Switzerland’s Good Offices

Thanks to its diplomatic mediation and facilitation efforts, Switzerland has played a part in resolving many international conflicts. It also represents the interests of states whose diplomatic relations have broken down and acts as host state for international conferences and high-level meetings.

President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin with President of the Confederation Guy Parmelin in Geneva.
The first meeting between newly-elected US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin took place on neutral territory in Geneva in June 2021. © Reuters/Denis Balibouse

As a neutral country with a longstanding federalist tradition, Switzerland regularly offers its good offices to parties in conflict. This may simply be a matter of offering its territory as a negotiating venue or go as far as active involvement. In such instances, Switzerland initiates contact between the opposing sides, offers to act as mediator in order to find common ground and may even help negotiate a peace agreement.

In recent years Switzerland has been involved in as many as 30 negotiations in over 20 countries. For example, it successfully brokered the Nuba mountains ceasefire agreement in Sudan. It took part in discussions between rebel groups and the government in Columbia. It facilitated official meetings between Sri Lanka rebels and the government. It also helped bring about the peace agreement between Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government as well as between the Mozambique government and opposition party Renamo. For years, Switzerland also aided the talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. These negotiations were finally sealed with the signing of an agreement in 2015. 

Today, violent conflicts tend to be between rival groups within states. Switzerland has adapted its good offices accordingly, now offering these services to rival groups within a country, as well as state representatives. Switzerland is increasingly involved in operations launched by several states or coordinated by international organisations like the UN, the EU or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In the case of the ongoing civil war in Syria, for example, it seconded specialist staff to the UN, hosted talks in Geneva in 2016, and set up the Civil Society Support Room platform.

Switzerland's good offices also include carrying out protecting power mandates in the event of a conflict between two states. Switzerland acts as a "post box", representing the diplomatic interests of the one state in the other, thereby allowing both sides to keep relations but to a minimum. Switzerland currently has seven such mandates: Iran in Egypt and Canada, the US in Iran, Iran in Saudi Arabia (and vice versa), and Russia in Georgia (and vice versa).