Switzerland is a small mountainous and prosperous European country surrounded entirely by European Union states. It is a member of EFTA (i.e. the European Free Trade Association) which has free trade relations with, but is not a member of the European Union.
Historically, Switzerland has been committed to political neutrality, a citizen based military, a role of an off shore banking center in part due to political stablity, a stable currency and banking secrecy laws, a system of government in which individual Cantons have great autonomy from the central government, a political system in which many important decisions are made by Referrendum with all voters participating, its multi-ethnic population base, and its role as a UN center (Switzerland is a UN member state only since 2002) and place for negotiating treaties which flowed from its political neutrality. Switzerland is also home to the International Committee of the Red Cross or ICRC which Switzerland has also been known for the craftsmanship it has shown in precision industries like watchmaking.
One of the criticisms of Switzerland's history of neutrality has been the way that policy was used to in effect collaborate with the Nazi regime in Germany to the detriment of Jews. This criticism focuses on the behavior of Swiss banks during and after the Second World War with respect to Jewish owned assets. More generally, Switzerland is unfairly criticized for not participating in the Second World War in the alliance of some of the liberal democracies and the Soviet Union against the Axis. The reality is more complex. Surrounded by Nazi Germany to the north and east and by Fascist Italy to the south, the Swiss government was initially unprepared to defend its sovereignty against invasion by the Axis. Fearful of an imminent German invasion the Swiss government signed a trade and credit agreement with Germany on August 9, 1940. However by January 1941 the Swiss miltiary had readied demolitions on its major railway and tunnel lines to deter any such attack. Swiss indpendence, liberal democracy and neutrality all survived the war intact. Sweden, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and most Latin American states remained were also neutral in the Second World War.
Switzerland's role as an off shore banking center has become less relevant as the European Union has adopted a common currency, and other off shore centers in the Caribbean and elsewhere have been willing to protect more suspicious activity than the Swiss have been. Swiss policy towards national security makes less sense today, now that it is entirely surrounded by the European Union and the prospect of a war between Western Europe and Eastern Europe seems bleak. Many Swiss are also concerned that the lack of membersip on the part of the Swiss government in the European Union hurts it economically, although the Swiss have rejected referrendums calling for it to join the EU.
Swiss Political Elites
- Neville Wylie. "Swiss Trans-Alpine Railway Lines," in T.G. Otte and Keith Neilson, ed.s, Railwayts and International Politics: Paths of Empire, 1848-1945. 2006. London: Routledge. Pp. 217-238.