SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

UKRAINE

EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Switzerland in NATO?

With the war going on between Russia and Ukraine, NATO has been in the news quite a bit lately. This brings up a question of why Switzerland is not a member of the 30-nation alliance.

EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Switzerland in NATO?
NATO tanks in Germany, a member of the alliance. Photo by Gregor Fischer / AFP

NATO, an acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, was created in 1949 as a response to the militarisation and expansion of the Soviet Union.

Two years earlier, a period known as the Cold War began — a state of conflict between western countries and the Soviet bloc that lasted for more than four decades.

NATO was formed in that geopolitical context to provide collective security against the rising threat posed by the Soviet Union.

Switzerland’s reason for not joining the military alliance at that time or since then was that such a move would be incompatible with the country’s longstanding tradition of neutrality — the same tradition that had kept Switzerland from joining the United Nations until 2002, and is still keeping it from joining the European Union.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland always neutral?

Specifically, what has kept Switzerland from becoming a member is the Article 5 of the NATO treaty — the principal of collective defence, implying that an attack on one member is viewed as an attack on all.

Switzerland’s principle of “armed neutrality” means the country can defend itself against an invasion, but it can’t engage militarily to defend other nations in an armed conflict.

Why didn’t neutrality stop Switzerland from imposing sanctions on Russia?

Some say Swiss authorities were cornered by the European Union to follow the same sanctions, which makes sense as Switzerland has many ties with — and obligations toward — the EU without actually being a member.

Also, sanctions are of economic nature rather than military one, which means the country is not directly involved in an armed conflict.

While right-wing groups like the Swiss People’s Party argue that by toeing EU’s line Switzerland compromised its neutral status, others deny it.

Swiss historian and former diplomat Paul Widmer told  Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes “the policy of neutrality means that Switzerland does not take sides in a conflict.” 

However, the decision to impose sanctions was in fact an exercise of neutrality, rather than a departure from the principle, he pointed out.

“If there are blatant violations of international law and all other Western countries take sanctions, but we don’t take sides, also indirectly.”

Of course, the same logic wouldn’t apply to joining a military organisation like NATO.

READ MORE: Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

Not a member, but…

While not a part of NATO per se, Switzerland has nevertheless close ties with the organisation through NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, which allows it to build an “individual relationship” with NATO.

What exactly does this mean?

According to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, “The PfP provides Switzerland with an institutional framework for dialogue on security policy issues with other countries. This is important given that Switzerland is one of the few countries between the Atlantic and Ukraine that belongs neither to the European Union. which has its own common security and defence policy, nor to NATO.”

And while being part of PfP is not going to plunge Switzerland into an armed conflict, “it helps prepare Switzerland’s armed forces for their participation in peace-keeping missions abroad under the command of NATO, the EU or the United Nations”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

‘A beautiful country’: How Ukrainian refugees see Switzerland

The Local’s Helena Bachmann is hosting two young Ukrainians in her home in Vaud. This is their take on the pros and cons of Swiss life.

'A beautiful country': How Ukrainian refugees see Switzerland

When Nadiia, 23, and her brother Roman, 16, left their home, mom and older brother in the city of Odessa, all they knew about Switzerland was that it was beautiful, clean and safe.

After arriving, they say they were not wrong on that score.

Their first impression when they arrived in mid-April was “amazing views, beautiful towns and villages”, Nadiia recalls.

As they got to know their surroundings in the Lake Geneva region, they made even more discoveries. Roman, for instance, was impressed by the state of Swiss roads and how the narrow ones could accommodate two-way traffic.

He also likes that most roads have bicycle lanes.

One advantage of seeing things with a fresh set of eyes is noticing seemingly trivial things that those of us living here don’t pay attention to and mostly take for granted.

Roman mentioned that there is no difference, in terms of infrastructure, between towns and countryside. How many of us have made this astute observation?

And Nadiia commented on the abundance of fountains that spout clean, drinkable water.

READ MORE: Ten things Geneva residents take for granted

Last but not least, and unlike many other foreigners who find the Swiss aloof, Nadiia and Roman’s experience has been the opposite.

All the people they’ve met so far have been “nice, friendly, kind, and helping us integrate”, Nadiia said.

Bottles, paper, batteries

Among their most surprising discoveries (aside from the ones mentioned above) was Switzerland’s recycling system.

Coming from a country where “everything is stuffed together in a bag and thrown into trash” — as Roman described his nation’s approach to recycling — the Swiss way of disposing of waste was a real eye-opener.

The two took to the new ‘recycling culture’ quickly and willingly, hauling household garbage to nearby bins and separating paper, cardboard, plastic and glass bottles, organic waste, and Nespresso coffee capsules more assiduously than we do.

Roman and Nadiia are equal to the (recycling) task. Photo: Helena Bachmann/The Local

“Easier life”

Both siblings like to cook, which we embraced with enthusiasm and gratitude.

We have been the lucky recipients of Ukrainian specialties such as borstch (a beet-based soup), as well as pelmeni and vareniki — round or crescent-shaped dumplings stuffed with ground meat or potatoes, respectively.

Needless to say — and that is a rare thing in our house — everything is made from scratch: beets, cabbage and carrots for the borstch are grated by hand, and the dough is made and kneaded manually as well.

When I pointed out that all the ingredients — such as grated beets and dough can be purchased pre-made, and that people in Switzerland usually don’t spend so much time in the kitchen, the two conceded that life here “is easier” as there are fewer domestic chores to do, but they still prefer the traditional, more laborious way of food preparation.

Prices and bureaucracy

In their six weeks here, the two have noticed some negative aspects of Swiss life as well.

The biggest shock — as is the case for most new arrivals — are the prices.

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

On the day after they arrived in Vaud, Roman was stunned that a loaf of bread we bought cost 3 francs, while the same one sells for the equivalent of 50 cents in Ukraine. Cost of other consumer goods has been a shock as well, though they now begin to grasp that Ukrainian prices and wages can’t be extrapolated into Swiss ones.

Another thing the siblings don’t like so much is that shops close by 6:30 pm on most days, after which time there is not much to do, especially in the small town where we live.

Nadiia also mentioned how slow the Swiss bureaucracy is.

While the two received their status S — which allows them and other Ukrainian refugees to stay in Switzerland for a year — relatively quickly, the cantonal procedures related to integration and French language courses take much longer.

Switzerland’s special ‘S permit’ visa program: What Ukrainians need to know

However, they understand this slowness is due to the large number of Ukrainians that are currently here — more than 3,500 in Vaud as at beginning of May — who have to be processed as well.

The sheer number of people who have sought refuge in the canton in a short period of time is an unprecedented situation for all the services and departments dealing with these refugees, so delays are par for the course.

Oh yes, another important perk…

Among Roman’s personal Swiss-life favourites is the one allowing those over the age of 16 to drink some alcoholic beverages, while the legal drinking age in Ukraine is 18. 

So far he only had one beer, but it’s good to know Switzerland’s charms go well beyond chocolate and edelweiss.

SHOW COMMENTS