Neutrality is a cornerstone of Swiss foreign policy and prohibits Switzerland from participating in armed conflicts and joining military alliances. The international community officially recognised Switzerland’s neutrality in 1815.

Globe-shaped fountain in front of the UN building in Geneva.
Thanks to Switzerland’s humanitarian tradition and neutrality, Geneva has become home to numerous NGOs as well as the UN. © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

Swiss neutrality dates back to 1515 when the Confederates were defeated at the Battle of Marignano and the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which drew a line under the Thirty Years' War. However, Swiss neutrality was only formally recognised by the international community in 1815, at the Congress of Vienna. As a neutral state, Switzerland does not take part in external armed conflicts, provides no armed assistance, and is not a member of any military alliances. In 1907 Switzerland formalised this position with the signing of the Hague Convention governing the rights and obligations of neutral states in the event of war.

Since the end of the Cold War Switzerland has had to redefine its understanding of neutrality. It subsequently took part in economic sanctions against Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991, while in 1996 it joined Nato’s Partnership for Peace programme, and in 1999 sent unarmed volunteers to support peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo.

In a 2001 referendum, the Swiss electorate narrowly voted in favour of arming Swiss military personnel deployed in peacebuilding missions. In 2002 Switzerland took a further step towards a more active policy of neutrality when it joined the UN.

Neutrality is deeply engrained in Switzerland's collective psyche and enjoys wide popular support. It has secured internal cohesion, particularly between the different language and religious communities, and is an advantage for Switzerland when offering its good offices.