Switzerland’s civilised defence policy

Neutral Switzerland has not been directly involved in armed conflict since  the 19th century.

The country has several different major ethnic groups, speaking French, German, Italian and Romansch. Conflicts have been resolved by allowing each of the warring groups to govern themselves: so single cantons have been divided into half-cantons, new cantons have been formed and border communes have opted to leave one canton to join another. 

The constitution of 1848 took control of the cantons’ armies, merging them into a federal army and making it illegal for individual cantons to declare war.

Swiss law excludes participation in combat operations for peace enforcement but its army participates in peace-support operations under a UN or OSCE mandate. 

We want to defend ourselves, which is not the same as fighting abroad

Divisionnaire [Major-general]  Adrien Tschumy explains:“For seven hundred years, freedom has been the fundamental story of Switzerland, and we are not prepared to give it up now. We want to defend ourselves, which is not the same as fighting abroad. We want peace, but not under someone else’s condition.” 

International role 

Switzerland voted against membership of UNO in 1986 but is a member of many UN agencies working for protection of the environment, economic development and health, providing personnel, logistical and financial support for UN peacekeeping. 

The Swiss Red Cross is involved in health and welfare programmes as well as rescue work and care of refugees.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation aims to provide for the basic requirements of populations in need or to promote self help.

The Swiss Disaster Relief Unit provides emergency aid such as rescuing victims of earthquakes and giving medical treatment. 

In March 2008 the Swiss Army withdrew from Afghanistan because in areas where the Taliban are gaining strength, reconstruction work was almost impossible. Defence Ministry Samuel Schmid said a continued Swiss military presence in Afghanistan was no longer possible because it was going against the spirit of the constitution and would not be in line with the law. 

The Swiss parliament rejected a government proposal in 2009 for Swiss troops to join an anti-piracy force in the Gulf of Aden. Opponents of the bill said it compromised Switzerland’s long-held neutrality.

NOTE:

This post and the next do not claim that Switzerland’s practice is perfect in every respect.

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