Foreign policy and defense
Switzerland is a nation in Western Europe. Its capital city is Bern. The combination of strict neutrality, political stability and economic strength has long given Switzerland a special position among the countries of the world. The country is home to a number of international organizations and has made active efforts in many international contexts.
Nevertheless, Switzerland long chose to stand outside the UN for fear that membership would jeopardize neutrality. But in 2002, opinion had fluctuated and 54 percent of voters in a referendum voted for an accession to the UN, which happened the same year.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Switzerland for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
However, Switzerland has previously been a member of most of the UN trade unions and other international organizations. Geneva already houses, for example, the UN headquarters in Europe and UN agencies such as the UNHCR Refugee Commission and the World Health Organization WHO. In addition, several independent organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross have their headquarters in the city. The Red Cross was founded in Switzerland in 1863; its flag is the Swiss with the opposite color scheme.
The EU and Switzerland have close economic ties and trade relations, which are governed by a series of bilateral agreements. However, great uncertainty arose about the future validity of the agreements and Switzerland’s relations with the EU since the Swiss voters in 2014 voted for a proposal to restrict immigration. The situation calmed down somewhat when the parliament in 2016 decided not to introduce any quotas for immigration requested in the referendum two years earlier.
Switzerland applied for membership of the EU’s predecessor EC in 1992, but since the voters in the same year voted no to the EEA agreement, the application was put on hold. The government has since regarded EU membership as an objective or, from 2006, as an “alternative in the long term”, but in 2016 the application was formally withdrawn. A majority of Swiss have wanted to continue to be outside the EU, partly because they believe that membership would be economically disadvantageous, and partly because they fear it would threaten the country’s unique governance.
Instead, Switzerland and the EU have signed a series of bilateral agreements. The first was concluded in 1999 and entered into force in 2002. It involved cooperation in seven sectors, including transport, research, trade in agricultural products and free movement of labor. Negotiations on a second agreement package were completed in 2004. It includes nine sectors, including accession to the Schengen cooperation (on police and customs cooperation and freedom of passport across the EU’s internal borders) and anti-fraud cooperation. It also included guarantees for the banking secrecy important to Switzerland, which was further regulated in subsequent settlements.
Bank secrecy and Switzerland’s role as a tax haven have to some extent disturbed relations also with the US and other countries (see Finance).
Membership in NATO’s defense alliance is not relevant, but even on the security policy level, Switzerland has to some extent opened up to the outside world and initiated cooperation with the EU and NATO on peacekeeping efforts. For example, Switzerland participates in NATO’s Partnership for Peace, which is a cooperation program that includes crisis management and confidence-building measures. In 1999, a Swiss company joined the Kfor peacekeeping force in Kosovo, the Swiss army’s first foreign mission.
The Swiss military has traditionally closely resembled a civilian militia, and military weapons and ammunition are still stored in the homes. There is a fairly small permanent strength, but full mobilization should be possible within three days. The military duty still applies to all men, but the far age limit for active participation has been reduced from 42 to 30 years. An important reason for the reduction was complaints from the business community, which suffer from large costs when employees are away on rehearsal exercises.
In the mid-1990s, radical changes were initiated to make the defense more professional. They also wanted to increase their readiness to participate in international efforts. Since then, the number of professional soldiers has increased while the army as a whole has lost weight.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 20 950 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 0.7 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 2.0 percent (2017)