Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy
   If the Habsburg monarchy could be said to have had a business, it was war and diplomacy. The dynasty’s armies and eventually naval forces expanded and defended its empire; ambassadors, consuls, and special envoys from Vienna worked with colleagues from other states to arrange peace and often to prolong it. Until Austria–Hungary fell apart in 1918, its emperor and king had formal and functional control over military affairs and foreign policy.
   As part of the Habsburg enterprise, Austrians lived with the outcome of their rulers’ international agendas abroad for over 600 years. By the last decades of the 15th century, the house of Austria with its enormous holdings was a major factor in the power struggles of continental Europe and would remain so. Until the second half of the 19th century, when some parliamentary oversight of government military expenditures went into effect, the sole check upon the monarch’s military prerogatives was the unwillingness of local estates to fund their rulers’ adventures. Failing support from these quarters, the Habsburgs, like their reigning counterparts, simply borrowed.
   Enemies changed, sometimes into formal allies, depending on their usefulness to the cause of Habsburg self-preservation. The high point of this elaborate balancing act was probably the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), as a result of which the Habsburg Empire was reassembled under the leadership of Prince Klemens von Metternich following the Napoleonic Wars. France (royal, republican, or Bonapartist); the Ottomans; Great Britain; Russia; Prussia, and then, after 1871, the unified Germany; the new kingdoms of Italy; and Serbia all were allies or enemies of the house of Habsburg from the 15th century to the end of World War I. A well-educated, trained foreign policy bureaucracy developed over the centuries in Vienna to handle the practical demands of this work. The roots of the Consular Academy set up in 1898 by Emperor Franz Joseph go back to the Oriental Academy, established in 1754 to train a select group of boys as translators and interpreters of Oriental languages for Habsburg emissaries to Constantinople.
   The First and Second Austrian Republics inherited the Habsburg concern for self-preservation. The Ministry of the Imperial and Royal House and Foreign Affairs completely closed down only in 1920. Neither state, however, had the military infrastructure of the erstwhile monarchy. They were therefore in no position to continue the general militarization that characterized Habsburg foreign policy immediately before World War I, even though the First Republic drew heavily upon men from the old monarchic elite for diplomatic service. Furthermore, the federal chancellor, the highest executive official in the government, remained a key player in Austria’s international affairs. From 1933 to 1938, foreign policy was run from a subdepartment of the chancellor’s office.
   Regardless of who administered it, the foreign policy of the First Republic was first and last a holding action. An ongoing focus was stabilizing Austria’s economy and financial system, so disordered that government expenditures were put under the close supervision of a commissioner from the League of Nations right after the war. Two crucial and massive loans were arranged between the government in Vienna and the League in 1922 and 1932.
   The other challenge was maintaining Austrian independence, a status heavily conditioned by the interests and ambitions of Germany to the north and Italy to the south. The Treaty of St. Germain proscribed Anschluss with Germany, so that as long as the Weimar Republic respected that condition, Austria was protected from German takeover. Once Adolf Hitler violated the provision in 1938 and incorporated Austria into the Third Reich, Austria lost all control over its foreign policy. The Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had for a time cultivated the Austrian state with military and economic assistance that would foster a buffer state between himself and Germany. By 1936, however, he had chosen to make common cause with Hitler and left Austria to fend for itself.
   The most pressing task in foreign affairs for the Second Austrian Republic was dealing with the Allied occupation that followed upon military defeat in 1945. The greatest fear of various governments in Vienna between 1945 and the signing of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955 that restored independence to Austria was that the occupying powers would follow the German model and divide the country. With neutrality a condition of the State Treaty, Austrian foreign policy after 1955 focused on presenting the country as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe in the era of the Cold War. The flood of asylum seekers into Austria following the Hungarian uprising of 1956 severely strained the fundamentals of that assumption in the eyes of both the Soviet Union and its satellite government in Budapest. When the military and political barriers between both regions fell in 1989, Austria decided to continue in this role, but its efforts to date have been largely commercial. Membership in the European Union since 1995 has considerably weakened Austria’s claims to neutrality as well.
   Austrian foreign policy today is subject to far more democratic scrutiny than at any time in its history. The change, however, has come quite slowly. A separate Ministry of Foreign Affairs was finally established in 1959 and still faces more than normal intrusions from the office of the chancellor, though not on the level that made Bruno Kreisky unique. Since 1990, significant aspects of Austrian international relations, such as its neutrality during the Gulf War (1991), the settlement of the South Tyrol question (1992), and prospective membership in the European Union (EU) (1994–1995), have been vigorously debated in the national parliament.
   EU membership has brought with it foreign policy challenges of its own. Having struggled to revive its sovereignty after 1945, Austria is once again subject to constraints from abroad. Intense negotiations were needed to persuade the EU to lift the sanctions it imposed on Austria in June 2000 in response to the Austrian People’s Party forming a coalition government with the Freedom Party of Austria of radical nationalist Jörg Haider. The open borders policy of the EU has forced Austria into talks with member states over rationalizing the impact of large immigrant flows from eastern Europe and Turkey. Negotiations on this question began in 2000, but have made little progress because of Freedom Party resistance.
   See also Germany, Relations with; Immigration; Italy, Relations with; Russia, Relations with; United States of America, Relations with.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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