The world order is in a state of upheaval, from a “rule-based order”, imposed by the Western powers on numerous other countries, to a community of nations with equal rights. As is well known, Switzerland has also been caught up in a large-scale maelstrom. To prevent our unique model from being bogged by the blocs of the EU and NATO and thus sunk into the chaos of war, we need to close ranks and to play ball – which is unfortunately not clear to all Swiss. The latest action against our sovereignty and neutrality is the planned opening of a NATO “liaison office” in Geneva. Although no formal request has yet been made, the Federal Council and its administration are already in their starting blocks to “welcome” the war alliance to neutral Switzerland. This was reported by most Swiss media on 11 October (for example, “Tages-Anzeiger”, “Blick”, Handelszeitung, “20 Minuten”, but also Austrian television ORF and Radio Liechtenstein).
What business does the war alliance NATO
have in Geneva, the city of peace?
On the Federal Council’s homepage, one looks in vain for a reference to this absolute no-go. Answering the question of the media, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) states that it is not a “bilateral office of an alliance with official Switzerland”, but “a liaison office between NATO and international and non-governmental organisations based in Geneva”.1
So much the worse! In other words, it is about a centre of the Western war alliance wanting to connect itself to neutral Switzerland, bypassing our authorities, in order to tighten its net. Already in July, after the Vilnius summit, NATO announced in point 86 of its communiqué: “We are examining the possibility of establishing a liaison office in Geneva in order to further strengthen our engagement with the United Nations and other relevant international organisations.”2 As if the world did not have enough experience with NATO’s “engagement” – or rather its terrible wars. And why do we, the Swiss citizens, hear about this “office” only now, when we are practically facing the fait accompli? Who can say they would read point 86 of a communiqué if it was not actually spelled out for them? The “Tages-Anzeiger” comments on this tactic: “The note is inconspicuous and well hidden. But for Switzerland it has political explosive power.” Yes, indeed!
Federal privileges for a NATO
centre with an unknown mission?
The diligently used label “neutral” does nothing to whitewash those of the Federal Council’s actions which are contrary to neutrality. The FDFA claims that the opening of a NATO liaison office in Switzerland is “not a problem in terms of neutrality law [...] because the defence alliance represents an intergovernmental organisation according to the Swiss Host State Act”. Actually, the word should have spread even in Federal Bern that NATO is no longer a “defence alliance”, at least since its war of aggression against Yugoslavia, but that it is a warring party in numerous wars outside its territory.
Switzerland created the Host State Act3 as a contribution by our neutral country to the promotion of cooperation in the world community. It lays the legal foundations for the support of the ICRC and the numerous UN organisations that have their headquarters in Geneva, but also for many other domestic and foreign cultural, humanitarian and economic organisations in Switzerland that are dedicated to the cooperation of countries and peoples in the most diverse areas, as well as for international conferences and arbitration tribunals. The law regulates “the granting of privileges, immunities and facilities” as well as “financial contributions” by Switzerland (Art. 1 para. 1) to such organisations.
If Switzerland were to grant hospitality to the NATO war alliance, this would consequently mean that its employees in Switzerland would have a free hand to fulfil their mission from across the Atlantic. That mission is unknown to us. Moreover, they would not even be subject to the Swiss rule of law, but would benefit from far-reaching privileges such as immunity from prosecution or tax exemption (Art. 3), which have been established for the ICRC and the UN organisations. Surely the Federal Council cannot be serious about that!
Critical voices in politics and
the media remind the Federal Council
of Switzerland’s neutrality
Beni Gafner, Federal Palace editor of the Swiss newspaper “Tages-Anzeiger”, is surprised by the Federal Council’s statement that a NATO centre in Geneva would “not affect neutrality”.4 Gafner states, on the other hand, that “in public, the federal government gives the impression that in the form of NATO it wants to bring another peace organisation to Geneva – a kind of aid organisation that is there for everyone, regardless of party. But this is not the case, because NATO is a defence alliance under the command of the USA – and a military opponent for countries like Russia or China.” Because the USA is “the absolutely dominant military power” within NATO, says Gafner, approval by the Federal Council of the NATO base in Geneva would “bring Switzerland dangerously close to the USA”. The editor points out that “a permanent NATO presence in our country has not been on the table so far” for Switzerland, because “our priority was to enable neutral mediation between warring parties”. Therefore, he calls on the Federal Council to thoroughly consider “what exactly a NATO presence would mean for Switzerland as a mediator”.
This can only be agreed with. Geneva, the city of peace, has so far been available as a neutral location for good offices for all states and peoples in situations of war and conflict, and this is how it should remain. There is no room for NATO’s efforts to stretch its tentacles into peace and human rights organisations. It is embarrassing that we have to remind the Federal Council of this.
For National Councillor Franz Grüter (SVP), President of the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC-N), it is also clear that Switzerland “as an independent, neutral country” must not be a location for NATO. SP National Councillor Fabian Molina, too, is “critical of the opening of an official NATO office in Geneva”.5
However, other Swiss parliamentarians quoted in the same newspaper article6 offer little thought-out arguments in favour of a NATO centre in Geneva: “The NATO presence would strengthen international Geneva,” claims National Councillor Andrea Gmür (the Centre) boldly, while liberal security politician Maja Riniker openly admits: “The location would correspond to the rapprochement with NATO that the FDP (the Liberals) is calling for.” (By the way, Riniker came up with the idea of circumventing the ban on the further delivery of Swiss weapons with a con trick: We sell Leopard tanks to Germany, which keeps them and sends its own Leopards to Ukraine). The green national councillor Nicolas Walder takes the biscuit: if Switzerland were to offer NATO the opportunity to “make contact” with the ICRC and the UN in Geneva, this could have a “positive effect on NATO troops’ compliance with international humanitarian law”. Tell that to the marines! (Don’t talk nonsense).
