Serving in the Swiss foreign service imposes a certain informal obligation. You will often have to explain to your foreign friends the raison d’être and the essence of Switzerland’s unique history of neutrality. I’ve had many conversations about this over the years, in many different countries. But it never occurred to me that the day would come when I would discuss this issue in the shadow of a potential nuclear confrontation in Europe, resulting from military aggression by one sovereign state against another. .
Yet such is the tragic reality of our time.
Predictably, over the past few weeks I have been asked by a number of Indian friends about Switzerland’s position on Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. In particular, I was asked whether Switzerland had abandoned its tradition of neutrality.
This week’s Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi is an important forum to discuss the new security environment and its implications for the world. I am grateful for this opportunity to share my perspective on this matter.
Switzerland’s foreign policy objectives are peace, security and the rule of law. These are the foundations of Swiss prosperity and sustainable development. The Federal Constitution obliges the Swiss government to take measures to safeguard our neutrality.
The rights and obligations of a neutral state were defined in the Hague Conventions of 1907. Interestingly, it was Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor of All the Russias, who called this historic meeting.
The most important of these rights is the inviolability of the territory of a neutral State. The main obligations of a neutral state are to refrain from acts such as engaging in war, providing mercenary troops to belligerent states, or allowing belligerent states to use its territory. Also, ensure its own defense and treat belligerent states on an equal footing in the export of war material.
I can therefore state categorically that with regard to Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, Switzerland fully respects the international obligations that come with being a neutral state. Switzerland has not abandoned its neutrality at all.
But what about the fact that Switzerland applies the same sanctions against Russia as the European Union? Well, as an important international financial center, Switzerland had to take steps to prevent the misuse of its banking system to finance Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. The adoption of economic sanctions is compatible with the obligations of a neutral State. Switzerland’s adoption of European Union sanctions in no way alters its neutrality.
Switzerland has also invested significant diplomatic capital in the resolution of the Ukrainian conflict. After the start of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, Switzerland became heavily involved in trying to put an end to the fighting. Switzerland chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2015. Didier Burkhalter, then President of the Swiss Confederation, personally led the mediation efforts. Swiss diplomat Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini represented the OSCE during the 2015 negotiations on the Minsk II agreement regarding the conflict in Donbass. Another Swiss diplomat, Ambassador Thomas Greminger, was Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from 2017 to 2022. Switzerland’s consistent policy explains why my country was chosen to host the 5th Conference on the reform of Ukraine, which should take place on 4 and 5 July, in Lugano.
After that ? The President of the Swiss Confederation Ignazio Cassis has made it clear that Switzerland stands ready, upon request, to mediate and host peace talks on Swiss soil. The Swiss government, like the Indian government, continues to provide humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian population and to Ukrainian refugees in neighboring countries. As in 1956 for the Hungarian refugees and in 1968 for the refugees from Czechoslovakia, the Swiss people opened their arms to tens of thousands of refugees. In March alone, the Swiss people pledged CHF 30 million in private donations to Ukraine.
Everything I know and believe convinces me that even for this current crisis that is dominating global fears right now, a resolution will be found. And when the time comes, Switzerland will participate in reconstruction and reconciliation efforts. Switzerland has a critical interest in making the multilateral system work in Geneva and New York. The stalemate at the UN is the result of the exercise by the permanent members of the Security Council of their right of veto. Switzerland, like India, is in favor of Security Council reform.
My country is a candidate for a seat on the United Nations Security Council for the period 2023-24. If elected, Switzerland will always be on the side of peace, international security and the rule of law.
This column appeared for the first time in the paper edition of April 25, 2022 under the title “A Swiss promise”. The writer is Swiss Ambassador to India and Bhutan