Democracy in action: Swiss people had a direct say in military procurement

November 21, 2016


Many people in Switzerland, a country which has not fought a war in 200 years, are convinced there is no military threat now, nor in the foreseeable future. Swiss voters therefore, in 2014, blocked the government’s $3.5 billion deal to replace its fleet of Northrop F-5 Tiger fighters with 22 Gripen fighter jets from Saab.

Vested commercial interests and the Swiss upper and lower houses of parliament backed the deal, mounting a campaign of expensive advertisements favour of buying the jets, but despite this public relations onslaught, Swiss Socialists, Greens and the Group for Switzerland without an Army secured a referendum by collecting the 50,000 signatures needed.


Reuters reported that around 53.4% voted against the government’s proposal and twelve cantons rejected the creation of a fund for the acquisition – the no vote was especially strong in the west of the country.

Andreas Weibel of the Group for Switzerland without an Army, emphasises that only in Switzerland do people have a direct say in their country’s military procurement.

Two years later, however, as Flight Global records, a second effort will be made to  acquire these new fighter planes: defence minister Guy Parmelin has announced that a study into the acquisition of a new fighter will be submitted to parliament in 2017.





British consul general to Jerusalem (2010-2014) calls for recognition of the state of Palestine in order to safeguard the two-state solution

March 20, 2015


Over 4000 visitors to this site have searched for and found the post about countries or states recognised as neutral, including news of Ireland (one of 5 EU neutrals of varying degrees of ‘fidelity’) which has “a traditional policy of military neutrality defined as non-membership of mutual defence alliances”.

As news is coming in of shifting stances with regard to Israel and of Ireland’s concern, we find a noteworthy article in the Irish Times by Lancashire-born Sir Vincent Fean, British consul general to Jerusalem from 2010 until his retirement from the diplomatic service last year. This follows his contribution in the Telegraph last September.

sir vincent mobbedUnaware of his advocacy, and seeing him only as a representative of the British government, students protested during his 2013 visit to Ramallah

A summary of points made there (brackets contain relevant links added by editor)

Binyamin Netanyahu has driven a coach and horses through the considered policy of the international community. Peace will come in the Holy Land only when those two states live side by side in peace and security. What should we do?

Recognise the state of Palestine to safeguard the two-state solution to the long-term benefit of Israelis and Palestinians

Recognise the state of Palestine now, as the Irish Senate and Dáil have recommended (last October the Seanad passed a motion calling on the Irish Government to formally recognise the State of Palestine. Sweden, also on C3’s list of neutrals though disputed because of its arms dealing and membership of NATO, recognised Palestine last October).

The Arab citizens of Israel, 20% of the population, voted in unprecedented numbers “in droves”, said Netanyahu, and won 14 seats in the parliament of 120. They too will oppose Netanyahu’s stated policies, which risk perpetuating the unacceptable status quo or even creating a “Greater Israel” in which Palestinians inevitably will be victims of an apartheid system.

“Was [Netanyahu] just pulling our leg?”

At least things are now clear. Netanyahu will again form a coalition with the pro-settler party of Naftali Bennett and advocate Israeli illegal annexation of the Palestinian countryside, including the Jordan Valley, in the same way that Israel annexed East Jerusalem illegally after the 1967 war.

Recently Martin Indyk, secretary of state John Kerry’s chief negotiator in the valiant but flawed US peace effort of 2013-14, asked about Netanyahu “Was he just pulling our leg?” throughout that nine-month period of intensive Kerry shuttle diplomacy. Now we know. So what do we do?

We need to reject a few myths:

  • One is “We can’t want a solution more than the parties to this conflict”. Yes we can. We can and do want the just and equitable solution – two states living side by side in mutual security, with parity of esteem and mutual respect.
  • Another myth is “Leave it to the two parties to sort it out”. That was never a runner, given the vast disparity in power between them. Israel controls the land, sea and air of Palestine.
  • A third myth is that the United Nations has no role in resolving this conflict. What we need is what Kerry did not do (because Netanyahu was averse) – to agree unanimously a UN Security Council resolution establishing the framework and timeline for the two-state outcome we seek.

