The most neutral of all European countries, Switzerland, is moving closer to the United States and NATO. Against the background of the events around Ukraine, the Swiss Ministry of Defense was instructed to prepare a report on options for strengthening the country’s security, including through enhanced cooperation with NATO. According to polls, closer to the alliance is supported by more than half of the Swiss, while joining it is only a third.
After the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, the traditionally neutral Switzerland also thought about the need for closer cooperation with NATO.
Фото: Guglielmo Mangiapane / Reuters
Neutral or non-joining military alliances, countries in Europe are becoming less and less. After the start of the “special military operation” of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, Finland and Sweden have already announced their intention to join NATO. And now the Swiss authorities are talking about plans for rapprochement with the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance. At the end of last week, the head of the Federal Department of Defense, Public Protection and Sports of Switzerland, Viola Amherd, visited Washington. She discussed with her American colleagues the supply of weapons and equipment (F-35A aircraft and Patriot missile systems), as well as strengthening cooperation with NATO.
Switzerland has remained neutral since 1815.
It is not a member of either NATO or the European Union, and even became a member of the UN only in 2002. Neutral status is enshrined in the country’s constitution. However, Switzerland has been participating in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme since 1996, under which it has supported missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan and has been involved in a number of other projects under the auspices of the Alliance. However, in accordance with the concept of neutrality, Switzerland had previously been very selective in participating in military exercises and other events that implied opposition to a certain enemy or collective defense.
In the future, these approaches may change. The other day it became known that by the end of September, the Swiss Defense Ministry should prepare a report on how the security situation in Europe has changed after the start of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine and what options Bern has in this regard. The representative of the department, Palvie Pulley, in an interview with Reuters, made it clear that the likely outcome of the government’s consideration of this document will be Switzerland’s rapprochement with NATO. “Ultimately, there may be changes in how neutrality is interpreted,” she said.
In practice, this could mean Switzerland agreeing to participate in exercises with NATO countries, intensifying dialogue and intelligence sharing with the U.S. and its allies, and increasing spending on military needs, including arms purchases.
In addition, decisions may be taken to make the rules for the supply of Swiss arms to other countries more flexible.
A separate report on a similar topic is being prepared by the Swiss Foreign Ministry. Both documents will be submitted to the government and parliament for further decision-making.
Shortly after the start of russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Switzerland imposed sanctions on Moscow for the first time. Swiss President Ignazio Cassis then condemned Russia’s actions from the point of view of international law and morality. According to him, the decision to impose restrictions does not contradict the principle of neutrality, while inaction “would condone the aggressor.”
Russia took this, however, as a hostile step and added Switzerland to the list of “unfriendly states.” “We see for the first time when Switzerland, which even during the Second World War remained neutral, now fully supports the sanctions of the EU and other countries imposed against Russia,” State Secretary, Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov said at a meeting in the State Duma.
However, there is still no question of a complete rejection of neutrality. During a visit to the United States, Viola Amherd stressed that her country does not seek to join NATO. Swiss citizens do not aspire to this either. According to an April poll conducted by Sotomo, only 33% of the Swiss are in favor of the full integration of their country into the alliance, while 56% would support strengthening cooperation with NATO (before the military campaign of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, these figures were much lower).
Public sentiment towards NATO the other day in one of the interviews succinctly summed up the head of the largest Swiss officer association SOG Stefan Hohlenstein: “Flirting – yes, getting married – no.”
According to his forecast, in the future there may be a question of integrating Swiss air defense into the NATO air defense system and its command and communication structure. “This would be a rapprochement with NATO, but not yet accession,” he admitted in an interview with furrerhugi.
Be that as it may, Foreign Policy columnist Caroline de Gruttier notes: “The very fact that such a discussion is taking place is already revolutionary by Swiss standards.” “If even the sincerely neutral Swiss wake up and move closer to the Western camp, it means that the world is really changing,” she said.
In turn, the editor-in-chief of the magazine “Russia in Global Affairs” Fyodor Lukyanov, commenting on the news from Bern in his Telegram channel, suggested that it was not Switzerland’s sense of a threat from the Russian Federation. “To imagine seriously that Switzerland is afraid of Russia, there is not enough imagination,” he admitted. – There is clearly another: the West is consolidating on a military-bloc basis, very quickly, and everyone who belongs to the community should at least indicate the movement in this direction. “