Switzerland’s role in geopolitical change

Lecture by Ralph Bosshard* at the 30th “Mut zur Ethik” conference in Sirnach TG on 2 September 2023

On the occasion of my inaugural visit to the General Staff Academy of the Russian Armed Forces in May 2013, I had a similar experience to Scott Ritter on his inspection trip to the former Soviet Union: I discovered that Russian colonels, generals and admirals are completely normal people and do not at all correspond to the image, which is currently being published in the German-speaking press. Over the next 14 months, we considered how to defend Russia against invasion and realised that with an army then numbering 900,000 men, this was a challenging task. In this respect, the training in Moscow differed from that which I had enjoyed in numerous NATO courses: there we always practiced putting down uprisings somewhere on fictitious islands in the world’s oceans under the slogan “foster peace and stability”.

Neutrality in the
environment of hybrid warfare

You can only gain such insights if you get to know the language and local conditions. Based on this consideration, language training should actually become mandatory in the training of journalists, otherwise reporting becomes worthless. Gazettes without such knowledge can safely be used to stuff wet shoes.
  One line of strategy in today’s competition between powers is the promotion of organised crime, regardless of whether one calls it “hybrid warfare” or something else. But as long as, for example, the alleged paedophile Oleh Liashko, the allegedly corrupt and criminal former Interior Minister Arsen Awakow and Yuriy Lutsenko, who served as prosecutor general as a non-lawyer, have political influence in today’s Ukraine, even the most efficient criminal investigators will have no chance to investigate or prevent crimes, particularly against Ukrainian refugee women.
  Since the turn of the millennium, questions about the relationship between politics, the economy and society have been answered differently in Russia and Belarus than in the West. This has created an ideological contradiction – largely unnoticed by the West – which is now becoming apparent in the war in Ukraine. Francis Fukuyama’s theories have been refuted by reality.
  For 20 years NATO waged war in Afghanistan, not against terrorism, but against an entire society. All the political advisors and gender advisors who worked in the NATO mission and demanded that the country’s residents implement all of Europe’s achievements since the French Revolution such as human rights, democracy, equal rights and others within a few years are to blame for this. Now we have to stop these people from ruining other Central Asian states.
  Overall, it must be noted that the use of all conceivable areas of social life and state action for the purpose of waging war, which is being carried out today, forces a discussion about the semantic content of the concept of neutrality.

Favourable starting
position for Switzerland

The Swiss always like to hide their light under a bushel. In terms of area, Switzerland is indeed a small state, ranking 132nd out of 194 countries in the world. However, in terms of population, where it is ranked 100th, it is more or less in the middle. In terms of economic performance, it is one of the largest in the world, ranking 21st out of 192. As a medium-sized country with great economic performance, without a colonial past and with a long tradition of non-interference in foreign conflicts, Switzerland should actually be in a position to secure the sympathy of a large number of countries around the world. This should actually help it to overcome its image problems due to its financial centre and the envy of the war-ravaged countries of two world wars. All of this forces us to pursue an active foreign policy. If Switzerland submits to the foreign policy dictates of the Diplomatic Service of the EU (EEAS), it will give up important advantages and only suffer disadvantages.

Abuse of neutrality

In the run-up to World War II, Joseph Stalin was interested in the neutrality of the Soviet Union because his ideological mindset told him that the Soviet Union should not care if the capitalist states of Germany, Italy, France and the British Empire were tearing each other apart. Furthermore, he may have hoped that he could then benefit from the moment of weakness that arises when these powers are exhausted by war. Conversely, leading circles in Great Britain may have asked themselves why the kingdom should be concerned if the National Socialist Third Reich and the Bolshevik Soviet Union fight each other. Great Britain was primarily interested in its colonial empire and had pursued a strategy of balance on the European continent since the War of the Spanish Succession. Here, neutrality was abused as a vehicle, in contrast to Switzerland, which always viewed permanent neutrality as a prerequisite for credibility.
  Similar considerations may have motivated the Americans at the Potsdam Conference from 17 July 1945 to 2 August 1945 to urge the Soviets to break their neutrality pact with Japan and attack the Empire of Japan three months after the end of the war in Europe. Imagine what the balance of power in East Asia would have looked like if the USA had lost a million soldiers in the invasion of Japan, as feared, while the Red Army had transferred the same number of soldiers to the Far East. The Soviet Union would have had a free hand in East Asia! Therefore, the Soviet Union had to be drawn into the war and Japan’s surrender had to be brought about quickly, without major losses for the Americans. The logical consequence of this was the dropping of two atomic bombs. These events also revealed an understanding of neutrality that is not credible.

