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The Case Of Switzerland (Part II): Defining Neutrality

In the previous part, the history and essence of the Swiss neutrality policy was reviewed, along with moments in which the integrity of the country was at stake, leading to the implementation of neutrality, providing Switzerland with a very useful framework for its own defence. It is also very clear that the policy of Neutrality transformed itself from being a mere policy to an organic element of the Swiss society, eager to keep the country’s unity, independence and freedom. In the 21st century and following the end of the Cold War, a policy of neutrality could – apparently – be  an outdated one, or a policy that would imply that a country would simply just turn its back to the world’s problems and needs.

Revisiting Neutrality

In fact, the policy of neutrality has not meant that Switzerland would turn its back to the world’s afflictions, the country has even taken some steps towards international integration. The Neutrality Report of 1993 stated that Neutrality was not enough to protect the country from threats such as terrorism, organized crime and environmental destruction[1]. The country was then obliged to extend its foreign and security policies without compromising neutrality, opening the door for international cooperation in order to address such issues. In fact, international cooperation was determined as an important tool for the country to guarantee its own safety and security (Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, 2004; Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, 1993).

For instance, Switzerland signed the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1996 and sent  troops to support the international peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo after 1999 (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, n.a)[2]. In addition, in 2002 the country became a member of the United Nations, and in 2001 the referendum on XYZ introduced some important changes to the role of the Swiss Armed Forces: the first of these changes is the permission of Swiss troops to be armed while taking part in international peacekeeping missions; the second of them is the possibility for Swiss troops to take part in military training exercises with other countries. Such changes were not, however, exempted from controversy and the referendum won by a margin of 2% (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, n.a.; Swissinfo, 2014). This proved how deeply enrooted the policy of Neutrality is within the Swiss society, how willing its citizens were to keep it and how challenging the efforts of adaptation would be, not to mention that deployments would still remain an entire novelty.

Neutral but not indifferent: The Cold War

Yet such enrooting did not prevent Switzerland to take part in international peace efforts, even during the Cold War even though the strong implications it had for the whole of country. For instance – and despite the non-membership in the United Nations – in 1953 the country’s Federal Council sent 146 armed personnel to Korea, participating in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea (NNRC) and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea (NNSC). The NNRC worked until 1954, when it accomplished the mission of conducting and completing the exchange of prisoners, while the NNSC still exists today although with a different mission and still supported by 5 officers from the Swiss Armed Forces (along with 5 Swedish officers), stationed in the South Korean village of Panmunjom[3]. In detail, NNSC’s mission consists nowadays of monitoring the armistice – only from the south side of the border though – and several tasks aimed at promoting confidence-building and transparency[4]. Noteworthy to mention, NNSC are not UN blue helmets or blue berets (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.).

At the same time, Switzerland has been supporting UN-led missions and truce supervision efforts, like those that took place in 1967 in the Middle East, as well as in several countries in Africa in the last days of the Cold War and the immediate years after its end. Those countries included: Namibia, where 150 Swiss personnel of the Armed Forces’ medical units for the United Nations Transition Assistance Group were deployed in 1989; and Western Sahara, with 80 personnel of the same units for the Mission des Nations Unies pour le referendum au Sahara Occidental, deployed in 1994 (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.; Swissinfo, 2014).

A hand to the world: After the Cold War.

As mentioned before, the Report of 1993 re-defined the role of the Neutrality policy, thus boosting the participation of the country in peacekeeping efforts abroad[5]. This particularly allowed Switzerland to play a more active role internationally while keeping at the same time in line with the policy of neutrality. Indeed, from 1995 to 1998 several personnel (two doctors, a medical assistant and three military observers) assisted the United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT), from 1996 to 2000 55 personnel known as the “yellow berets” supported the work of the OSCE in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.; Swiss Armed Forces International Command, 2013)[6].

