“On-site assistance – that is the Swiss principle”

Withdrawal from Partnership for Peace

Interview with National Councillor Luzi Stamm, member of the Foreign Policy Committee

Current Concerns: You have filed a motion in which you ask the Federal Council to withdraw from “Partnership for Peace” (PfP). What made you do this?

Luzi Stamm: The more NATO sees itself as a war party, the more careful Switzerland needs to be. If NATO intervenes militarily in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or even the Ukraine, the contradiction with our policy of neutrality becomes more and more obvious in case we participate in any form on the side of NATO. In my view this is just common sense.

How did Switzerland become a member of this NATO sub-organisation?

That is a long story. From the democratic point of view, this is all the more debatable the closer the relationship becomes between Partnership for Peace (PfP) and NATO. Our population had no say at all when it came to our accession to PfP. In the 90s it was mainly the Swiss Federal Council, represented by Flavio Cotti, Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Adolf Ogi, Head of the Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport, who suggested that Switzerland should join this PfP.

What reactions did this cause at the time?

In politically right-winged circles this line of action was highly controversial at the time, because the former US Defense Secretary William Perry had stressed his opinion that the difference between a NATO membership and the organisation PfP was to be thinner than a sheet of paper. This means nothing less than that at the time it was already intended to make PfP a part of NATO. This made several politicians somewhat suspicious, even some left winged colleagues. But according to the then prevailing Zeitgeist – the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the (wishful) conception of eternal peace – these concerns were thrown to the winds and it was clear that Switzerland would become a PfP member.

So what does this mean for our neutrality?

The more NATO takes sides in military conflicts, the more it acts as a war party and intervention unit, the more this is obviously problematic for our neutrality. When, for example, NATO said at the time, we are going to intervene in former Yugoslavia or in Iraq, that did not just mean taking sides, but it was also a violation of international law. In such cases, Switzerland must not be involved, not under any circumstances at all.
In their response the Federal Council denied that we are conducting manoeuvres or the like together with NATO.
The crucial question in the context of my motion is, how close is the PfP connected with NATO in actual fact? The closer the cooperation, the more obvious it should be to us that Switzerland must leave the PfP. Another question is whether and under what title Switzerland intends to engage with our army internationally.

What do you mean by that?

In my opinion it is absolutely unacceptable for Switzerland to be engaged militarily under the leadership of the United States or any other NATO country and to play a part in this engagement. Some years ago an incident in Afghanistan stirred up dust. At that time a photograph was made public, in which two Swiss soldiers in uniform were standing in file with the Swiss flag next to the British and the US flag. I think the picture was of a military funeral. This picture gave rise to the impression that Switzerland was identifying itself with the military activity of the US in Afghanistan. In fact, four uniformed Swiss officers were on site in the context of the UN mission in Afghanistan, two of whom were doctors. This example shows how you can ruin your reputation if you engage internationally in this field.

What does Switzerland lose if it leaves its neutral stance?

In this way it will lose very, very much. For me, the example of the International Committee of the Red Cross with its founder Henri Dunant is the guideline for Switzerland. When you read how Henri Dunant was overwhelmed by the misery resulting from the battle that had raged on the battlefield of Solferino, it takes nerves to remain neutral in such a situation and not to take sides. In such a situation everyone would in the first instance have felt the urge to pass the buck and to address reproaches to those who started the war. But exactly this is not the role of Switzerland. On the contrary, our small country has made a great name for itself, namely that we do not ask who is waging the war here and that instead, we simply help. We provide on-site assistance! That is the Swiss principle which we should stand with and which we should not jeopardise for the sake of some short-term interest-driven policy; because once our reputation as a neutral country is lost, it will be very difficult to win it back again.

Well, that was over 150 years ago, does it still apply to the world of today?

This fundamental attitude of the Red Cross and of Switzerland is more relevant than ever. After all, the crazier and more violent the world is becoming, the more precarious the situation is getting in countries like Libya and Syria to Ukraine, all the more Switzerland should live up to and act according to this traditional principle of neutrality.

Would neutrality provide advantages not only for Switzerland but also for the international community?

Here we need common sense. I used to work in court. If one wants to mediate between wholly estranged spouses and has previously been somehow or other on the side of one of the parties, any attempt at mediation is hopeless. So for being able to offer good offices such as, say, mediation talks in Geneva, it is crucial that you have not previously given the impression of being on the one side or the other. This is only possible if you credibly live according to the principle of neutrality. And in order to do this, we may not be a member of any alliance whatsoever.

Which means that Switzerland must be able to defend itself …

This is an indirect consequence: Every neutral state must be able to defend itself. We could make a small – but important – contribution to world peace, if we decidedly and distinctly restricted ourselves to a defensive army. If all 193 UN Member States had only a defensive army, we would have a better world. Switzerland must demonstrate credibly with its army that we protect ourselves when we are attacked, but we must in no case join any offensive actions; neither under the auspices of NATO. Therefore a withdrawal from the Partnership for Peace seems necessary to me and that rather sooner than later.

National Councillor Luzi Stamm, thank you for this interview.     •

(Interview Thomas Kaiser)