Swiss Neutrality Examined: Model, Exception or Both?

John Dreyer, Neal G. Jesse


Neutrality is a difficult position to maintain in a hostile international system. Switzerland is often seen as a successful case of neutrality, managing to both remain neutral and avoid conflict for centuries. This paper examines the possible reasons for the success of Swiss neutrality. It also positions the Swiss experience in comparison to other neutral states. Building upon and consolidating previous research and thought, we define three attributes that allow the Swiss to successfully maintain their neutrality. First is the armed deterrent worked into the national culture; armed neutrality is not just a policy position but a way of life for many Swiss. Second is the idea of Swiss neutrality as a collective good in that Switzerland is a safe haven for humanitarian and diplomatic exchanges. Finally the Swiss benefit from a history of neutrality that has been enshrined into international law and custom. We conclude by noting that the experience of Swiss neutrality is not normal, rather it is a successful outlier that has succeeded in preserving its status in times of war and peace. Moreover, we posit that exploring the reasons for its success can help us understand neutrality better and also the potential of small state foreign policy.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.