Swiss Foreign Policy, 1967–1969

Sep 13, 2012

For the most part, Felix Schnyder was happy with his work in Washington. «In an otherwise excellent relationship between Switzerland and the U.S., the only problem to cause unfriendly and critical remarks is the business of Swiss banks under the banner of our bank secrecy», the Swiss ambassador reported to Berne in December 1967.

Bank Secrecy as a Political Issue

According to him, several leading US-officials had confronted him with their concern «that criminal associations in America could secure the profits of their felonious ways by misusing Swiss numbered accounts.» Already 45 years ago, the top diplomat predicted that «it is not to be ruled out that the question of bank secrecy could develop to be a central political issue in the relationship between the U.S. and Switzerland.» (Doc. 58,, Original in German) The operations of the financial center are not only an issue in connection to the U.S. but take up a prominent position in Swiss foreign policy as a whole. For example, the high-frequency station ‘Kurzwellendienst’ produced a whole series concerned with the criticism of the banking sector, titled «Spotlight on Swiss Banks» (Doc. 23,, Original in French).

1968 – an Outstanding and Epochal Year

The most recent volume of the document edition Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland displays how many problems and issues of Swiss foreign policy between 1967 and 1969 are still relevant today. Research findings enable eye-opening insights into foreign relations of Switzerland in these eventful times surrounding the epochal year of 1968.

Accelerated Rhythm of Publication

The compilation contains telegrams, circulars, letters and other correspondence between Swiss diplomatic representation and their central office in Berne, protocols of meetings of the federal council, memos and working documents of top officials of the Federal Political Department (today’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs) and other departments, records of strategic meetings and many other documents and materials. The almost 200 printed and annotated documents from the Swiss Federal Archives are completed with roughly 1500 additional documents accessible for free on the online database Dodis. Using an accelerated rhythm of publication, the DDS plan to complete the series with documents for the years 1945 to 1989 (Volumes 16 – 31) by 2020.

Déja-Vu with Migration Policy and Tax Issues

Volume 24 of the Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland provides a broad selection of issues of Swiss and international politics. Not only the discussions on tax flight and bank secrecy can evoke a Déja-Vu in the reader, other topics such as migration policy were already highly relevant. Here, the issues of integration of the – mostly Italian – foreign workers and their families in social security (Doc. 157, and education (Doc. 166, as well as xenophobia (Doc. 120, are prominent aspects.

Switzerland’s Relationship with Europe and the U.N.

At the end of the 1960s, European policy was already actively discussed and the questions of integrating Switzerland in the structure of the European Economic Community EEC took up a dominant place in foreign policy discourse. Especially since the partner states of the European Free Trade Association EFTA – Denmark, Norway and especially the UK – applied for membership to the EEC, the problem of how a future common market in Europe could look like and how Switzerland could collaborate in an «agreeable manner» to find a «pan-European solution» had to be discussed (Doc. 165, Between 1967 and 1969, Switzerland was increasingly incorporated into international structures, as it is reflected in the questions of joining the UN (Doc. 4,, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (Doc. 72,, in the negotiations of the Kennedy-Round concerning the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in Geneva (Doc. 24, or in the discussion on participating at a conference on security in Europe (Doc. 188,

Rapprochement Towards the Communist World

In the course of the détente between East and West, Switzerland also showed a certain opening tendency towards the communist world, as manifested in the efforts to expand trade with Eastern European countries (Doc. 135, or in the careful rapprochement towards not officially recognized states such as the GDR (Doc. 149,, North Korea (Doc. 169, or North Vietnam (Doc. 127,

Switzerland as a Mediator in International Conflicts

Within the great conflicts of the epoch, such as the Vietnam War (Doc. 83,, the Six-Day War (Doc. 28, or the Biafra conflict (Doc. 136,, Switzerland tried to fulfill its classic role as a mediator – not always successfully. The terrorist attack in Kloten even brought the Middle East conflict into the midst of Switzerland (Doc. 130, The suppression of the Prague Spring by the armies of the Warsaw Pact brought a stream of thousands of refugees from Czechoslovakia which were graciously received in Switzerland (Doc. 108,

Busy Traveling Diplomacy

While in prior years, the government constrained itself rigorously on state visits, various federal councilors traveled to foreign countries between 1967 and 1969. Foreign Minister Willy Spühler not only visited the neutral partners Sweden and Austria (Doc. 21,, France (Doc. 186,, Canada (Doc. 38, and the U.S. (Doc. 41, but also communist nations such as Romania (Doc. 140, and Yugoslavia (Doc. 170, as well as East Africa (Doc. 161, Meanwhile, the head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Hans Schaffner, travelled to Japan and Hong Kong (Doc. 25, as well as Argentine (Doc. 160,

A Federal Councilor in the Kremlin

In celebration of the opening of the direct air link between Zurich and Moscow in 1967, Minister of Transport Rudolf Gnägi was the first federal councilor ever to visit the Soviet Union. He was joined by the Secretary General of the Political Department, Pierre Micheli. In his report, Micheli was deeply impressed: «Upon entering the Kremlin, one is overwhelmed by a similar feeling one would experience in Washington: the sudden sensation to be in the midst of an enormous political and administrative apparatus that exceeds all prior experience.» Adding that «the presence of the vital signs of an immense empire leave Switzerland appear rather small in comparison» the chief diplomat of the Confederation emphasized that «neither the Kremlin nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ever gave the impression to treat our country as a negligible factor» (Doc.44,, Original in French). At any rate, bank secrecy was no issue at all in Moscow.