Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Putin’s Next Problem: Would Switzerland Ever Join NATO?

F-35 Switzerland
F-35A air-to-air during flight test evaluations in Switzerland. This image is cleared for use by Swiss Armasuisse, Nadine Schröder

Last week, President Joe Biden inadvertently confused Sweden with Switzerland – which in fairness is a common mistake among Americans. Biden had suggested that he called the leader of Switzerland and discussed the Alpine nation abandoning two centuries of neutrality to join the NATO alliance.

Biden quickly corrected himself, but it raises a good point. Could Switzerland be the next country to consider NATO membership?

Both Sweden and Switzerland have long maintained their respective policies of neutrality. In fact, neither nation has taken part in a foreign conflict since the Napoleonic Wars, while Switzerland’s last military action was during the brief Sonderbund Civil War of November 1847.

Already, NATO and Switzerland actively cooperate in several areas, even as Bern’s cooperation is based on its long-standing policy of military neutrality. Bilateral cooperation began when Switzerland joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program in 1996 and became a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in 1997.

In addition, Switzerland has supported NATO-led operations in the Balkans, where it is a long-standing contributor to the Kosovo Force. The Central European country also supported military operations in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007.

What Has Changed? Answer: Putin

Switzerland, much like Sweden and Finland – which each has applied for NATO membership – maintained neutrality throughout the Cold War, yet it is Russia’s increased aggression in Europe that is now changing the dynamic. The Kremlin’s unprovoked and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine – a nation that gave up its nuclear arsenal following the dissolution of the Soviet Union under the promise that it would remain independent – has been seen as a huge game-changer across Europe.

Russian Federation President Putin has made it clear that he would like to see the restoration of the former Soviet Union/Imperial Russia – and that would mean overrunning countries that have been independent for some 30 years! Given the chance, some in the Kremlin would like to see its sphere of influence returned to countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain.

That could explain why Switzerland will work with NATO, even if it doesn’t become a fully-fledged member. On a trip to Washington in May, Swiss Defence Minister Viola Amherd even said Switzerland should work more closely with the U.S.-led military alliance, but not join it, Reuters reported.

“Ultimately, there could be changes in the way neutrality is interpreted,” Paelvi Pulli, head of security policy at the Swiss Defence Ministry, also told Reuters. That could include high-level and regular meetings between Swiss and NATO commanders and politicians.

However, unlike Finland and Sweden, which either border or are in close proximity to Russia, Switzerland is protected by some distance. That is why NATO membership currently remains unpopular, with just 33 percent of Swiss citizens in favor of it – yet many still favor cooperation.

The bigger factor is that neutrality is actually written into the Swiss constitution, and that will continue to preclude any direct membership. The 1907 Hague Convention further established that Switzerland would not take part in international armed conflicts, favor warring parties with troops or armaments, or make its territory available to the warring sides.

That latter clause has caused some concern with some in the historically neutral land.

“There is a lot of uneasiness that Switzerland cannot contribute more to help Ukraine,” added Pulli.

Instead, Bern will likely continue to be a close partner with NATO – one that operates western military hardware including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and the German-made Leopard 2A4 main battle tank (MBT). To put it in Swiss terms, it has been described as “Flirten ja, heiraten nein!” (“Flirting yes, marrying no!”)  

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.