THE election atmosphere has done much to give people a very fuzzy view of the international situation. This was probably inevitable, fors elections nowadays are not won and lost by clear thinking but in terms of mass emotions. Both parties, it seems, were in silent agreement not to exploit the very harsh problems of foreign affairs. The Tories did not dare admit how difficult and uncertain are the prospects of any real agreement with the Communists, lest the electorate lose heart on the very point which frightens it most: the danger of further indecisive drift and the ultimate sanction of nuclear war. And the responsible Labour leaders, divided from many of their followers and, recognising that, propaganda apart, there is little about which they can diner from the Tories, were honest enough not to exploit this electoral fear.
But the time has certainly now come to look at the facts more realistically.
The Soviet, it is clear, has, with its usual fertility of invention, put up the idea of co-existence on the basis of neutral areas cushioning off the two contending world forces.
M a preliminary tactic, the Soviet yielded on its long and stubborn resistance to an Austrian treaty so that Austria could be presented to the world as an example of the desirable neutrality. Austria, Switzerland, Sweden can now be presented as the model for Germany in the West. While India, Burma, Indonesia set the alluring picture in the Far East. But the European satellite countries will easily be made to fit into the formula, together with East Germany, because the Soviet knows perfectly well that these countries will remain in effect dominated by Moscow, even if some legal form of neutrality were agreed in respect of them.
TO understand the danger of this tactic, we need to understand the meaning of neutrality itself in a world divided by deep moral and social considerations.
The basic idea of neutrality itself logically finds no place in a Christian outlook. " He who is not with me is against Mc." The more deeply a man believes in the absolute truth of a religion, a philosophy, a right way of life. the less can he be indifferent about the need to pursue that truth and to bring others to its realisation.
Obviously, this cannot be literally applied to the complex world of international affairs. But when that world is divided between a political system that denies the relevance of the spiritual order and the basic freedom of man, and another which at least maintains human freedom and at least endeavours to order society so that this human freedom can be expressed, the principle of neutrality, on either side, is hard to maintain.
The totalitarian ideal, of its very nature, cannot accept genuine neutrality, since its very nature is to use totalitarian methods to force as many others as possible into its monolithic system. For that side, neutrality can at best be a temporary convenience. At any given time, it can use the idea of neutrality as a means of infiltrating its propaganda in preparation for the later use of force, or it can accept it as a convenient way of weakening the force of its main opponent.
With the side that defends the ideal of freedom, the problem is much more difficult. Not to
accept neutrality is to use the methods of its opponent, methods which it reprobates. On the other hand, it sets a challenge for would-be neutrals themselves, for if these are in sympathy with the ideal of freedom, then they must be potential allies, and their neutrality is more of a political convenience or an evasion of responsibility than a reality.
How arc these principles translated into the present international situation and the Communist tactic of advocating large neutral belts in the West and in the East?
IN the West, Moscow points to -E. Sweden, Switzerland, Yugoslavia. Austria as examples of neutral countries whose existence will diminish the danger of world war and enable co-exist ence to be maintained. In the East there are India and countries of South-East Asia—but not. significantly, Formosa. Why not extend this desirable neutrality to Germany, to France, to Italy, and finally to Europe as a whole, and thus establish a peaceful world, while the two great Powers agree to differ about their conceptions of social life?
The idea is very alluring. But what reality has it behind it?
If such a neutral area in the West is to be defenceless, then the very nature of the Soviet ideology makes it inevitable that sooner or later, whether by propaganda or by force, this area would be absorbed into the Communist camp. The Soviet would in time add fresh country after fresh country to those it swallowed up during and after the war. But if this neutral area is to be defended, as Switzerland, Sweden and Yugoslavia are defended today and as, presumably, France and Italy would be defended, then that defence would in fact be against Soviet aggression and not against Anglo-American aggression, since the Western ideal forbids such aggression, except in ultimate self-defence. In this case, therefore, the neutrality would not be genuine at all. It would simply entail the choice of a hopeless separate means of selfdefence as against a unified defence of freedom.
in the East, the position is even more obvious, because the Western means of defending such neutrality are much weaker, and no one can really suppose that Russia and China will allow genuine neutrality to countries unable and unwilling to defend themselves adequately.
The truth is that the conception of neutrality today can only live so long as the political philosophy of the West is strong enough to prevent Communism from overrunning neutral countries. That philosophy alone recognises any right to neutrality; but in recognising it, it also makes that neutrality fundamentally unreal. The very fact that neutrality can only be retained if freedom is retained, forces any neutral country to side with those who are capable of defending freedom. There are plenty of reasons why such countries should wish to retain a neutral status; but the neutrality cannot he real. The neutral country is either on the side of freedom, or it has allowed itself by loss of nerve to be virtually handed over to the totalitarian side.
Whatever progress may be made in the international talks to come, these cannot alter the basic conflict of ideals (unless Communism has fundamentally changed its ideology), and the talk of neutral belts is no more than another smoke screen. •