Since the end of February, the Federal Council has been submitting to the command from Washington and Brussels and adopting one sanctions package after another against Russia. Many people’s heads are spinning because of the flood of “news” and “fake news” in the media and because of the shaky to un-neutral statements from Bern. Anyone who recognises the implications of this will feel wind and pain when they have to watch Switzerland’s credibility as a neutral mediator, built up over centuries, being thrown to the wind.
It is high time to pause. The debate on the content and meaning of Swiss neutrality is open: Bring back Swiss-style neutrality with a popular initiative or let the Swiss army participate in “Art. 5 exercises of NATO troops” according to the ideas of Ignazio Cassis, head of the FDFA?
An “internal administrative paper” is currently circulating in Berne, the draft of the new neutrality report that the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA has put out for consultation within the federal administration. The aim of the report is to “create the basis for a structured political debate on neutrality”. Among other things, it is to contain an analysis of various neutrality options, including first and foremost Ignazio Cassis’ reinvention and favourite, “cooperative neutrality”. The Federal Council intends to discuss the report by the end of August and decide which concept it prefers.
Some newspaper and television editors “have the [so-called internal] report from the FDFA”, while everyone else has to pick out the details from the more or less informative media reports. So, let’s do it!
How the FDFA wants to drive Swiss neutrality into the ditch
Three patterns from the homepage of the FDFA2:
“Cooperative neutrality”: arms deliveries and participation
of the Swiss army in NATO war exercises
According to the SonntagsZeitung4, the draft of the neutrality report lists the cornerstones of so-called “cooperative neutrality”. Basically, “cooperation” with other states “that share values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law” is to be intensified. This refers to the EU and NATO member states.
First cornerstone: The rules for arms deliveries are to be relaxed. In other words, “arms deliveries to war zones would still be prohibited. However, if partner states want to transfer arms produced in Switzerland to warring parties, this would no longer be prohibited.” And further: “Military flights over Switzerland for non-conflict parties would also be facilitated.”
Have the people in the FDFA forgotten that, in addition to the law of neutrality, Switzerland also has a strict War Material Act (WMA) (which was tightened again by parliament in September 2021)? Not only does the WMA prohibit the direct export of military equipment to warring countries, but Switzerland also requires a declaration from the government concerned when war material is exported that it will not be re-exported (WMA Art. 18 para. 1).
Second cornerstone: The automatic adoption of foreign sanctions against other states is to be stipulated: “Sanctions, including those of the EU, would be adopted as is already the case in the Ukraine war.” (SonntagsZeitung of 17 July 2022) Actually, the vast majority of the Swiss do not want the automatic adoption of EU rules ...
Third cornerstone: Switzerland should “cooperate more closely with the EU and NATO and, for example, conduct joint military exercises – even on Swiss soil”. SRF News shows the original wording from Cassis’ draft in the picture: “Cooperation can be strengthened in important areas, such as with a participation of the Swiss army in NATO Art. 5 exercises, or the hosting of exercises on Swiss soil [...]”.5
Oops, that’s hot! What “NATO Art. 5 exercises” are is explained by Deutsche Welle DW (foreign broadcasting of the Federal Republic of Germany): “The NATO alliance case is defined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949.” There, “the contracting parties agree ‘that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all’.” Each Party is to assist those attacked by taking without delay “such measures, including the use of armed force, as it deems necessary to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area”.6
What the team in the Foreign Department is doing is outrageous! For SP National Councillor Fabian Molina, for example, it is clear that the model planned by the FDFA is tantamount to joining NATO: “Joining a war alliance through the back door before you have come closer to the peace work of Europe, then yes, that is an abolition of neutrality through the back door.” (SRF-Tagesschau of 22 July 2022). (However, Switzerland should only come as close to the “European peace project” as is possible within the framework of our state system).
“A little bit” neutrality or none at all?
In addition to the “cooperative neutrality” prioritised by Ignazio Cassis, the draft neutrality report lists two other options: “Continue as before” or “switch to a so-called ad hoc neutrality, in which Switzerland would decide on a case-by-case basis how to act. Permanent neutrality would be partially abandoned in this variant.” (SonntagsZeitung of 17 July 2022) In fact, the Federal Council has already ended up with such ad hoc neutrality in its dealings with Ukraine and Russia. To “partially abandon” neutrality is a contradiction in terms: either it exists permanently, or it does not.
On the homepage of the FDFA the option of “no neutrality at all” is even considered: “Switzerland would theoretically also be free to renounce neutrality. It has chosen this for itself and is not obliged to do so under international law.” That’s how far it will go!
Switzerland’s good services are inextricably linked to neutrality
According to the FDFA’s homepage, good services are “not the raison d’être [reason for existence, meaning] of Swiss foreign policy and they must never be a barren morality”.
Does Switzerland’s decision not to take part in wars and war alliances need a barren morality, Mr Cassis?
