I think most of us know that a conscientious objector is a person who feels strongly about not killing…even in a war. However, there are actually entire countries who believe that way…or almost. The most well known country to claim neutrality is Switzerland. Other countries to claim non-interventionist stances include Ireland, Austria, and Costa Rica, but Switzerland is remains the oldest and most respected of them all. In fact, Switzerland has been in a state of perpetual neutrality for centuries. This state of neutrality does not mean they do not have an army, because they do. The country maintains an army for defense purposes and requires part-time military service from all males between the ages of 18 and 34. So how did this state of perpetual neutrality come about, and what does it mean exactly?
The earliest attempt by Switzerland, at neutrality came in 1515 when the Swiss Confederacy suffered a devastating loss to the French at the Battle of Marignano. After that, the country abandoned any thought of expanding it’s borders in an attempt to avoid future conflict. All this was done in the interest of self-preservation. The Napoleonic Wars, however, truly sealed Switzerland’s place as a neutral nation. Switzerland was invaded by France in 1798 and was later made a satellite of Napoleon Bonaparte’s empire, forcing it to compromise its neutrality. Napoleon was defeated, and the major European powers decided that a neutral Switzerland would provide a much needed buffer zone between France and Austria. It was assumed that their neutrality would bring stability to the region. Then during the 1815 Congress of Vienna, a declaration was signed affirming Switzerland’s state of “perpetual neutrality” within the international community. In 1920, the newly formed League of Nations officially recognized Swiss neutrality and established its headquarters in Geneva.
Switzerland’s state of perpetual neutrality has not been without it’s challenges. In World War I, it mobilized its army and accepted refugees but also refused to take sides militarily. An even bigger challenge to Switzerland’s neutrality came in World War II, when the country was surrounded by Axis powers. Switzerland continued in its neutral stance, saying that they would retaliate in the event of an invasion, but would not enter the war. Nevertheless, they continued to trade with Nazi Germany, a decision that caused controversy after the war ended.
After World War II, Switzerland has been active in international affairs by siding with humanitarian initiatives, while maintaining its neutrality when it came to military issues. Switzerland refuses to join NATO or the European Union, and only joined the United Nations in 2002. In my opinion it might as well have stayed out of the United Nations entirely. I understand the desire to stay neutral and out of wars, but to me it seems a little bit like walking the fence. They want the good that’s offered without having to hold the evil nations accountable for their actions. I realize the Switzerland has done things for the rest of the world, but it still seems like a bit of a cop out when their trade is not affected because they refuse to argue the evil that some nations do.