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in international law, status of a nation that refrains from participation in a war between other states and maintains an impartial attitude toward the belligerents. Neutrality is not to be confused with neutralism, or nonalignment, under international law.

At the opening of hostilities, a nonbelligerent state generally issues a proclamation of neutrality. It is then the duty of the neutral power to observe strict impartiality in its relations with the warring nations. However, absolute neutrality is not always the reality, and the terms benevolent and hostile imply the sympathy of a neutral for one or other of the belligerents. The duty of the belligerent is to respect neutral territory (land and air) and neutral territorial waters (see waters, territorialwaters, territorial,
all waters within the jurisdiction, recognized in international law, of a country. Certain waters by their situation are controlled by one nation; these include wholly enclosed inland seas, lakes, and rivers.
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). Switzerland, neutralized by the Congress of Vienna (1815), has stood as an example of a perpetually neutral state. Temporary neutrality flows from the unlimited sovereignty of the state, which allows it freely to decide its position in time of war and voluntarily to abstain from participation.

Neutral duties and rights were codified or incorporated in treaties and thus became part of international law. The Declaration of Paris (1856) standardized certain laws of neutrality (see Paris, Declaration ofParis, Declaration of,
1856, agreement concerning the rules of maritime warfare, issued at the Congress of Paris. It was the first major attempt to codify the international law of the sea.
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); the Declaration of London (1909) codified certain principles of neutrality with regard to maritime law (see London, Declaration ofLondon, Declaration of,
international code of maritime law, especially as related to war, proposed in 1909. The declaration grew largely out of the attempt at the second of the Hague Conferences to set up an international prize court with compulsory jurisdiction.
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). At the Second Hague Conference (1907), neutral rights and obligations were defined in two conventions. The general neutrality convention, after declaring neutral territory inviolable, laid down regulations for neutral states and listed acts that should not be regarded as favoring one of the belligerents. The convention on neutrality in naval war, which was fuller, elaborated upon the duties of neutrals but did not incorporate rules for contrabandcontraband,
in international law, goods necessary or useful in the prosecution of war that a belligerent may lawfully seize from a neutral who is attempting to deliver them to the enemy. The term is sometimes also applied to the goods carried into a country by smuggling.
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 and blockadeblockade,
use of naval forces to cut off maritime communication and supply. Blockades may be used to prevent shipping from reaching enemy ports, or they may serve purposes of coercion. The term is rarely applied to land sieges.
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In World Wars I and II, violations of neutrality by both sides were frequent, and attempts were made to justify the action by assertions that changed methods of warfare warranted changes in the observance of international law. When the League of Nations was established, it was generally recognized that member states could not be neutral in any dispute in which the League called upon them to intervene. The United States, which was not a member, asserted its intention to remain aloof from all wars and adopted (1935) the Neutrality Act. The United Nations, unlike the League, includes all the major world powers. Their obligations under the charter to restore and maintain the peace preclude neutrality, and neutral states, such as Switzerland, cannot become active members. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 provide a role for neutrals in the administration of prisoner-of-war agreements.

The 1794 Neutrality Act forbids U.S. citizens from taking part in military action against any country with which the United States is not at war. Enforcement of the act has been highly selective, however, with technical reasons usually offered for failure to prosecute. The United States has not declared war on anyone since World War II and has thus been legally neutral throughout such episodes as the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba (1961), and the Vietnam War. U.S. citizens have also often fought under the flags of other nations.


See E. Karsh, Neutrality and Small States (1988); J. M. Gabriel, The American Conception of Neutrality After 1941 (1989).



in international law the policy of nonparticipation in war and, during peacetime, nonalignment with military blocs. A neutral state has a right to inviolability of its territory, of citizens not involved in the military action of the combatants, and of property not classed as military contraband. A neutral state may defend its neutrality by force of arms (armed neutrality).

Neutrality during wartime applies to states not involved in the war after it begins. A country may make a special declaration of neutrality (but this is not compulsory). The rights and obligations of a neutral state during wartime are set forth in the Hague Conventions V and XIII of 1907 on the rights and obligations of neutral powers in case of land war and in case of maritime war. These documents prohibit any military action that could be considered as assistance to the combatants. According to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 a neutral country may act as a sponsor to help implement the conventions—that is, with the consent of the combatant parties it may send medical units to assist persons taken under the protection of the combatant states in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

A permanently neutral state is obligated to refrain from warfare (except in cases of self-defense) and, during peacetime, to conduct a peaceful foreign policy, not participate in military alliances and coalitions, and not conclude agreements that might involve it in war. Unlike states that have declared themselves neutral during a war, permanently neutral states are obligated to carry out an appropriate policy at all times, in war as well as in peace. Permanently neutral countries are Switzerland (since 1815) and Austria (since 1955). Permanent neutrality is called contractual if the states follow the appropriate policy on the basis of an international agreement. In the 1950’s to 1970’s the policy of positive (or constructive) neutrality followed by many independent developing states in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which reflects the peaceful trend of their foreign policy, has been very important. Such neutrality is often called neutralism, the policy of nonalignment with blocs, or active neutrality.

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