U.S. Foreign Policy: The Swiss Perspective?
By Bryan Caplan
The advice of Switzerland’s popular saint, Nicholas of Flüe
(1417-87), “Don’t get involved in other people’s affairs” has been the
hallmark of Swiss policy for nearly 500 years. The country has in effect
been neutral since 1515, a status formally recognised and guaranteed by the great powers of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.
Swiss neutrality thus has deeper roots than any of Europe’s other
major neutral states: Sweden (1815), Eire (1921), Finland (1948) and
Neutrality is defined as non-participation in a war between other
states. The rights and duties of neutral countries in time of war were
laid down by the international community in 1907. In times of peace
neutral states define their own rules, but take it for granted that they
should stay outside military blocs, like NATO.
The status of neutrality
has not only protected Switzerland from war, but has helped prevent the
country from being torn apart when its different language communities
might have been tempted to side with different belligerents in cases of
The Swiss experience seems like something to brag about. I think the whole world can learn valuable foreign policy lessons from their success story. First and foremost: Don’t just do something; sit there.
Strangely, though, I’ve never met anyone from Switzerland who vocally shared my opinion. At the same time, I’ve never met anyone from Switzerland who argued that Swiss policies wouldn’t work well for other countries. Googling didn’t turn up any high-profile counter-examples.
My question: What exactly is the Swiss consensus on, say, U.S. foreign policy? Do they think that Americans could have avoided their last two decades of troubles if they’d only “gone Swiss” after 1991? Do they think we’ve sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind? Do they see themselves as free riders on American hegemony? Or is it just un-Swiss to even make such comparisons?
Responses from people who know the Swiss well are especially appreciated.