings among a broader foreign policy community.

An initial base for a Belarusian-Swiss academic collaboration and dialogue can be established through this workshop with a view to then expanding it into a neutrality program within the annual Minsk Dialogue Forum. The Forum is a new, prominent platform for annual academic and policy exchange on IR and security in Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian spaces. The inaugural edition of the Minsk Dialogue Forum gathered 500 participants from 59 countries, including the Belarusian president and the OSCE Secretary General.

Based on the findings of the workshop in September/November, a joint working paper (policy brief) on the theoretical and applied aspects of the contemporary concept of neutrality will be co-authored by Swiss and Belarusian researchers involved in the project, and printed for dissemination at the Minsk Dialogue Forum 2019.

Through this grant, the participation of a sizeable Swiss delegation - of which half will be junior researchers - in the workshop will guarantee the elaboration on the case study Switzerland, with a focus on young researchers, who are needed to rethink European security and the potential of neutrality in this tense regional environment. The academic sphere offers much prospect to foster cooperation between Western Europe/Switzerland and Eastern Europe/Belarus in a non-politicized way.