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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09VIENNA1058 2009-08-20 11:11 2010-12-05 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vienna
Appears in these articles:
DE RUEHVI #1058/01 2321136
R 201136Z AUG 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VIENNA 001058


E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/13/2024

Classified By: Econ/Pol Counselor Dean Yap. Reason: 1.4(b) and (d).


1. (C) For many reasons, the present Austrian Government has
largely ignored foreign policy since its formation in
December 2008. Some of the reasons -- economic crisis,
budget cuts, lack of ministerial interest -- are specific to
the new government. Others, however -- lack of a long-term
goal, popular isolationism -- are deeply rooted. Though
Austria has the potential to be a significant U.S. partner in
southeastern Europe and the Black Sea region, overcoming both
the immediate and the deeply-rooted causes of Austria's
foreign policy doldrums will require significant U.S. effort,
coordinated with major European partners.

A Lack of Leadership

2. (C) The Grand Coalition government re-installed in Austria
in Dec. 2008 brought a series of new faces into foreign
policy leadership positions. However, neither Chancellor
Faymann (SPO) nor Foreign Minister Spindelegger (OVP) had
significant foreign policy experience. Since then, it has
become clear that Faymann has no personal interest in foreign
affairs -- we have heard this from xxxxxxxxxxxx as well as senior staff in the President's Office and Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister
Spindelegger, while widely credited with good intentions, is
seen as uncertain in which direction he would like to lead
the Ministry. xxxxxxxxxxxx has told us he believes Spindelegger will use the annual meeting of Austrian Ambassadors in September to set forth a clear vision for Austrian diplomacy. However, xxxxxxxxxxxx fears he doesn't have the combination of vision and focus needed to maximize Austria's limited
resources. The third potential ministerial-level player in
foreign policy, holdover Defense Minister Darabos, is also
seen as uninterested in foreign and international security
affairs and is openly hostile to deploying Austrian troops on
dangerous missions abroad (e.g., to Afghanistan). Other
ministries, for example Interior and Justice, when approached
about support for international programs (e.g., police or
judicial training in Afghanistan, have rejected the idea out
of hand because of a combination of budgetary constraints,
rising domestic needs, and danger).

Little Time or Money

3. (C) Compounding the leadership problem, the economic
crisis has meant that the political leadership has had little
time to devote to foreign policy, unless it has a
straightforward domestic political impact (such as
maintaining Austria's effective ban on GMO agriculture or EU
matters like the proposed common asylum policy). Moreover,
the Government has cut foreign affairs related budgets deeply
to compensate partially for massive new counter-cyclical
spending. The defense, Foreign Ministry, and official
development aid budget have all suffered significant cuts.
The Chief of Defense has said that Austria cannot sustain its
current overseas deployments on the new budget, let alone
proceed with plans for force restructuring. The Foreign
Ministry has closed several posts, reduced its travel budget
by one third, and cut administrative budgets. Aid programs
have not been cut outright, but because of the elimination of
debt forgiveness spending, ODA is expected to fall from
nearly 0.5% of GNI to 0.37% or less over two years.

Deep-Seated Problems

4. (C) Austrians would likely remain ambivalent about foreign
policy engagement even if the immediate problems noted above
were resolved. Since the end of the Cold War in 1990/91 and
joining the EU in 1995, political scientists like the
SPO-affiliated Renner Institute's Erich Froeschl say Austria
has had no central foreign policy objective. The population
perceives no external threats and its international status is
secure. Indeed, confronted with policies from Brussels that
appear to threaten local interests (such as Austria's ban on
GMO cultivation) and the perceived cultural threat and rise
in crime related to immigration from other EU members and
Turkey, many interlocutors say Austria has become more
isolationist since 1995. The rise of right-wing populist
parties since the mid-1990s can be seen as confirming this
analysis. Austria's largest and most influential newspaper,
the "Kronen Zeitung" (with a daily readership between
one-third and half the population) regularly and polemically
advocates isolationist, anti-EU, and anti-U.S. positions as
well. It has, however, been moderate to positive toward

Vienna 00001058 002.2 of 003

President Obama and some Krone columnists welcomed his Cairo
and Accra speeches.

5. (C) The evolution of Austrians' understanding of their
country's neutrality has reinforced isolationist sentiment.
Imposed as a condition for the recovery of sovereignty in
1955, in the 1960s neutrality began to be seen as a virtue
that enabled Austria to do things which members of NATO or
the Warsaw Pact could not -- to include profiting nicely as
host to numerous international organizations or playing a
mediating role in the Middle East. At the end of the Cold
War, efforts by conservatives to promote NATO membership
could not overcome public attachment to "perpetual
neutrality" and since then any questioning of neutrality has
been near-taboo. However, the concept has also evolved
further and is seized upon by opponents of any overseas
engagement. Once invoked, further debate becomes almost
impossible. Thus, even though the NATO deployment in
Afghanistan comes under a UN mandate and even though Austria
previously contributed troops there, opponents gain traction
by arguing that Austrian participation (beyond a few staff
officers in ISAF HQ) would be a violation of neutrality. The
same argument was used against deploying troops to Chad for
the purely humanitarian purpose of protecting refugee camps
on the border with Sudan.

