Austria the U.S.: From Cold War to Post-Cold War

During the Cold War Austria was the superpowers’ “darling” of sorts. As a Cold War neutral, it played a “special role” between East and West, especially as a “mediator” and “bridge builder.” Vienna hosted two summits in 1961 and 1979 as well as long-running arms control talks (Conventional Force Reduction Talks). Vienna also hosted the U.N.’s “International Atomic Energy Agency” (IAEA). Austria played a crucial role in the CSCE negotiations in the group of Neutral & Non-Aligned States. The U.S. respected Austrian neutrality, especially Kreisky’s “active neutrality” policy. Austria also continued to profit handsomely from the Marshall Plan’s counterpart funds through the “ERP-Fund” established in 1962. The U.S. tolerated Austria’s growing trade with Eastern Europe’s Soviet satellite; only in the 1980s did President Ronald Reagan criticize Austrian “high tech” exports to the Soviet Bloc. Austria continued its stance as a “secret ally” of the West, even though its neutrality did not permit joining NATO and the trans-Atlantic structures. Given its strong trading relationship with West Germany, Moscow prohibited Austria from joining the European Economic Community, fearing a renewed “Anschluss.”

The end of the Cold War, which began to happen on the Austrian-Hungarian border, dramatically changed Austria’s international status. In June 1989, Austria’s and Hungary’s Foreign Ministers Alois Mock and Gyula Horn, cut the iron curtain and provided the iconic picture for the ending of the Cold War in Central Europe. In 1989, Austria applied to join the European Union and finally became a member in 1995. Austrian foreign policy became part and parcel of EU-foreign relations. Austria thus moved more to the West but did not join NATO as most of Moscow’s former satellites in Eastern Europe did. The repercussions of the civil wars and break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s affected Austria intimately. Along with Germany, Austria recognized the new states of Slovenia and Croatia early on. Austria received tens of thousands of refugees from the South Balkan region (especially from Bosnia) and Austrians donated generously in aid to the peoples affected by these civil wars. Austrian diplomats such as Wolfgang Petritsch and former Chancellor Franz Vranitzky played vital roles as mediators in these Southern Balkans conflicts.

In the immediate post-Cold War era, the U.S. emerged as a hegemonic “hyper power” and Austrians accepted their new “dwarf” status in the EU. Austrians were just as shocked over the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11, 2001, as the rest of the world. Nontheless, Austria did not join President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq in March 2003. Austria was thus firmly in the camp of “old Europe,” reluctant to join Bush’s coalition. There were protests in Austria, too, against Bush’s “war of aggression” in Iraq. During Austria’s second EU-Presidency in the first half of 2006, President Bush spent a one-day visit in Vienna for a summit with EU leaders. While during the Cold War American presidents visited Vienna a number of times, this happened rarely in the post-Cold War era. Austrians were thrilled over the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Many of the important Cold War Atlantic institutions like NATO, set into place by President Truman, can no longer be taken for granted in the Presidency of Donald Trump.



Essays by Günter Bischof, Urusla Plassnik, Emil Brix, James Sheehan and Arnold Suppan in Günter Bischof/Ferdinand Karlhofer, eds. Austrian International Position after the End of the Cold War (Contemporary Austrian Studies 22). New Orleans-Innsbruck: UNO Press-Innsbruck UP, 2013.

Günter Bischof/Fritz Plasser, eds. The Schüssel Era in Austria (Contemporary Austrian Studies 18). New Orleans-Innsbruck: UNO Press-Innsbruck UP, 2010.