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Anti-US attitude rooted in fear of superpowers

President Bush's uncompromising line on Iraq is fuelling Swiss fears of US hegemony Keystone

Recent surveys show that a majority of Swiss are opposed to United States policy on Iraq.

This content was published on February 19, 2003 - 20:40

In an article first published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, security expert Karl Haltiner writes that Switzerland's anti-American attitude is rooted more in a general aversion to superpowers.

"Opinion polls show that Switzerland is the most anti-American nation among other European countries, and the majority of the population is not only against US policies but also opposes the country's culture.

One reason for the strained relations between Switzerland and the US could be the controversial role Switzerland played in the Second World War.

The provocative cover of a recent book by the former US undersecretary of state, Stuart Eizenstat, could be another factor for the uneasiness between the two nations.

The cover of the book about Holocaust victims' struggle to get reparations from Swiss banks shows the Swiss flag covered with a swastika made up of gold bars.

Iraq crisis

While the Swiss are opposed to the way the US is handling the Iraq crisis, previous experience shows that the nation is actually opposed to all hegemonies.

This trait normally surfaces when superpowers, such as the US, start flexing their muscles and treating smaller nations as inferior.

This "David and Goliath" characteristic was last seen when the European Union's popularity in Switzerland took a dive after the EU imposed sanctions on Austria.

Surrounded by bigger neighbours and with no real possibilities for strategic alliances, the landlocked Alpine nation has clung to its neutrality.

Switzerland has long known the feeling of being treated like an underdog - something many European countries and even the United Nations are currently experiencing at the hands of the US.

International law

For several decades, more and more smaller countries have been pushing to have international law applied more often.

According to a survey, 93 out of 100 Swiss think that all nations should obey international law, no matter what.

Two-thirds of the Swiss taking part in the survey think the UN is the only body that should be allowed to apply international law.

They also agree that only the UN - and not the US - should be authorised to impose sanctions against dictators.

However, the survey also shows that more and more people support an autonomous Switzerland that would stay away from international alliances or federations.

Only 33 per cent of the population is currently in favour of joining the EU - an all-time low - and a mere 16 per cent want Switzerland to start immediate talks with Nato.

After having joined the UN last year, the world body is now the country's favourite, with six out of ten people wanting Switzerland to be more active within the organisation.

All means

Two-thirds of the Swiss population think terrorism should be crushed with all means, even if their personal freedom is affected.

More than four out of ten people are of the opinion that the use of arms is appropriate to protect human rights.

One-third think all steps should be taken to disarm a dictator who owns weapons of mass destruction.

The Swiss appear to agree that people who breach international law should be opposed with all means; however, action should not be taken by an imperial superpower acting unilaterally.

Overall, Switzerland's anti-American attitude is not so much about US culture and lifestyle, it is more about the country's fear of feeling inferior."

- Karl Haltiner teaches at the Military Academy of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and is leading a three-year study into "Security". The results will be published later this year.

swissinfo, based on an article previously published by NZZ

NZZ brief

Polls show Switzerland is the most anti-American nation in Europe.

Haltiner suggests this attitude has much to do with the US's status as a superpower.

He says the Swiss typically take umbrage at any "big" nation as soon as it starts flexing its muscles.

This was observed when the European Union imposed sanctions on Austria after the far right Freedom Party was included in the government.

Haltiner says this attitude stems from Switzerland's long history of being treated like an underdog.

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