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How does Switzerland Always Stay Neutral?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The military neutrality of Switzerland has become legendary, and it is true that the country has not been involved in any outside conflicts since 1815. This does not mean, however, that the country has been completely unbiased or objective when it comes to wartime economics. It has been accused of aiding or abetting other countries, such as Germany, while still maintaining a veneer of neutrality.

Under a number of treaty agreements, neutral countries still have certain legal and moral obligations during wartime, and Switzerland has largely succeeded in meeting those obligations, although some have questioned the country's interpretation of neutrality.

Switzerland remains militarily neutral largely because the country itself is especially vulnerable to invasion from any one of its powerful neighbors, specifically France, Italy, Austria or Germany. Political neutrality for a small country with a limited military capacity is generally preferable to a hostile takeover from a belligerent neighbor. As long as the country is officially recognized as neutral, no country can legally form plans to invade it or use it as a base of operations. A neutral country can accept refugees or political prisoners, but it is not obligated to join peacekeeping missions after the conflict ends.

The country has not always been conflict-free, but most of its strife has been internal. Fighting between Catholic and Protestant factions during the 19th century did create major rifts in the Swiss government, but these matters were eventually defused internally. The government did not join Woodrow Wilson's proposed League of Nations until its official neutrality policy was recognized by all other members.

During World War I, Switzerland did not offer any meaningful military assistance to Germany or France, but other governments did not always respect the nation's borders or airspace. This fact did not escape the notice of the Swiss government, which made regular protests to both the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations.

The country's policies and practices during World War II, however, did raise a number of concerns about its neutrality among Allied countries. Nazi Germany did maintain an economic relationship with Switzerland throughout the entire war. Swiss bankers were distressingly willing to establish secret accounts for Nazi officers seeking safe storage of money and other valuables looted from countries overtaken by the German war machine. While Swiss diplomats also provided safe passage for victims of Nazi oppression, the government often came perilously close to appearing politically allied with Germany.

Some historians suggest that the nation's eagerness to work with Nazi Germany and their caches of money and artworks helped to prolong the war itself. The German war machine was on the losing end of the conflict militarily several times, but influxes of cash and other support from ostensibly neutral Swiss banks helped Nazi Germany regain its footing and continue fighting the war. Formal accusations of Swiss financial assistance and political empathy towards Nazi Germany have been leveled several times over the years, but to date, the country has never charged with violating its own neutrality policy.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to CulturalWorld.org, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon996013 — On Jun 25, 2016

This article is moronic. Their "practices" during WWII were completely neutral. It repeatedly bashes them for trading and allowing banking from Germany as not being "neutral" and biased. When in reality if they had refused to do so, that would have not been neutral and biased. They continued to trade with their neighboring "Allied" members as well. Being neutral and unbiased means even in war they continue the same trading and banking patterns. If you stop for one side and not the other, then you are picking a side and are then not neutral. This is pathetic. He doesn't even understand what neutral means, let alone the actual world laws around it.

By anon946735 — On Apr 22, 2014

The reason Switzerland wasn't invaded during World War II is there was no strategic reason to do so. Germany had political and economic reasons not invade Switzerland. The Swiss changed their banking laws allowing anonymous bank accounts (the Nazis deposited millions in loot), and many of the Swiss were German and pro Nazi.

The Swiss had factories that made parts for German airplanes (these were "accidentally" bombed by the allies). The Swiss initially shot down several axis and allied aircraft that entered Swiss airspace, but stopped after Germany threatened invasion. The idea that the Swiss could stop an invasion by Germany during World War II is ridiculous. Switzerland was scared to death by the thought of a German invasion and did everything they could do to appease Germany. Their national hero general Guisan was nothing more than a loudmouth blowhard who never fought a single battle. The Swiss have been and always will be at the mercy of their much more powerful neighbors.

By anon351397 — On Oct 13, 2013

@anon278346: The United States officially entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941). World War II officially began September 1, 1939. So just a little over two years and three months out of a nearly six year long war is "the majority"?

By anon340057 — On Jun 29, 2013

Yep! Switzerland has an army and its only major accomplishment and use of note is to carry around a very useful multi-tool penknife!

Why does the Swiss Army bother playing war games and going on military maneuvers and exercise? I swear to God Switzerland would stay 'neutral' even in circumstances of invasion by a marauding foreign force of breathtaking evil.

By fify — On Sep 02, 2012

@anon33151-- That's true but Switzerland is a very small country. Although conquering and keeping the mountainous areas under control might seem difficult, it's definitely doable.

And Switzerland doesn't have enough men to defend the country. Switzerland's population is about seven or eight million which is nothing compared to the population of its neighbors. Italy, France and Germany all have populations between sixty and seventy million.

So if Switzerland were to be attacked by one or more of these countries, it doesn't stand a chance. That's why it has to stay neutral.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 02, 2012

@anon106469-- That's a good point. So maybe Switzerland's neighbors have a hand in them being neutral?

Because like you said, it's in everyone's favor to keep Switzerland safe since the politicians and the wealthy all over the world have accounts there.

By discographer — On Sep 01, 2012

I was speaking to a friend a few days ago who has lived in Geneva, Switzerland. Her argument was that even though Switzerland appears to be neutral, it really is not.

Switzerland is definitely neutral when it comes to war and military. But when it comes to regional politics and economics, it is not at all neutral. Even though they are not officially part of the EU, they have economic agreements with the EU and do trading with them. And I think legally, they also conform to EU laws and pay taxes to the EU.

So it seems like Switzerland prides itself in being "neutral" and I'm sure that they feel more secure this way too. But realistically, they're not exactly where they would like to be with neutrality.

By anon278346 — On Jul 06, 2012

"Neutrality equals cowardice"? The US was neutral for the majority of World War II until it was personally threatened. Looking out for your own best interests -- since when is that heroic?

By anon167450 — On Apr 12, 2011

About the WW2 era: The allies were also "distressingly" willing to trade with the nazis through Switzerland for quite a while.

And Switzerland was then and is still "distressingly" and really entirely dependent on neighbours for literally about all of its economy and goods used by the population. It is that small and poor in resources. Even the bunker building and arms construction after the outbreak of World War II was mostly powered by trade. Yes, surrounded by Axis countries, that means trade with the Axis. Meanwhile internally, a rather significant amount of defeatists and right-wing nazi sympathizers would have preferred to go the way of Austria and just join Germany. Swiss citizens would have fit the profile of being part of the alleged "master race" perfectly well, after all.

Really, the trade and diplomacy was a masterpiece. That does not excuse certain things that happened during and after the war, but you should try to keep things in perspective of World War II, the surroundings, and the situation in general.

By anon149929 — On Feb 06, 2011

I think neutrality equals cowardice.

By anon145375 — On Jan 23, 2011

This article does not talk about the geographic position of Switzerland.

By anon106469 — On Aug 25, 2010

It's also the place where wartime profiteers keep their money. So why would the instigators of war want to bomb their own bank accounts?

By anon33151 — On Jun 02, 2009

It is never invaded because the Swiss have underground bunkers for all their citizens stocked with provisions for a year. In addition every male citizen is trained in using firearms and every home has weapons to resist invaders. The country is located in the Alps making it very difficult to conquer.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

Writer

As a frequent contributor to CulturalWorld.org, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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