For former ambassador Paul Widmer, on the other hand, neutrality is an inseparable part of Swiss foreign policy and – particularly important – a peace factor: “Neutrality is by far the most important principle of Swiss foreign policy. It is the guiding principle in the major foreign policy issues. [...] If every state pledged itself not to start a war or to be drawn into a war instigated by others, then, if these principles were observed, there would be world peace. But even if perpetual and armed neutrality is practiced by only one state, it is a factor in peace.”7
Popular initiative to enshrine neutrality in the Swiss Federal Constitution
With Paul Widmer’s soothing words in mind, we make the link to the “Swiss neutrality” popular initiative, which a considerable number of Swiss people from different parties or without party affiliation want to launch.
The initiative text was recently submitted to the Federal Chancellery for (formal) preliminary examination. Its content is generally understandable and does not need to be explained in detail. A small remark: If this Article 54a is in the Federal Constitution, it should apply again and actually be a matter of course for every Swiss – armed neutrality (that is, an army that is capable of defending the country), military cooperation only in the event of an (imminent) military attack on Switzerland, no participation in wars of other countries (not even with arms deliveries), no sanctions against belligerent states (for exceptions, see paragraph 3), use of perpetual neutrality for the performance of good offices.
FC Art. 54a Swiss neutrality
Switzerland is permanently armed and neutral.
It does not join any military or defensive alliance. Cooperation is reserved in the event of a military attack on Switzerland or its preparatory actions.
It does not take part in military conflicts between third countries and does not impose sanctions on warring states. Obligations towards the UN as well as measures to prevent the circumvention of measures taken by other states are reserved rights.
It uses its perpetual neutrality to prevent and resolve conflicts and is available as a mediator.
Why is it even necessary to include this article in the Federal Constitution? Because the substantive form of neutrality has not yet been included in the constitution. Article 173, paragraph 1a states as the duty of the Federal Assembly: “Taking measures to safeguard external security and the independence and neutrality of Switzerland..” The Federal Council has the same duty in accordance with Art. 185 para. 1. Up until around 25 years ago, it was not necessary to define Swiss neutrality more precisely. But since Switzerland joined the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) – without a referendum! – the substantive anchoring of neutrality in the constitution is pending, and after the Federal Council decisions on the Ukraine crisis that were contrary to neutrality, it has become even more urgent. •
1 National Councilor Fabian Molina (SP ZH) in the SRF Tagesschau of 22 July 2022
2 Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA. “Questions and answers on Switzerland’s neutrality” of 18 May 2022; https://www.eda.admin.ch/eda/en/fdfa/fdfa/aktuell/newsuebersicht/2022/03/neutralitaet.html
3 Bausch, Saya and Ramirez, Manuel. “Questioned neutrality. Will Geneva be weakened as an international conference location?” In: Tagesschau SRF from 20 June 2022
4 Schmid, Adrian. “Cassis wants to realign Swiss neutrality”. In: SonntagsZeitung of 17 July 2022
5 Rhyn, Laryssa. “Switzerland: What is ‘cooperative neutrality’?” In: SRF News from 22 July 2022
7 Widmer, Paul. Swiss foreign policy. From Charles Pictet de Rochemont to Edouard Brunner. Zurich 2014, p. 24f.
mw. According to the daily press of 25 July, the EU Council of Ministers “stated explicitly and in writing” that “agricultural commodities were exempt from the sanctions against Russia”. This applies to grain, but also to sunflower oil and fertiliser. Until now, “no commodity trader and no financial institution involved in the trade wanted to take the risk of trading in grain from Russia. The danger of being branded as a sanction breaker and fined due to the vague wording in the relevant provisions seemed too great.”
Why did EU leaders allow no grain trader to dare trade in Russian grain for five months, to the detriment of the world’s poorest? The buck was passed to the Russian president, contrary to the facts: He had only used the EU sanctions as a pretext to hoard his own wheat and thus drive up the price. «We are dealing with an ice-cold, merciless and deliberate blackmail of the weakest countries and people of the world by Putin,” said Commission President von der Leyen in a slanderous and at the same time hypocritical manner – as if the well-being of the poorest people was a priority for her and the other EU leaders!
Why does Brussels so suddenly give the green light for wheat imports from Russia? The explanation is provided by a “leaflet” from Washington, which came out a few days before the EU decision and announced that “international trade in Russian agricultural raw materials – and also in Russian fertilisers – is permitted”.
So, the hegemon directs his vassals and the world’s hungry with a mere leaflet! Pride comes before a fall.
Gyr, Marcel. “Swiss commodity traders also want to sell Russian grain”. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 24 July 2022
US-Department of the Treasury. “OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] Food Security Fact Sheet: Russia Sanctions and Agricultural Trade”. 14 July 2022
If you want to prevent the setting of cookies (for example, Google Analytics), you can set this up by using this browser add-on.