Attitude Toward the U.S.

6. (C) Many contacts, such as xxxxxxxxxxxx or Albert Rohan, now
serving as President of the Austrian-American Society (a
post-WWII friendship organization with chapters across
Austria), also see both near-term and long-term problems in
Austrians' view of the United States. Austrians from
post-WWII generations are often skeptical of the benefits of
the U.S. as the single superpower; their skepticism is
reinforced by rejection of many G.W. Bush Administration
policies but it goes farther, reflecting discomfort with U.S.
policies in the Mideast and with the U.S. embrace of
sanctions and other punitive measures. They also have a
sense that U.S. society is not as socially just, democratic,
or ruled-by-law as it should be. The election of President
Obama has had some impact on these views. However, while the
President personally is very popular, we have seen little
movement in popular attitudes or government positions on, for
example, taking former Guantanamo inmates (there have been
hints the government is trying to find a quiet way to change
it previous rejection, but the public remains deeply
opposed), criminal data sharing agreements with the U.S. to
combat terrorism and crime, or support for tougher sanctions
on Iran. Our Public Affairs Section is preparing a poll that
we expect will shed more light on Austrian attitudes toward
the U.S.

Austria Can Be a Partner

7. (C) Despite these problems, Austria has the potential to
be a significant U.S. partner in several discrete regions.
In the Balkans, Austria has shown an ability to project a
coordinated, comprehensive strategy that perfectly
complements U.S. diplomatic goals in the region. It has
deployed hundreds of peacekeepers to Kosovo and Bosnia and is
committed to maintaining that presence despite budget cuts.
It provides -- bilaterally and through the EU -- significant
development assistance and educational and cultural exchanges
to the region. Austrian business is, through extensive
investment, at the leading edge of integrating the region
economically into European and global structures. Austrian
diplomats promote the "European vocation" of the region and
specific steps to move them toward the EU and the west.
Foreign Minister Spindelegger has spoken frequently of
Austria's potential role in the Black Sea region and beyond
to the Caucasus. Until now, he has seemed to focus largely
on providing support for Austrian economic penetration of the
region. This, and particularly when energy projects such as
the Nabucco pipeline are considered, is of clear benefit to
the U.S. Spindelegger has not, however, as yet seemed to
have a broader vision for his initiative.

8. (C) Austria also has a long record of support for arms
control and disarmament efforts and has welcomed President
Obama's nuclear arms control initiatives. As a strong
supporter of the NPT, host of the IAEA, and a member of the
UN Security Council in 2009-10, Austria is well placed to
support U.S.-initiatives in this field. As a UNSC member,
opportunities for diplomatic support in other fields may
appear -- prior to its election to the UNSC, the GoA had
signaled an interest in increasing its profile and presence
in sub-Saharan Africa. We also see potential for cooperation
on environmental policy in the UNFCCC process -- provided we
can get detailed, advance information on U.S. positions to

Vienna 00001058 003 of 003

allow for meaningfully detailed consultations with the GoA.
On the public diplomacy side, the GoA remains committed to
the Fulbright program; it is the majority financial

Obstacles on the Road

9. (C) On the downside, Iran will be a bone of contention
sometime in coming months. Whethe the issue is Iran,s
nuclear weapons program or he Tehran regime,s heavy-handed
curbs on democraization, we anticipate a period of difficult
conersations regarding the likely need for tougher
sancions. Although Austria will probably go along ith an
EU consensus regarding Iran, within EU concils Vienna will
opt for slower, softer measure. These differences are
likely to crop up withi the UNSC as well. Similarly, on
international law enforcement, specifics of money-laundering
and information exchange measures will come into focus sooner
or later and will find entrenched Austrian interests
unwilling to cooperate with the U.S. and international bodies
(e.g. OECD) to the extent needed for a variety of reasons.
The USG will have to press vigorously for more responsible
Austrian positions without closing the door to greater
cooperation in other, less contentious areas that in time
could have a beneficial spillover effect in the overall

Getting To Yes

10. (C) Making the Austrians partners in such specific
projects does not mean the USG must overcome all the
obstacles outlined in paras 2-6 to a more activist Vienna.
However, it does require specific, tailored messages
delivered by and to senior levels. It also requires a
vigorous public diplomacy program. The Embassy has made
public diplomacy our top MSP priority in the last two years.
Beyond PA, the Front Office, Econ/Pol, and other sections
each devote considerable resources to this effort. We will
continue to do so, engaging Austrian society across the
board, across the country, and across the generations. The
FO will also work to engage the GoA at ministerial level on
the entire U.S agenda. To support our local efforts, we also
urge senior Department officials responsible for the issues
outlined above to engage the Austrian Embassy and, when in
Europe, to visit Vienna for consultations.

11. (C) The GoA wants contact with the Obama Administration
at cabinet level and higher. We are making it clear that
such contact requires real U.S.-Austrian partnership. While
some U.S. desires are probably unachievable (new military
deployments, for example), there is potential for a new
partnership that could meet with a favorable response in
Vienna and help move Austria toward greater international