The Western Balkans are an area in which the Swiss Armed Forces and the Swiss International Cooperation are very active. Two areas are especially in focus: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, armed personnel were deployed and tasked with assisting the European Union Force (EUFOR) mission ALTHEA: 4 staff officers and 2 liaison and observation teams (LOT) of 8 people each, plus a Mobile Training Team (MTT) comprised of six personnel of Swiss, Austrian and Swedish nationality, with expertise in small arms, ammunition and languages. Deployed in hot-spots, the LOT teams perform as an “early-warning” for EUFOR and work in close cooperation with the local population, local authorities, and international organizations. The MTT, in turn, have been instructing the Bosnian Armed forced in ammunition and weapons storage management. The Swiss Air Force is also present and supporting EUFOR – ALTHEA with three helicopters performing transport operations (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.; Swiss Armed Forces International Command, 2013).

In turn, 26 personnel were also deployed in Kosovo for assisting the Kosovo Verification Mission from 1998 to 1999[7]. In Kosovo, particularly, another deployment has been taking place since 1999 with the Swiss Company SWISSCOY (235 effectives), and within the NATO-led international Kosovo Force (KFOR). It is tasked with the provision of logistic services, transportation of goods and equipment, mechanics, engineering, medical assistance and evacuation, fire-fighting, police, maintenance, and others. Complemented by – and vital for – it are the Liaison and Monitoring Teams or LMTs. These teams perform as observers, discussion leaders, mediators, information gatherers and “early-warnings”. They also work with the local population and authorities and international organizations the same was as in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Swiss Armed Forces International Command, n.a.; Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISINT, 2013; Swiss Armed Forces, 2014))[8].

Last, but not least, the Swiss Armed Forces and the Swiss Government have been executing operations to tackle the problem of anti-personnel mines. Its de-mining activities have comprised mine risk education, humanitarian demining (surveys, mapping, marking and clearance), victims assistance (rehabilitation and reintegration included), stockpile destruction and advocacy against the use of mine and explosive remnants of war. Additionally, both have provided assistance to local government for de-mining operations and financial assistance, among others (Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISINT, 2013; Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, 2012).

Neutrality. A policy with future?

Switzerland has changed along with the rest of the world as a reaction of the shifting conditions following the end of the Cold War and the rise in importance of certain challenges plus the emergence of new ones. For instance, the current objectives of the Swiss foreign policy are mainly five: promotion of the peaceful coexistence of nations and the prevention of violent conflicts – by establishing the rule of law, support of democratic norms and the promotion of dialogue; promotion for human rights and their acceptance; ensuring environmental sustainability and protection; representation of Swiss businesses abroad and the alleviation of needs and poverty in the world (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, n.a.).

In turn, the objectives and tasks of the Armed Forces are mainly three: the defence of the national territory either by land or air, maintaining defence capacities to answer in the event of a threat; the support to civilian authorities by addressing emergencies and keeping the inner security, thus assisting the police in protecting international conferences, to assist the emergency services in the case of a catastrophe; and, finally, the promotion of peace in the international context and under the mandate of international organizations (Defence Communication, n.a.).

These tasks might be seen as the manifestation of the country’s change of mentality and the further compromise in helping the world in solving most of the problems afflicting it. Yet, the idea of neutrality has not been eradicated or even replaced. Rather than that, this shift consisted mostly of how to recalibrate rather than to discard neutrality as the backbone of Swiss foreign and security doctrines. Its importance still is so evident at large that it can prevent the country from joining certain international organizations and alliances like NATO or from executing any operation or implementing any action if the neutrality of the country is compromised: in short, Switzerland aims for independence but not indifference. Of course, the assistance of both EUFOR and KFOR evidences how the Neutrality policy has reached a significant level of flexibility, to the point of allowing the country to take part in missions executed by less neutral organizations like the EU and NATO. However, that is not entirely new since Switzerland established some cooperation mechanisms with NATO during the days of the Cold War, i.e. the joining of the Marshal Plan, the agreements and established military relations with NATO, the United Kingdom and the US back in the 50’s.

What will be the role of Neutrality in the 21st century then?