Certainly, we need the United States– essential, but not sufficient alone to deliver an agreed peace. We need the collective will of the UN, bringing together the US, the European Union and the Arab states, particularly Israel’s peace treaty neighbours Egypt and Jordan. Ireland, as a determined, highly credible advocate of the UN and major contributor to UN peacekeeping efforts, has a key part to play here.

Recognition of Palestine on 1967 lines is the logical step now for all states committed to an equitable two-state solution. It would:

  • Give hope to the beleaguered would-be peacemakers in Ramallah, whose readiness to negotiate is so heavily criticised by Hamas and by mistaken advocates of futile violence.
  • Signal to Israelis that there will indeed be a sovereign Palestinian state, so Israel’s leaders need to shape an agreement, not rule one out, and show to the world and to ourselves that right matters more than might.
  • Ireland, working with Sweden, France and other partners could bring the EU into play by forming a “group of the willing” – Europeans deciding to recognise Palestine now, on the basis of long-established EU policy for that equitable two-state solution.

Sir Vincent expects no more than sincere expressions of concern from London before the May 7th general election: “What the UK does then depends on how we vote – Labour, the Lib Dems, the Scottish National Party and the Greens see recognition as a Palestinian right, not a privilege. As do I”.

For the first time, Japan is to sign a joint UN statement on nuclear weapons

October 12, 2013


Japan, the only nation that has experienced the devastation of atomic bombings, is to sign a joint statement by the United Nations – and Civilisation 3000 readers will join many in welcoming this.

But is it a ‘non-use treaty’ or does it also call for abolition?

Japan had abstained from voting on such statements since1995 believing that this would conflict with its reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

However, the Japanese government announced its intention to sign the joint statement expected from the U.N. General Assembly First Committee, on Oct.11th.  It has been supported by Switzerland, New Zealand and 14 other countries and is said to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, which could create a humanitarian catastrophe.

Photo by Rebecca Johnson: Civil Society Demo at Japan's UN Mission in Geneva, 24.4.2013

Photo by Rebecca Johnson: Civil Society Demo at Japan’s UN Mission in Geneva, 24.4.2013

Japan’s position is said to have changed after the citizens and mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were devastated by atomic bombs near the end of World War II strongly criticised Japan’s refusal to sign.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the Foreign Ministry to work with relevant nations over the forthcoming joint statement. Kyodo News International reports Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s words that the joint statement to be issued at the United Nations will call on countries not to use nuclear weapons:

“After examining the purpose of the statement as a whole, we concluded we can support the content,” Kishida said at a press conference. “It’s a moral responsibility for Japan to make a strenuous effort to realize a nuclear-free world.”

Was one sentence in the statement a sticking point for Japan?

“The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again is through their total elimination.”

 un statement npt 2013

At the NPT prepcom in Geneva, on 24th April 2013, the South African ambassador to the UN presented the statement on behalf of 74 states highlighting the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.  Switzerland’s Pressenza published the statement in full.


 Has that sentence been retained?


Saluting neutral countries

June 10, 2011

The terms of the Hague Convention, which came into force in 1910, outlined the rights and responsibilities of a neutral power in 25 Articles which can be read in full here.


The Hague 

Written at a time when land warfare was the rule, it is now considered that Article 2 of the Hague Convention implies that the neutral states must not allow a belligerent nation, either the passage or over-flight by military vehicles or aircraft. This prohibition applies not only for fight jets but also for transport of troops and provisions.  

Selected Articles: 

Art. 1. The territory of neutral Powers is inviolable. 

Art. 2. Belligerents are forbidden to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral Power. 

Art. 3. Belligerents are likewise forbidden to: 

(a) Erect on the territory of a neutral Power a wireless telegraphy station or other apparatus for the purpose of communicating with belligerent forces on land or sea;

(b) Use any installation of this kind established by them before the war on the territory of a neutral Power for purely military purposes, and which has not been opened for the service of public messages. 

Art. 4. Corps of combatants cannot be formed nor recruiting agencies opened on the territory of a neutral Power to assist the belligerents. 

Art. 10. The fact of a neutral Power resisting, even by force, attempts to violate its neutrality cannot be regarded as a hostile act. 

Art. 11. A neutral Power which receives on its territory troops belonging to the belligerent armies shall intern them, as far as possible, at a distance from the theatre of war. 

Art. 12. In the absence of a special convention to the contrary, the neutral Power shall supply the interned with the food, clothing, and relief required by humanity. 

