Austria has a long-standing tradition of contributing to international peacekeeping, diplomatic engagement, civilian crisis management, humanitarian aid and development cooperation. The Austrian whole-of-government approach (WGA) model has been particularly inspired by some 60 years of participating in peacekeeping operations, efforts aimed at promoting effective multilateralism, and the principle of international solidarity. By being an actively involved honest broker and by deepening a holistic approach over the years, Austria has developed a special understanding of joint action in external engagement as well as a collaborative spirit and readiness to mediate. Additional orientation has been provided via Austria’s active membership in international organisations, especially the OSCE, NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, and the UN (one of whose headquarters is based in Vienna). Furthermore, Austria’s membership in the EU has been particularly crucial in many regards and has certainly contributed o intensifying its focus on both political priorities and operational collaboration. In addition, Austria has been seeking to actively contribute to the development of the EU’s policies and operational capacities.
Altogether, ensuring an effective multilateralism is one of the priorities of Austria’s foreign and security policies; this, by its very nature, fosters coherence among Austrian stakeholders. Given the current threats emerging from the erosion of the global rules-based order, this has never been truer than today. For these reasons, Austria plays an active role in different multilateral fora and has formal coordination/cooperation procedures in place at all levels at the UN, the OSCE, the NATO-PfP and the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC).
Thematic frameworks of current relevance to Austria’s external engagement are the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development UN Security Council resolutions; the EU Global Strategy (EUGS), its implementation and EU CSDP decisions; the NATO-PfP agenda; and the European Consensus on Development. This multilateral approach is also inspired by the recognition of the steadily increasing interconnectedness of external and internal security. For example, Austria’s 2013 security strategy states (BKA 2013: 4): “Comprehensive security policy means that external and internal aspects of security are inextricably interlinked, as are civil and military aspects.”
Over the years, crisis response has been shaped primarily by events in Austria’s geographic neighbourhood, such as political upheavals in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and the so-called refugee or migration crisis of 2015. Security concerns regarding Czech and Slovak nuclear plants close to Austria’s borders are another constant concern.
At the international level, one part of acting upon this recognition of interconnectedness between internal and external security has been the emphasis on complex operations against the backdrop of comprehensive policy programmes. A WGA has been a consequence. At the national level, a WGA is de facto built into all government decisions, as they are taken collectively, usually in the weekly cabinet (Council of Minister) meetings. In addition, a number of other legal and institutional provisions ensure that Austria’s constitutional environment is respected, including its federal nature and its status of neutrality.
A WGA is also increasingly and explicitly being adopted in governmental programmes. The 2013 Austrian Security Strategy (ibid.) constitutes the cornerstone of Austria’s overarching comprehensive approach, which is officially called the Comprehensive Security Provision (Umfassende Sicherheitsvorsorge). It postulates that modern security policy and efforts to respond to external conflicts and crises have become a cross-cutting issue that stands on an equal footing with other policy fields, and that “[s]ecurity decisions at both national and international level must be based on a comprehensive assessment of the situation by all of the stakeholders and a common understanding of the situation derived from this information” (ibid.: 10). On this basis, there is a growing understanding that policy coherence and existing interfaces need to be based on a comprehensive and integrated approach, allowing for active participation and implementation in a spirit of solidarity.
Government activities are based on an agreed governmental programme. These provide an overarching framework for the concrete division of competences as laid down in a specific law (i.e. the Federal Ministries Act (National Council 1986)) and the government’s concrete work. A comprehensive approach to crises at the local and international levels has been increasingly reflected in government programmes.
Overall, a whole-of-government and, indeed, a whole-of-nation approach have emerged over the years in Austria’s political priorities, and their implementation has been inspired and facilitated by active participation in international multilateral fora and through EU membership. While representing a good balance between administrative professionalism and political pragmatism, this approach would still benefit from being made more systematic (as is discussed in greater detail below).