The assault rifle in your own locker

It has been repeated for decades that neutrality must be armed in order to appear credible. Actually, an easy-to-understand statement, because almost every policy has to be backed up militarily. Anyone who fails to do so is virtually inviting military intervention. The most recent case in which this happened is the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh of 2020. In this sense, neutrality is not synonymous with pacifism, but arises from the insight that wars that lead to self-destruction are better not waged.
  Neutrality must not only be credible, but also useful, so that the neighbours of a neutral power in particular have an interest in its integrity. This also speaks for Switzerland’s active foreign policy based on its neutrality.
  Proponents of joining NATO repeatedly argue that autonomous defence is no longer possible today. This has been the case for centuries, because without imports of the necessary raw materials we would not even have been able to produce gunpowder ourselves. And even today, of the 194 countries in the world, only very few are able to produce everything an army needs. Furthermore, the chain of arguments between dependence on imports and NATO membership is far from closed. One can also ask oneself how such a statement from NATO supporters can come about as long as there are no scenarios for Swiss national defence in the context of a pan-European conflict scenario.
  If Switzerland is ever forced to defend itself against an aggressor, then it must persuade at least one of its neighbours to keep its access to world markets open. However, there is no requirement that someone else fight the war for Switzerland. Three of our neighbours are among the big players in world politics and have geopolitical ambitions from the Gulf of Aden to the Gulf of Guinea to the Arctic Ocean. Participating in acts of aggression that violate international law as a kind of preventive measure in order to endear oneself to these neighbours cannot be a strategy for ensuring security.

Switzerland is
quintessentially European

It is well known that Erasmus von Rotterdam, Paracelsus and other important early modern scholars taught at the University of Basel; that Jean Calvin and Jean-Jacques Rousseau came from Geneva, as well. What is less known, however, is that the chief engineer of the Milan Cathedral, Giovanni Solari, came from Carona near Locarno and that his son Pietro Solari played a leading role in the expansion of the Moscow Kremlin. The original version of the Nibelungenlied, one of the oldest testimonies of the German language, was written in the monastery of St. Gallen as early as the 13th century. In the monastery of St. Gallen, pious monks, especially Notker the German, wrote the first commentary on Aristotle since ancient times in the 10th century, when the residents of Berlin still worshiped pagan idols! All in all: Switzerland is quintessentially European, but not part of the EU and NATO. This is what makes the Swiss position on current issues so interesting. It makes no sense for powers outside Europe to talk to representatives of the small EU member states, because Brussels speaks for them. As a non-member of these alliances, Switzerland can make its voice heard internationally.