Art. 13. A neutral Power which receives escaped prisoners of war shall leave them at liberty. If it allows them to remain in its territory it may assign them a place of residence. The same rule applies to prisoners of war brought by troops taking refuge in the territory of a neutral Power.

Art. 14. A neutral Power may authorize the passage over its territory of the sick and wounded belonging to the belligerent armies, on condition that the trains bringing them shall carry neither personnel nor war material. 

Art. 15. The Geneva Convention applies to sick and wounded interned in neutral territory.

And surprisingly:  

Art. 7. A neutral Power is not called upon to prevent the export or transport, on behalf of one or other of the belligerents, of arms, munitions of war, or, in general, of anything which can be of use to an army or a fleet. 

Art. 8. A neutral Power is not called upon to forbid or restrict the use on behalf of the belligerents of telegraph or telephone cables or of wireless telegraphy apparatus belonging to it or to companies or private individuals. 

A list of thirteen countries or states recognised as neutral may be read here.

Presenting neutrality as outdated?

June 10, 2011

Dr Ian Davis of NATO Watch recently drew our attention to current developments which readers of this website will deeply regret.

The message presented is that the five ‘Cold War neutrals’, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland, are now ‘taking sides’ i.e. no longer neutral. An alternative source has been given as, for some reason, the link to the original article in Associated Press is no longer operational. 

An online search reveals 24 Google pages with no other content but this article – and many further intermittent appearances. 

What does this remarkable worldwide coverage indicate? 

“Swedish fighter jets are roaring into action over Libya under NATO command.” Belligerent triumphalism/recruiting language?

Readers who take time to read further will note that “roaring into action over Libya” is limited merely to flying: the Swedish warplanes are allowed to act – or “unleash their weaponry” – only if fired on. This was the first engagement abroad by the Swedish Air Force since the early 1960s. 

Other actions cited:

  • Ireland allowed transit to U.S. military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and Switzerland has peacekeepers in Kosovo. Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern explained in 2003 that “Anybody from any country can land at Shannon. We pride ourselves on being an open economy for everyone.”
  • Switzerland – now a UN member – recently allowed allied forces to drive through and fly over the country on their way to missions in Libya. The government said Swiss neutrality was intact because the Libya operation was authorized by the U.N. Security Council. 

One interpretation

The source, Associated Press, though describing itself as a not-for-profit news cooperative, owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, is based in New York, and is directed by a board of American directors, most of whom head substantial corporations.

Presumably as loyal Americans, enlisting the military assistance of  formerly neutral countries is seen as an admirable mission, and ‘media hype’ as a useful tool.

Though polls show that public opinion remains firmly against joining NATO in all five countries, their governments have joined its Partnership for Peace program for non-members and have sent troops to serve in NATO-led missions in the Balkans or Afghanistan.

[Some] analysts say that because all except Switzerland are closely linked to the alliance, through joint military exercises and international missions, very little separates them from being actual NATO members.

Their conclusion: “the concept of neutrality has been redefined to the point that some would say it’s lost its meaning”.

In effect, by disregarding the wishes of their citizens, those countries aiding USA in its mission to “bring democracy” to others are acting as autocracies, with the unwilling but passive connivance of the majority.

Switzerland: follow-up

February 18, 2011

We thank the co-founder & co-ordinator of UNGA-Link UK who points out that Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations on 10th September 2002 – and that Joseph Deiss, a former Swiss Foreign Minister, was elected as President of the 65th UN General Assembly in June 2010.

Other reflections:

1.Thinking about it… through its banking secrecy ‘unique selling point’ has it not indirectly caused untold misery (e.g. enabling dictators to suck the life out of their country, making it impossible to track the affairs/ find proof of warlords & weapons dealers business…)?

2. [Paraphrased] Another pointed out that the country feared no attack because its population is armed to the teeth and its banking system holds many powerful people and organisations in thrall.


This site is only focussing on the positive because good points are down-played in the media. The banking/arms issue is well-aired – the decent actions are not – for fear of the infection spreading? There is a strong campaign against arms trade in Switzerland – as here – with similar limited effect.  

Is there a single country which would not need a disclaimer? Even the beautiful Bhutan story has been ‘blown’.

Switzerland’s civilised defence policy

February 18, 2011

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.


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