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Swiss Security Policy

Switzerland’s neutrality is self-determined, permanent and armed. The term “neutral” is derived from the Latin: “ne uter” – neither one nor the other. A power is neutral when it does not take sides in a war. The decisive factors governing the Swiss policy of neutrality are the national interest, the body of law on neutrality, the international situation as well as tradition and history. Originally neutrality was a kind of emergency stop-gap. However, over the course of history, it brought clear advantages and is therefore firmly rooted in Switzerland’s self-perception. In the Federal Agreement of 1815 and in the constitutions of 1848, 1874 and 1999, neutrality became a foreign policy norm for the authorities. This maxim was always flexibly adapted to the circumstances and applied according to the interests of the country.

In accordance with the 2017 Military Doctrine, which was created in accordance with the 2016 Security Policy Report, Switzerland takes into account the remote direct military threat, but believes that now the potential threats to it include espionage, cyber attacks, external influence operations and sabotage , as well as the actions of non-state groups. The Swiss government plans to reduce the size of its armed forces after mobilization by 40% (up to 100 thousand people), which reflects the assessment that in a system based on the call of the militia will not always be available personnel for active service in times of conflict.

However, these smaller forces should use additional weapons. This plan for the development of the Armed Forces was approved in March 2016 and emphasizes the improvement of combat readiness, training and armaments; its introduction is expected in 2018-2021. The Swiss approach to combat readiness moves to a more flexible model, in which different units will be called up for active service gradually and at different times. Plans to replace combat aircraft and ground-based air defense systems were continued at the end of 2017 by announcing that $ 8.35 billion will be invested in airspace protection.

History not only taught Switzerland to keep out of foreign conflicts, it also taught it the importance of active solidarity. Switzerland‘s involvement here ranges from humanitarian internment (example Bourbaki Army) to the world-wide engagement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and from the Good Offices of diplomacy to the ceasefire observers in Korea and the Swiss company (SWISSCOY) in Kosovo.

In Switzerland, a country with several cultures, languages and religions, neutrality has also always served to guarantee internal cohesion whereby the principle of neutrality was also applied to conflicts within the Confederation. A shift away from neutrality to an active foreign policy in the 16th century (religious conflicts), for example, would have led to unbearable tensions. In the 19th and 20th centuries, siding with Germany or France would have precipitated the Confederation into a national crisis. Without external neutrality, internal cohesion would be unthinkable.

In 1515 a confederate army of 20,000 men encountered the military limits of federal power politics at the battle of Marignano. Francis I of France concluded a landmark peace with the conquered in 1516. This peace formed the contractual basis of Switzerland’s reticence in foreign policy for centuries. Unity in foreign policy matters was impossible in the period of denominational tensions.

After the French conquest of 1798, there was no neutrality for Switzerland for 16 years. The major European powers fought to gain control of the Alpine transit routes. Switzerland became a theater of war. After France’s unsuccessful Russian campaign in 1812, the Swiss had to secure the retreat of the remainder of Napo-leon’s “Grande Armée” at Beresina. In 1815 Swiss forces took part in the fight against Napoleon’s troops, including the siege of Hüningen. In the wake of this final military operation of Swiss forces abroad, the powers in Paris recognise Switzerland’s permanent neutrality and guarantee its territorial integrity.

In the Franco-Prussian War, Switzerland declared its willingness in 1871 to intern General Charles Bourbaki’s defeated French eastern army (93,000 men). Switzerland’s credible application of armed neutrality and other Swiss initiatives (founding of the Red Cross in 1863) led to widespread international recognition of its neutrality. In 1907 Switzerland signed the Hague Conventions on Rights and Duties of Neutral States.

After 1915, Switzerland was completely surrounded by war. The warring parties were convinced that Switzerland will not tolerate outflanking manoeuvres by any of the respective opponents through its territory. They therefore respected Swiss neutrality and Switzerland’s borders. The traces of defences then built at Hauenstein und on Mont Vully are a reminder of how credible neutrality was practised during the First World War.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Federal Council confirms Switzerland’s neutrality and this is recognised by the belligerents. Switzerland mobilises its forces to assert its independence and neutrality. To make its neutrality credible, Switzerland mobilised up to 450,000 men and women for national service. It was thus made perfectly clear that there would be a dear price to pay for anyone wishing to enter the country by force. In retrospect, Switzerland’s refugee policy should have been more generous.