It is still possible to stop!
What happens next? When asked, National Councillor Franz Grüter confirmed a newspaper report that it was up to the Federal Council to decide on the opening of the NATO centre. All they have to do is consult the Foreign Affairs Committees (FAC) of both chambers of parliament beforehand. Grüter plans to submit a proposal to stop the request in the winter session. •
1 Gafner, Beni; Reichen, Philippe; Israel, Stephan. “NATO-Büro in der Schweiz: Militärbündnis will nach Genf expandieren” (NATO office in Switzerland: military alliance wants to expand to Geneva). Tages-Anzeiger of 11 October 2023
2 Communiqué of the NATO Heads of State and Government of 11 July 2023, item 86 (https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_217320.htm).
3 “Federal Act on the Privileges, Immunities and Facilities and the Financial Subsidies granted by Switzerland as a Host State” (Host State Act, HSA) of 22 June 2007.
4 Gafner, Beni. “Kommentar zum Verbindungsbüro. Vorsicht bei einem Ja zur NATO in Genf” (Commentary on the Liaison Office. Caution with a Yes to NATO in Geneva). Tages-Anzeiger of 11 October 2023
5 Gafner, Beni; Reichen, Philippe; Israel, Stephan. “NATO-Büro in der Schweiz: Militärbündnis will nach Genf expandieren” (NATO office in Switzerland: military alliance wants to expand to Geneva). Tages-Anzeiger of 11 October 2023
6 All those named here were confirmed in office in the elections of 22 October 2023.
mw. Many Swiss media and politicians continue to refer to NATO as a “defence alliance”, which since the new NATO doctrine of 24 April 1999 no longer applies de iure (paras 24 and 25) and is de facto obsolete due to NATO wars outside the territory of its member states. Moreover, with the war of aggression against Serbia in 1999 – without the approval of the UN Security Council – NATO also for the first time violated its own rule of conducting its operations “in accordance with international law” (para 31).
Strategic Concept of 24 April 1999
para 24: “Any armed attack on the territory of the Allies, from whatever direction, would be covered by Articles 5 and 6 of the Washington Treaty. However, Alliance security must also take account of the global context. Alliance security interests can be affected by other risks of a wider nature, including acts of terrorism, sabotage and organised crime, and by the disruption of the flow of vital resources. The uncontrolled movement of large numbers of people, particularly as a consequence of armed conflicts, can also pose problems for security and stability affecting the Alliance. […]”
para 25: “The Alliance is committed to a broad approach to security, which recognises the importance of political, economic, social and environmental factors in addition to the indispensable defence dimension. […] (emphasis mw)
para 31: “In pursuit of its policy of preserving peace, preventing war, and enhancing security and stability […] NATO will seek, in cooperation with other organisations, to prevent conflict, or, should a crisis arise, to contribute to its effective management, consistent with international law, including through the possibility of conducting non-Article 5 crisis response operations. (emphasis mw)
NATO-Summit 1999. The Alliance’s Strategic Concept (1999); https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_27433.htm
“From a defence alliance to a war machine”. Current Concerns No 25 of 18 June 2012
Good offices belong at the heart of neutral Switzerland’s foreign policy
mw. Next to the unbearable courting of NATO by DDPS head Viola Amherd and FDFA (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs) head Ignazio Cassis, the urgent tasks that await a neutral Switzerland in this war- and misery-ridden world are almost lost. At least a recent press release from the Federal Council reports on Switzerland’s good offices in Colombia. In the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the rebel group Estado Mayor Central de las FARC-EP (EMC), “at the parties’ request, taken on an official mandate to serve as guarantor of the negotiations. The mandate is a sign of appreciation for Switzerland’s commitment to peace and its diplomatic efforts.” In addition, “Switzerland is also helping to mitigate the impact of the conflict, for example by taking humanitarian measures, engaging in humanitarian demining and providing support for rural development.” Switzerland has been supporting the peace process in Colombia already for twenty years. Ambassador Simon Geissbühler, Head of the Peace and Human Rights Division of the FDFA, says: “The parties’ request is a clear sign of confidence in Switzerland and its peace policy. This is also due to our long-standing presence on the ground.” (eda.admin.ch).
“Through its commitment to peace and security, as demonstrated by Switzerland’s support for the Colombian peace process, the federal government is implementing one of the thematic focus areas set out in the Federal Council’s Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23.”
It is good to know that this commitment has not been completely forgotten in the Swiss government’s foreign policy strategy. The Good Offices must once again be at the centre of Swiss foreign policy. As an ever-smiling woman (head of DDPS) or an eager head-nodded (head of FDFA) this may indeed not win you any laurels from the world’s powerful, but it does give you the certainty that, as a neutral country, you are doing the right thing.
Source: “Negotiations launched between Colombian government and rebels with Switzerland serving as guarantor state”. Federal Council media release dated 17 October 2023
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