Cold War neutrals now taking sides, timidly

Kosovar children greet Swiss peacekeepers on their way to school.

From Karl Ritter, the AP:  Swedish fighter jets are roaring into action over Libya under NATO command. Ireland is offering itself as a transit hub for U.S. military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Even famously independent Switzerland has peacekeepers in Kosovo. …

Switzerland finally joined the United Nations in 2002 and since 1999 has about 200 peacekeepers in Kosovo. It recently allowed allied forces to drive through and fly over Switzerland on their way to missions in Libya. The government said Swiss neutrality was intact because the Libya operation was authorized by the U.N. Security Council. …

Sweden and Switzerland became neutral at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Ireland stayed out of World War II and shut its ports to Allied convoys. Austria and Finland turned to neutrality after taking the German side in that war.

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, all five have moved closer to what used to be one of the rivaling blocs during the Cold War: NATO. All have joined its Partnership for Peace program for nonmembers and have sent troops to serve in NATO-led missions in the Balkans or Afghanistan.

Sweden reinforced its bonds to the alliance by sending eight fighter jets to the NATO-led air campaign in Libya, the only country in the former neutral group to do so. However, their limited mandate reflects Sweden’s ambivalence toward entering combat with NATO.

The Swedish warplanes are allowed to unleash their weaponry only if fired upon, an unlikely scenario since Libya’s air defenses have already been pounded by NATO jets for weeks. The Swedish planes cannot attack Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s ground forces. …

Public opinion remains firmly against joining NATO in all five countries and none is likely to do so anytime soon.

But all except Switzerland are so closely linked to the alliance, through joint military exercises and international missions, that analysts say very little separates them from being actual NATO members.  (photo: Swiss Armed Forces)

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