Federal Councillor Max Petitpierre coins the leitmotif of Swiss foreign relations in the post-war period “Neutrality and solidarity”. He thereby re-establishes greater recognition of neutrality. In its dispatch the Federal Council explains that accession “will be considered only, if Switzerland is able to retain its existing permanent neutrality”. The Federal Decree on Switzerland’s Accession to the UN, lays down that in the event of Swiss accession to the UN, the Federal Council will give a “solemn statement explicitly confirming that Switzerland will retain its permanent and armed neutrality”. In 1986, a majority of 75% of the Swiss people voted against joining the UN.

In its 1993 neutrality report, the Federal Council set out how it intended to operate neutrality under the changed geo-political situation. According to the report, neutrality alone cannot protect the country against new dangers such as terrorism, organised crime and destruction of the environment. Switzerland was, therefore, obliged to extend its foreign and security policy without compromising its neutrality. Switzerland “will exercise its neutrality in a way that allows it to take the necessary military precautions for its own defence, also with respect to new threats. Depending on the threat, this could also entail international cooperation in the preparation of defensive measures.”

Partnership for Peace (PfP) is a NATO initiative launched in 1994. Switzerland has been participating in this programme since 1996. PfP seeks to intensify security policy and military cooperation in Europe. Switzerland’s participation in PfP is compatible with neutrality as there is no requirement for NATO membership and no obligation to provide military support in the event of armed conflict. Therefore, the following is maintained in Switzerland’s presentation document of 30 November 1996: “Switzerland is committed to permanent and armed neutrality. It does not intend to abandon its neutrality. It does not wish to join NATO.”

In its Security Policy Report 2000 the Federal Council stated: “For the future it is important that neutrality does not become an obstacle to ensuring our security. Even under most stringent application of neutrality law, we have considerable scope which must be used more than in the past in the sense of a participative foreign and security policy.”

On 1 September 2001, the partial revision of the Military Act accepted by plebiscite enters into force. The revised Military Act regulates Swiss participation in peace support operations of the UN and the OSCE and provides the basis for arming Swiss peace support forces abroad for self-protection. Switzerland’s involvement is “compatible with neutrality law and Switzerland’s policy of neutrality” (Federal Council dispatch relating to the partial revision of the Swiss Military Act, p. 485). Swiss participation in combat operations for peace enforcement is, however, excluded by the Military Act.

On 3 March 2002, 54.6% of the Swiss people voted for Switzerland’s accession to the UN which takes place accordingly on 10 September. Switzerland is the first country whose membership of the UN was decided directly by its people. In its accession statement Switzerland affirms: “Switzerland is a neutral state whose status is based on international law. Even as a member of the UN, Switzerland remains neutral.” Switzerland is called upon to participate in UN economic sanctions and may not obstruct military sanctions decided by the UN Security Council. Switzerland is free to decide whether and to what extent it wants to provide the UN with resources and forces for respective humanitarian and military operations. Switzerland and the UN pursue the same objective: to promote and guarantee peace and security in the world. It is therefore in the country’s interests to support the UN through its policy of active neutrality and practical solidarity.

The law provides neutral states with a good deal of scope in peacetime. Measures aimed at peace promotion give no cause for concern and military cooperation with foreign partners is possible. The limit of what is legally permissible is exceeded when the neutral state undertakes to provide assistance for another in the event of war. The law of neutrality of 1907 still applies. The situation today, however, is characterised mainly by internal conflicts. The law of neutrality is not applicable to these cases.

European Union (EU) membership is compatible with neutrality as long as the EU has no binding mutual military assistance obligation for all members. NATO membership is incompatible with neutrality because NATO membership includes the obligation to provide mutual assistance in the event of war.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2018 17:41:09 ZULU