The neutrality and the sanctions of Switzerland

Switzerland wants to participate on the United Nations Security Council.
Switzerland wants to participate on the United Nations Security Council. © FDFA

Permanent neutrality is a principle of Swiss foreign policy. It is a generating source of peace and stability in Europe and beyond. It ensures the country’s independence and the inviolability of its territory. According to the law of neutrality, Switzerland must not participate in a war between states.

Neutrality in the Federal Constitution

The Federal Constitution provides that the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly must take measures to safeguard Switzerland’s neutrality. As the Constitution’s authors intended, neutrality is not designated as a purpose of the Federation or as a foreign policy principle. It is represented as a means to an end.

The law of neutrality

The law of neutrality which was codified in The Hague Conventions of 18 October 1907 and is part of international customary law, defines the rights and obligations of a neutral state. The most important of these rights is the inviolability of a neutral state’s territory. The main obligations are as follows:

  • refrain from engaging in war
  • ensure its own defence
  • ensure equal treatment for belligerent states in respect of the exportation of war material
  • not supply mercenary troops to belligerent states
  • not allow belligerent states to use its territory

The law of neutrality applies to international conflicts but not to internal conflicts, which the majority of conflicts currently represent. The law of neutrality does not apply to a military operation authorized by the United Nations (UN) Security Council, for the latter is acting under a mandate from the community of states in order to re-establish peace and international security. Nor does the law on neutrality prevent neutral states from supporting such operations.

Policy of neutrality

The policy of neutrality is not governed by law. It is a combination of all the measures a neutral state takes of its own accord to ensure the clarity and credibility of its permanent neutrality. The implementation of the neutral policy is determined according to the international context of the moment.

Switzerland attributes its neutrality to its humanitarian and peaceful inclination, in keeping with its tradition of providing good offices and humanitarian aid. Switzerland manages its neutrality according to the needs of international solidarity, and places it at the service of peace and prosperity.


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