Media reports about Switzerland allegedly going against its tradition of neutrality by joining economic sanctions against Russia are exaggerated, experts surveyed by Sputnik argue, noting that Bern has a history of such behavior, but the current situation clearly marks the difference between "legal" and "political" approaches to neutrality
MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 30th May, 2022) Media reports about Switzerland allegedly going against its tradition of neutrality by joining economic sanctions against Russia are exaggerated, experts surveyed by Sputnik argue, noting that Bern has a history of such behavior, but the current situation clearly marks the difference between "legal" and "political" approaches to neutrality.
Following the start of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, Switzerland has joined multiple European sanctions against Moscow, leading media outlets to speculate that Bern is finally abandoning its policy of neutrality. However, the Swiss government has insisted the country remains neutral from the standpoint of international law.
Switzerland also vetoed requests by German authorities to re-export to Ukraine ammunition used in German Marder infantry fighting vehicles, showing that it is still unwilling to be directly involved in the hostilities.
Laurent Goetschel, the director of Basel-based practice and research institute Swisspeace and professor of political science at the University of Basel, said the fact that Switzerland is abstaining from directly or indirectly getting involved in the military conflict demonstrates the country's commitment to the old tradition.
Meanwhile, Pascal Lottaz, a professor at Temple University Japan and Waseda University researcher, noted that under the international law, Switzerland is not violating any rules of neutrality, though, if viewed through the political lens, the country is siding with the West and is thus perceived as non-neutral.
"Switzerland is doing the same as it did in the Cold War. It sides with the Western powers on an ideological level, participating in their economic (sanction) systems. So in a sense, there is not really a lot of new things going on here. But it is certainly true that the position of Switzerland is not very 'neutral' in the political sense," Lottaz explained, adding that "international law is not concerned with that part, so the Swiss can still legitimately claim 'legal neutrality.'"
According to Goetschel, the country might slightly boost its cooperation with NATO, which, however, will not have a major effect on its interpretation of neutrality. At the same time, the discussion on the war in Ukraine makes it even more visible that Switzerland feels as part of the "Western European community of values." Even though this is not likely to have a big impact on neutrality, it might strengthen the country's ties to the European Union, the expert believes.
Lottaz, for his part, was positive the conflict in Ukraine will change the way the Swiss interpret the idea of neutrality, as the issue of how Switzerland's neutrality should be interpreted going forward is currently being hotly debated.
He continued by highlighting the fact that "there are even political forces trying to strengthen the political neutrality" and pointing to the discussion on the right about launching a referendum to prevent the government from adopting one-sided sanctions in the future.
At the same time, both experts do not think it is likely for Switzerland to follow Finland and Sweden into NATO at some point, with Lottaz saying that the idea of neutrality has much deeper roots in the Swiss mindset.
"Secondly, in contrast to the Nordic countries, Switzerland has its neutrality anchored in its constitution, so it is not as easy to get rid of as it is for the Swedes and the Finns," Lottaz concluded.