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Swiss "off the pace" in peace talks

Calmy-Rey's recent proposal for an independent Kosovo met with protests in Belgrade

(Keystone)

Daniel Trachsler, a researcher at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, tells swissinfo why Switzerland needs to overhaul its policy of so-called "good offices".

While Norway and Finland are successfully brokering peace deals, the Swiss are finding neutrality is no longer the best card to play on the international stage.

According to Trachsler, the example of Norway shows it is more important to be an impartial facilitator than always to be neutral.

The Middle East, Kosovo and the two Koreas are three regions where Swiss diplomacy has failed to kick-start peace talks.

The Geneva Accord, a non-official road map to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, has vanished from public view.

Last month Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who has called for a form of independence for the breakaway province of Kosovo, was told by Serbia and Montenegro to keep her views to herself.

Meanwhile countries such as Norway have encountered better success acting as go-betweens in the Middle East, Central America and Sri Lanka.

swissinfo: Why has Switzerland been less successful at brokering peace deals recently?

Daniel Trachsler: During the Cold War, Switzerland was one of the few neutral countries and was therefore in a good position to offer its good offices. But Swiss diplomacy has had trouble adapting to the post-Cold War period where new types of engagement are called for.

swissinfo: What has changed in the post-Cold War period?

D.T.: Today, most conflicts are within a state's borders and require new instruments for their resolution, instruments such as multilateral mediation combined with economic incentives or political and military pressure.

For too long, Switzerland disregarded these changes and did not adapt its approach of peace promotion. Countries such as Norway adapted their policies much faster and have gained international stature. But Switzerland has recognised that change is necessary and has begun to adapt its structures.

swissinfo: Shouldn't neutrality still give Switzerland a decisive advantage in brokering peace agreements?

D.T.: The role of neutrality as a decisive advantage for a third party in negotiations is clearly overestimated. In Switzerland, there is this widespread belief that neutrality is an advantage when it comes to offering good offices.

But in the fields of mediation and facilitation, this perception cannot be substantiated. Statistics show that neutral countries are not chosen more often for conflict mediation, nor are their efforts more successful compared with other third-party negotiators.

Other factors such as political or economic weight or the possibility of positive incentives are much more important criteria when it comes to making negotiations a success. The example of Norway, which is a Nato member, shows that it is much more important to be seen as an impartial facilitator by the parties in a conflict, rather than perpetually neutral.

swissinfo: Is it fair though to expect Swiss diplomats to be at the forefront of peace negotiations?

D.T.: Peace promotion and peace diplomacy are a difficult and often frustrating business, and not only for Switzerland. It takes staying power, political will and resources to be successful. I think Switzerland is catching up and has been able to claim some success with its peace promotion efforts in Sudan, its demining actions and its fight against the dissemination of small arms.

swissinfo: How do you explain the presence of countries like Norway among today's peacebrokers?

D.T.: Norway's policy is based first of all on ideology. Oslo feels that if it can make a difference in helping resolve a conflict, it has a moral obligation to do so. Another reason for engaging in peace promotion is security. Officials have said that conflicts abroad directly influence Norwegian security, with increased numbers of refugees, organised crime and terrorism. Norway also seeks to gain political influence through its peace promotion and to enhance its position in the international arena.

Oslo also has broad domestic support for its peace promotion efforts and this gives the Norwegian government the latitude to make long-term commitments to a peace process.

swissinfo: So what should Switzerland do to regain its standing?

D.T.: Switzerland needs to make peace promotion a clearer political priority to make a comeback on the international scene. This political will is absolutely necessary. Switzerland also has to be more active in peace promotion and shouldn't wait for other countries to ask for help.

swissinfo-interview: Scott Capper

Key facts

Ranking of net official development assistance from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations to developing countries and multilateral organisations:

1. Denmark: $0.93 per $100 of GDP
3. Norway: $0.76 per $100
6. Switzerland: $0.43 per $100
11. United Kingdom $0.23 per $100
21. United States $0.05 per $100

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In brief

Daniel Trachsler is a researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Some of his current projects look at how Switzerland has adapted its conception of peace promotion to the changing international environment and what kind of good offices the Swiss should offer in the future.

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