Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Neutral Swiss Question High Price of Aloofness

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Neutral Swiss Question High Price of Aloofness

Article excerpt

WHEN trains laden with NATO supplies passed through Switzerland to the Balkans earlier this month, the world hardly noticed.

But the gesture signals that Switzerland, which has been neutral for centuries and does not even belong to the UN, might soon reconsider the price of its aloofness.

With economic and security pacts crisscrossing Europe, the Swiss are entertaining a once-heretical idea.

"In some ways, we can't be neutral anymore in the traditional sense," says Roland Bless, a government worker in Bern. "With the nature of some conflicts today - when the entire world seems united against one aggressor - you have to join."

"Neutrality was useful during the cold war, but it has lost its function a little," says Curt Gasteyder, director of the Program for International Security and Strategic Studies in Geneva.

"Adopting a more flexible attitude toward neutrality is necessary for us. Already other neutral powers, such as Austria and Sweden, have joined the EU," he says. "The moment we realize neutrality is counterproductive it will be thrown overboard."

In fact, a government paper published last year, "Swiss Security Policy in Times of Change," says that this country might need to change its international status.

According to the paper, the day may arrive when membership in an overall European system of collective security will have to be examined - especially if the European Union also expands into Eastern Europe: "It is possible that the Swiss people will then regard neutrality as a principle hindering our political participation in Europe."

One government policy observer says the fact the government has put this issue before the public through the paper is no small step. After all, armed neutrality has deep roots here.

Some historians trace the country's military neutrality to 1515, when the French army of King Frances I, which included Swiss mercenaries, defeated the Swiss at Marignano during the Milanese campaigns. Tired of fighting each other, the already 300-year-old confederation withdrew from the military alliances. Today, the Vatican's Swiss Guards are the only Swiss "mercenaries" left. …

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