Ukraine war and switzerland

Ukraine war and Switzerland – "The sanctions are also a commitment to the EU"

Ukraine war and Switzerland – "The sanctions are also a commitment to the EU"

Swiss neutrality policy is moving away from smart alecks to a new solidarity with the Western world, says historian Thomas Maissen.

Ukraine war and switzerland
Ukraine war and switzerland

The Federal Council on 28. February after initial hesitation decided to join EU sanctions against Russia. This has caused quite a stir domestically: politicians from all parties are calling for a debate on how this decision could affect Switzerland's neutrality policy and whether it needs to be adjusted. The SVP and its doyen, former Federal Councillor Christoph Blocher, are particularly harsh on the Federal Council: Switzerland is forfeiting its good offices as a neutral state, and if it imposes economic sanctions, it is participating in a war. The Federal Council lacks the strength to remain neutral, he said in the "Handelszeitung".

How does the renowned historian Thomas Maissen classify the "new" neutrality policy, and what role should Switzerland play in communities of states such as the UN??

What do you think of the harsh criticism, especially from the SVP, of the EU sanctions that Switzerland is following??

The SVP understands the neutrality policy as a means of a nationalistic interest policy: unhesitating economic cooperation also with unjust regimes, but no assumption of international political responsibility. It is clear that many right-wing politicians do not like it now if Switzerland gives higher weight to solidarity with Europe and the attacked Ukraine than to short-term economic interests. Instead, they should finally admit that the policy of the strong man Putin, whom they admire, leads to dictatorship in domestic politics and to war in foreign politics.

But Swiss peace policy could be jeopardized by the adoption of EU sanctions?

The peace policy is endangered by one man, and his name is Putin.

Does Switzerland overestimate its role in peace mediation?

Switzerland hardly mediates itself, but offers a framework under which peace can be discussed. For example, what is wrong with Putin and Biden meeting in Geneva?? This does not depend on the practiced neutrality policy. With the location of the UN and the ICRC in Geneva, there is certainly reason for a modest self-confidence in being able to make a certain contribution to maintaining the peace order.

Author of standard works

Thomas Maissen (59) is director of the German Historical Institute in Paris. The historian, who grew up in Zurich and Basel, taught as a full professor of modern history at the University of Heidelberg from 2004 to 2013. Maissen is the author of several standard works on the history of Switzerland.

Switzerland has long hesitated to adopt EU sanctions. What motivation do you suspect behind this?

The ulterior motives were certainly strongly economically influenced. For Switzerland, supporting the EU sanctions means cutting off business with Russia, which was very profitable. Concerns that this could diminish Switzerland's role as a neutral state seem to me to be more of a pretext. However, I understand the need for this period of reflection, as the sanctions now decided on represent a break with the previous policy of neutrality.

"In doing so, Switzerland implicitly commits itself to a community of values and an economic area called the EU."

What a break?

The Embargo Act of 2002 expressly provides that sanctions imposed by the UN, the OSCE or "Switzerland's most important trading partners" can be taken over in order to protect international law and human rights. As early as 1994, Switzerland was part of the "Partnership for Peace," which includes members of NATO and the former Eastern Bloc, including Russia and Ukraine. Since the 1990s, Switzerland has adopted sanctions imposed by the UN. In the Kosovo conflict of 1998/99, on the other hand, the EU imposed sanctions against Serbia. They were officially directed against the "former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia". This indicates that Switzerland saw the EU, as it were, instead of the UN, on a peacemaking and humanitarian mission in a country that had been weakened and disintegrated by civil war.

And what is the difference to the now decided sanctions?

Now Switzerland takes over EU sanctions, which are directed in an interstate war against a permanent member of the UN Security Council and at the same time a nuclear power. In this way, Switzerland implicitly commits itself to a community of values and an economic area called the EU. The Federal Council has taken a step that should not be underestimated ..

… And which could permanently change the Swiss policy of neutrality?

Whether the Ukraine war will change it fundamentally, we will see only in a few years. Such adjustments have always existed, and they have always been made in exchange and in alignment with the important countries. A state's neutrality fits into the international legal order, so it must be recognized as useful overall in the world of states. This does not mean that one can or must please everyone all the time: Russia is unlikely to view the current Swiss action as neutral, and neither did the Allies during World War II.

"This imperialist and nationalist policy will find many imitators if it succeeds."

It took several days for the Federal Council to make this break. Can Switzerland afford to wait so long again for a possible further tightening of sanctions?

I do not see a problem with speed. The EU is used to Switzerland taking a little longer. Four days is not a very long time, provided that the implementation takes hold afterwards. However, when circumvention deals take place or neutrals take over markets from which producers of the parties to the conflict have withdrawn, Swiss neutrality quickly comes under suspicion of being clever.

Rightly so?

Unfortunately, this was often the case in the past. Neutrality becomes morally questionable when it does not bring disadvantages to the neutral, for example by refraining from arms exports, but rather economic advantages. Neutrality also means obligations in the world of states. Other neutral countries have, for example, always provided UN secretaries-general. Switzerland has long been very reluctant to get involved in such organizations and has therefore often been the beneficiary of achievements that these organizations have obtained with much effort and expense. The fact that this is changing, however, can be seen in the example of the last OSCE Secretary General, the Swiss Thomas Greminger.

One possibility for increased international engagement would be a seat on the UN Security Council, for which Switzerland is currently a candidate.

Yes, the UN Security Council is an opportunity for Switzerland to share in political responsibility. If Switzerland were to withdraw because of domestic concerns that it might violate neutrality, its European partners would interpret this as cowardice and egoistic self-centeredness – with lasting consequences. Switzerland has undisputed competencies in dialogue between different cultures and beliefs: why not make them available?

Will the world order be different after the Ukraine war?

The generations that experienced the horrors of the Second World War are dying out. Born in 1952, Putin is again ready to fight large interstate wars for relatively meaningless goods. His ilk again invokes nationalist historical images of a homogeneous people and pre-modern notions of pride and honor to justify such conflicts. This imperialistic and nationalistic policy will find many imitators if it is successful.

Gregor Poletti is a domestic editor and has worked in journalism for over 30 years. Anything that moves socio-politically has him hitting the keys – from Tempo 30 to euthanasia.

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