The war in Ukraine has rekindled the debate about membership of defence alliance NATO in neutral countries. Security researcher Lea Schaad discusses possible Swiss membership.

This content was published on March 17, 2022 - 09:00

SWI Other neutral European countries are contemplating NATO membership. Do they have a different perception of neutrality than Switzerland?

Lea Schaad: Sweden and Finland are no longer neutral, but non-aligned. They have been in the grey zone between being a NATO member and a NATO ally for some time. Since 2014 NATO forces have been allowed to conduct joint training exercises on their soil, and both countries have joined NATO exercises. Sweden has even provided Ukraine with weapons for the current war, which is something Switzerland would never do.

Lea Schaad is an MA student in Comparative and International Studies with a focus on democracy and security at the at the Federal Technology Institute (ETH) Zurich. After interning with the Arms Control Association and providing research assistance for the Center for Security Studies at the ETH, Lea now assists ongoing research projects and website management at the ETH. zVg

The perception of neutrality hasn’t changed, but Sweden and Finland simply have a different geographical position than Switzerland. Finland shares a border with Russia, while Switzerland is surrounded by NATO countries.

SWI: So NATO membership is not an option for Switzerland? 

L.S.: Switzerland is not interested in NATO membership; we simply don’t need it. Not only is there no reason for us to join, membership would even be a disadvantage: we would lose our neutrality. The core principle of neutrality is to stay out of military alliances. Switzerland would no longer be considered neutral ground where countries can meet for international negotiations. It would be detrimental for Switzerland’s good offices. 

SWI: Some NATO countries view Switzerland as a freeloader who enjoys the benefits without paying for them.

L.S.: Switzerland is a small country with a militia army, hence NATO’s interest is limited. NATO is more interested in Switzerland remaining a place where diplomacy can be conducted. Other countries benefit from having a neutral state where meetings can be held. Geneva wouldn’t be Geneva were Switzerland in NATO.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

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