An initial answer would be that it will remain flexible as it has been  since its initial revisiting in 1993, allowing the country to lend a hand to the world while safeguarding its independence and non-alignment. Yet, the re-emergence of old threats like Russia poses the question about a possible comeback of a strong Neutrality policy within a context where it is clearly evident that the threat of an invasion is materializing once again and that the peace and stability of Europe cannot be taken as granted. Perhaps, the country would implement again those old cooperation instruments it had with NATO during the times of the Cold War and perhaps, it will realize that a boost of its defences is once again needed. All in all, it seems very possible that Neutrality policies would make a strong comeback and force the Swiss government and armed forces to adopt similar policies as they did in the past.

One thing is for certain though, the country has opened its door widely to international assistance and cooperation and that is a trend that it won’t easily be stopped. Neutrality, then, has changed in form and essence, and it serves as a key and a safety for the country’s involvement abroad. In the current context, it can transform itself into a key with two sides: one to open the door for Swiss activities and assistance at the international level while safeguarding its non-alignment, and another to shut the door when the country’s integrity and peace is again at stake. That is the most likely future for Neutrality à la Suisse in the 21st century. And in either case, Neutrality will keep it importance for the country.


[1] The Security Policy report of the year 2000, as well as the Foreign Policy Report of the same year and the 2001 Partial revision of the Swiss Military Act furthered the reviewing of Neutrality and the aim of a more active involvement abroad, defining in the end that neither both were mutually exclusive. See: (Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, 2004), p. 8.

[2] The reasons behind signing the PfP were the desire to promote peace and security – in the international sense, of course – while reserving the right to withdraw if neutrality was compromised. After all, even after the Cold War the policy of Neutrality still plays a role, if not a foundation by itself, of Swiss foreign and defence policy. On the matter of Kosovo, it will be analysed later on in detail.

[3] Located south of the Demarcation Line.

[4] These tasks are: communication of information, inspections of the Ceasefire Commission, observation of US and South Korean military exercises, observation of special investigation when violations to the ceasefire are suspected, and inspections of observation and guard posts within and out of the Demilitarized Zone, as well as inspections of weapon positions (Swiss Armed Forces, n.a.).

[5] Briefly, this has resulted, among others, in the deployment of 4 personnel that worked with the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, from 2003 to 2008. Addittionally Swiss nationals are assisting in other countries and regions like Ghana, Kenya, Mali, D.R. Congo, the Middle East, Somaliland/Puntland, Kashmir, and South Sudan. See:

[6] The “yellow berets’” tasks were mainly logistical, comprising support work, equipment and goods transport, land and air transports, vehicle maintenance, postal services, and medical consultation.

[7] This was not, however, the first time Switzerland participated in a peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. In fact, three Super Puma Helicopters – the same type of units deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina – were deployed, transporting supplies, medication, relief material as well as refugees and wounded to and from the Kosovo – Albanian border. See:, and:

[8] The Explosive Ordnance Teams (EOT) are also an organic and vital element of both SWISSCOY and KFOR.



Defence Communication (n.a.). The tasks of the Armed Forces. Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports. (2004). Swiss Neutrality (Brochure, 4th Edition). Bern, Switzerland: Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport. Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (2012). Mine Action Strategy of the Swiss Confederation 2012 – 2015. Bern, Switzerland: Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (n.a.). Neutrality and isolationism. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (n.a.). Switzerland and the World. Retrieved from:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Swiss Federal Council (1993). White Paper on Neutrality – Annex to the Report on Swiss Foreign Policy for the Nineties of 29 November, 1993. Bern, Switzerland: Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from:

Kommunikation Luftwaffe (2009). ALBA- Dank Flexibilität zum Erfolgt. Bern, Schweiz: Schweizer Luftwaffe. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces (Published 2014). Operations with SWISSCOY in Kosovo (Presentation). Schweizer Armee: Kompetenzzentrum SWISSINT. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces (Published 2015). Operation of the Swiss Armed Forces in the NNSC (Presentation). Schweizer Armee: Kompetenzzentrum SWISSINT. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISINT (2013). Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT. Stans-Oberdorf, Switzerland: Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a). Factsheet current peace support operations. Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a). Factsheet past peace support operations. Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a). NNSC (Korea). Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a.). Peace Support Worldwide – SWISSINT. Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:

Swiss Armed Forces International Command SWISSINT (n.a). SWISSCOY (Kosovo). Swiss Armed Forces. Retrieved from:


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