Country Listing

Austria Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security

Coat of arms of the province of Vienna

IN 1993 THE AUSTRIAN DEFENSE ESTABLISHMENT was in the process of restructuring, from a force intended to defend Austria's territory against threats arising from hostilities between North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Warsaw Pact countries to a force that could react rapidly to local crises. Under the restructuring plan, both the standing army and reserves are to be scaled back but are to maintain individual units in a rapid-response status, enabling the army to intervene quickly with appropriate forces to prevent instability in Austria's border areas. In view of the civil warfare in the former Yugoslavia and the breakup of Czechoslovakia into two states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as the possibility of overwhelming movements of refugees fleeing violence in nearby states, Austria considers itself to be in a highly exposed position in spite of the end of East-West confrontation in Europe. The intervention of the Yugoslav army in Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 prompted the largest mobilization of the Austrian army since it was reconstituted in 1956.

The Austrian armed forces consist of only one branch, the Bundesheer (Federal Army), of which the air force (Fliegerdivision) is a component. There is no navy. Ground forces consist of 46,000 men on active duty, 19,500 of whom are conscripts who serve for six months, followed by sixty days of refresher training with their mobilization units spread over a ten-year period. There are 6,000 men in the air force, 2,400 of whom are conscripts. (These are no women in the Austrian armed forces.) The main active combat units are three mechanized brigades equipped with M-60 main battle tanks and Saurer armored personnel carriers. Two squadrons (twenty-four aircraft) of Draken fighter aircraft acquired from Sweden defend Austrian air space. Including activated reserve infantry brigades and regiments, total mobilized strength is about 200,000, but the mobilization level will decline to 120,000 under the reorganization plan, the New Army Structure, announced in late 1991 and to be completed in 1995.

Weapons of mass destruction and guided missiles were prohibited under the State Treaty of 1955. Also in 1955, parliament enacted a constitutional law prohibiting participation in any military alliance and specifying that the armed forces were to be used only for the defense of the country. However, neutrality, according to the Austrian interpretation, did not preclude contributing to peacekeeping operations under United Nations (UN) auspices. As of 1993, Austria had battalion units serving the UN in Cyprus and on the Golan Heights in Syria. Austria did not, however, participate in the UN-supported coalition against Iraq after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Austria's Federal Police function in fourteen of the largest cities; the federal Gendarmerie functions in the remainder of the cities and towns and in most rural areas except for a few that maintain their own police forces. The Criminal Investigative Service, the Administrative Police, and the State Police (secret service) are also nationally organized under the federal Ministry for Interior.

Austrians are generally peaceful people; domestic politics are rarely violent, and the level of crime is moderate. Criminal codes and criminal procedure codes are enlightened. Practices relating to criminal justice and the penal system are considered fair by European standards, although questionable conduct by the police and the secret service has been investigated and reforms have been instituted.

Data as of December 1993