The much-anticipated meeting between U.S. and Russian presidents will take place in a country known for its neutrality.
How did it earn that reputation?
The story of how Switzerland went from a nation of professional soldiers to a nation of peacemaking.
“Permanent neutrality is a principle of Swiss foreign policy. It is a generating source of peace and stability in Europe and beyond. It ensures the country’s independence and the inviolability of its territory."
Switzerland’s Federal Dept. of Foreign Affairs describing its permanent neutrality principle. This long-standing principle emphasizes that Switzerland is to refrain from engaging in war, treat countries at odds with one another equally, and not supply military troops to countries in conflict.
Before Neutrality: The Middle Ages
- Switzerland was not always a neutral territory. Throughout the Middle Ages, its mercenary forces (soldiers hired to serve in foreign armies) earned the Swiss a reputation for their military prowess – and in doing so, benefited its economy.
- Problem #1: As warfare changed, Switzerland began losing battles in the early 1500s and lost their economic stability as a result.
- Problem #2: Swiss soldiers grew weary of fighting each other in foreign wars.
The Shift: Congress of Vienna
- Purpose: European countries met from 1814 to 1815 to help rebuild government order after the French Revolutionary War and Napoleonic Wars.
- In both wars, the Swiss worked as mercenary soldiers; as a result, they found themselves at the center of debate and unable to choose sides.
- The meeting declared Switzerland a neutral zone because of its strategic geographic location in Europe and history of fighting for different countries.
Modern Day Neutrality
- Switzerland has (mostly) managed to maintain neutrality since their 1815 commitment.
- Neutrality isn’t without controversy. For example, Switzerland did not engage in combat in WWII but infamously participated in some financial dealings with Nazi Germany.
- Switzerland still has a military (for defense purposes) but is NOT a member of NATO.
- Switzerland is NOT part of the European Union (an economic and political union).
Leaders from around the world still meet in Switzerland because of the country’s political neutrality. The spotlight once again falls on Geneva, known as “the capital of peace,” for the meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin. Geneva is home to the UN’s European headquarters, several international organizations (ex: World Health Organization), and numerous non-governmental organizations (ex: the International Red Cross).
Switzerland’s mercenary history (& their role in WWII)
by Jenna Lee,