Geopolitical change cannot be ignored

Quite apart from the fact that a large number of countries around the world are not taking part in the EU’s sanctions against Russia, the summits of African countries with Russia and the BRICS summit in recent weeks have shown how the world feels towards Europe. At the Africa-Russia Summit on July 27 and 28 this year, 49 African countries out of 54 were represented by heads of state or government or ministers. In most of these countries, Europeans are unpopular due to their colonial past. According to reports, the Chinese are currently trying to make themselves unpopular on the African continent. They also sometimes tend towards arrogance and a false sense of cultural superiority. Perhaps they are making the same mistakes as Europeans in the past. The Africans in particular will have no interest in swapping their hard-won dependence on the European colonial powers for one on Beijing or in opening the door to gender zealots, primarily from north-western Europe.
  The BRICS summit from 22 to 24 August demonstrated great interest in this group of states, which today accounts for a share of the world’s population and global economic output that can no longer be ignored. It cannot be assumed that the BRICS plus will form a tightly knit bloc, like the countries of the communist bloc during the Cold War, when belonging to a bloc was, in the eyes of many countries, a question of military survival. For many countries, however, there is now an opportunity to secure the most advantageous offer from the West and the BRICS plus. Anyone who does not take advantage of this opportunity is just stupid. And perhaps the loose cohesion of the BRICS is also an element that makes this cluster of states attractive.
  In the future, world politics will be conducted in the capitals of the BRICS plus countries, and not in the eunuch choir of the G7. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin may settle the Korean peninsula’s problems while the German foreign minister is still stuck on a broken government plane.


The cards in world politics are currently being redistributed, to the detriment of all those who would like to divide the world into good and evil, black and white. This is world politics for colour blind people. NATO has been remembering the Olsen gang in the Danish crime comedies of the eighties and nineties since the embarrassment at Kabul Airport in August 2021. In these, the clumsy gang, led by their boss Egon Olsen, was always ready to do crooked things and failed every time because of their own shortcomings.
  As long as the war in Ukraine continues, the West will continue its process of denial of reality. And the war in Ukraine must continue because it has long since become the framework in which the third world war is being prepared. The attacks on the Kremlin in Moscow and the bases of the Russian transport and long-range aviation forces near Saratov and Pskov can also be interpreted as main tests for a (first) strike against the country’s leadership and the Russian arsenal of nuclear deterrence. If there are attacks against Russian submarine bases and missile silos in the near future, then we will know what is really at stake. For now, the West will force Ukraine to continue the war, even if it loses hundreds of lives every day. Perhaps the same dirty game is being played in the Baltics that has been playing for years in the Middle East, where the Israeli Air Force is used to flying attacks against Syria from Lebanese airspace.
  By participating in the economic sanctions, Switzerland has damaged its image as a reliable trading partner. What role can she still play? It is questionable whether it will once again succeed in assuming a bridging function, such as between the USA and Cuba and Iran or between Russia and Georgia. More than one role as a voice of reason is probably no longer possible.


Neutrality is the attitude of sovereign states and self-confident peoples who decide their own fate and do not want to be reduced to an object of geopolitical concepts. It is the counter-concept to exceptionalism, with the help of which the USA in particular wants to turn all other countries in the world into banana republics and into territories with limited rights like Puerto Rico. The reluctance with which the Global South reacts to the advances from Brussels, Washington and Berlin is forcing the West to bring neutrals on board. In this sense, the pressure currently being exerted on Switzerland is nothing other than a sign of desperation.
  Switzerland was not insufficiently active in the conflict in and around Ukraine. Swiss diplomats played a key role in bringing about the Minsk Agreements and the OSCE special observation mission in Ukraine. When it became clear that the Minsk package of measures in particular could not be implemented, Swiss diplomats offered to draw up a road map. But Ukraine and the West wanted to keep all options for action open – including military ones – and pursued a “choose and pick” policy. Neutrality is not indecent. Pressuring Switzerland to participate in violent solutions after it has invested so much in peaceful options is indecent. Neutrality is also not an expression of cowardice. Switzerland remains a country that is not exposed to any military threat. Taking advantage of their secure position to spread war to other countries would be cowardly. Using the security of their situation to work on non-violent solutions is not a pacifist heroic act, but rather the contribution that the world can reasonably expect from Switzerland. We must continue to follow this path.  •

Ralph Bosshard studied general history, Eastern European history and military history, completed the military leadership school at ETH Zurich and general staff training for the Swiss Army. This was followed by language training in Russian at Moscow State University and training at the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Russian Army. He is familiar with the situation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia from his six years at the OSCE, during which he also worked as special advisor to the Permanent Representative of Switzerland.

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