What do the Swiss Really Think of Their International Neutrality?

Bundeshaus in Bern
The Swiss ‘Bundeshaus’ in Berne. Photo: Lorenz Ammon/flickr.

Every year the Center for Security Studies and the Military Academy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH) conduct a survey to determine the Swiss electorate’s attitudes toward a variety of Swiss-specific foreign, security and defense policy issues. This year, 1,200 people were surveyed and the results are now available here. Those who are familiar with these types of surveys might wonder whether the Sicherheit 2013 is as potentially dry as other statistics-laden reports. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since Swiss democracy is a uniquely direct and fully consensual form of political self-organization, what the survey actually contains is high drama – i.e., the drama of a people struggling to define their beliefs, values and very identity over time. And although some of these intangibles may wax and wane in importance, others remain at the core of what it means to be a citizen and what obligations citizens owe their country and beyond. In the case of the Swiss, their attitudes toward neutrality, hard power and conscription are indeed at the center of their ‘Swissness’.  In today’s blog, we’d like to provide a thumbnail sketch of how the people of this small multi-lingual country have viewed one of these three areas over time.


We are Going to Play a Little Jazz Now

Image: flickr/faith622

For 14 weeks (from November 2011 to February 2012), the ISN Staff worked through the first phase of a three-phase Editorial Plan. Phase 1 sought to answer, in a kaleidoscopic way, a basic overarching question – is the international system undergoing systemic and irreversible change?  Indeed, an overarching change that is transforming how we conduct international relations and maintain our security architectures.  (For those of our readers who are educators and might be interested is using our bundled, user-friendly Phase 1 topics for classroom purposes, please see the Dossiers portion of our website.)

Scratching our heads over the structural changes we detected in the international system inevitably raised follow-on questions for us, including an especially important one – if transnational political and security dynamics are irreversibly changing, what impact do such changes have on existing power dynamics?  That will be the overall focus of Phase 2 of our Editorial Plan, which will begin on April 2.  In the meantime, while we collect our breath and gather our thoughts, we’d like to “play jazz” for 5 weeks. That means we’d like to follow our muse and look at a grab-bag collection of subjects that we hope will tickle both of our fancies.  So, if you are interested in regional cooperation in Asia, upcoming elections, graphic novels and cartoons, digital games, and some free-floating content – all from an international relations and security standpoint – then please play jazz with us before we begin our discussion about power dynamics in the international system starting on the second of April.

The International Economic and Financial Systems

Image: 401kcalculator.org/flickr

Phase 1 of our Editorial Plan – a phase dedicated to tracing the structural changes occurring in the international system – has thus far mostly looked at intangibles. In other words, we at the ISN have explored, in a prism-like way, the roles of future forecasting; geopolitical thought; globalization, multiculturalism, and nationalism; evolving international norms and laws, etc., in shaping the international system. Indeed, these frameworks, processes and, yes, even ideologies may be to one degree or another ephemeral, but they have all contributed to the systemic changes we have seen in the last 20-30 years. (Even future forecasting can have a self-fulfilling prophecy component to it.) Influential as all these topics have been, however, a critic might ask when are we going to get “real” – i.e., when are we going to deal with the facts-on-the-ground reality of politics and its relationship to economics? The answer is “now.” Over the next several weeks, we will look at the past, present and future of the international economic and financial systems, we will then explore their relationship to global economic development, and we will close our enquiry by analyzing the current dynamics that exist between economics, politics and war. By looking at our three-part subject again in a prism-like way, we hope to highlight how economic and financial forces do indeed provide an impetus to wholesale change in the international system.


Laying the Groundwork: The Definition, Scope and Roles of Human Rights

The 30th Anniversary celebration of the International Day of Peace at UN Headquarters. photo: United Nations Photo/flickr

Last week, we looked at how international and regional-level entities created and designed to deal with 20th century problems are struggling to adapt to a changing global landscape – a landscape that now features social, economic and political problems that are more comprehensive, deeper in scope, and last longer in time than in the past. These challenges acknowledge no borders and defy traditional structures, regardless of their previously conceived national or international foundations.  But as we suggested last week, perhaps the best way to look at how macro-level politics are now being transacted, both regionally and internationally, is to look at them as you would a well-turned prism. In doing so, we come to see many causes AND effects at play in the international system today. We’ve covered some of them over the last two months, but we are hardly done. For example, both a cause and symptom of the structural changes currently occurring in the international system is the general concept of human rights and its practical application, a growing portion of international law. Indeed, because the ever-burgeoning and expanding concept of rights, coupled with attempts to make them “stick”, complicate how contemporary international relations are evolving, we need to explore their Janus-faced relationship over a two-week period. Well, let’s now do so.

Nationalism and the State – One More Look Back

Depiction of the Peace of Westphalia, 1649

The ISN Editorial Plan marches on. This week we are looking at the struggles transnational organizations and institutions are experiencing as they try to adapt themselves to 21st century realities. This topic follows hard on the heels of the two weeks we spent looking at the concept of nationalism and the status of the modern state in today’s world. That ten days of analysis constitutes a mere touch-and-go on either subject goes without saying here. The brevity of the analysis also justifies that we look back at these two subjects one more time in today’s blog before moving on. So be it.

The other consideration, of course, is who’s voice to feature here. One’s ego might, while screaming “me, me” and pushing and jostling the “great unwashed” aside, demand such an authorial privilege all to itself. But there is no humility in that, especially when in this case the proper thing to do is popularize the wise words of seasoned, widely respected professionals. So, instead of blah blah’ing about what precious me thinks about nationalism and the state, I would like today to defer to my betters.