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A neutral country takes no side in a war between other parties, and in return hopes to avoid being attacked by either of them. A neutralist policy aims at neutrality in case of an armed conflict that could involve the party in question. A neutralist is an advocate of neutrality in international affairs.
The concept of neutrality in conflicts must be distinguished from that of non-alignment, i.e. the willful desistence from military alliances aiming at neutrality in case of war, and often intended to prevent war per se.
The concept of neutrality in war is narrowly defined and puts specific constraints on the neutral party in return for the internationally recognized right to remain neutral. A wider concept is that of nonbelligerence. The basic international laws covering neutral territories is the Second Hague Convention.
Some neutrality models include:
- Switzerland - self-imposed, permanent, and armed, designed to ensure external security.
- Austria - to maintain external independence and inviolability of borders.
- Turkmenistan - declared its permanent neutrality and had it formally recognized by the U.N.
- Laos - the International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos was signed in Geneva on July 23, 1962 by 14 nations, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
- United States - its first president, George Washington, warned in his farewell address against permanent foreign alliances. "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world...".
Other countries may be more active on the international stage, while emphasizing an intention to remain neutral in case of war close to the country. By such a declaration of intentions, the country hopes that all belligerents will count on the country's territory as off limits for the enemy, and hence unnecessary to waste resources on.
Many countries made such declarations during World War II. Most became, however, occupied, and in the end only Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland (with Liechtenstein) remained neutral of the European countries closest to the war. Their fulfillment to the letter of the rules of neutrality have been questioned: Ireland supplied some important secret information to the Allies; for instance, the date of D-Day was decided on the basis of incoming Atlantic weather information supplied by Ireland. Sweden and Switzerland, as embedded within Nazi Germany and her associates, similarly made some concessions to Nazi requests.
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