Swiss Foreign Policy, 1970–1972

Sep 14, 2013

«Europe» was already the most important issue of Swiss diplomacy in 1970.
As was written by Paul R. Jolles, Head of the Division of Trade of the
Federal Department of Public Economy (FDPE), in relation to the upcoming
negotiations with the European Economic Community (EEC), «the attempt to
establish a newer and more suitable type of conditions for cooperation
requires a fertile imagination, as well as sufficient time». «The
trickiest problem will no doubt be the organising of Switzerland’s
institutional collaboration in the integration process» (doc. 44,, original in German).

Accepted by both the people and the cantons in December of 1972 (doc. 182,, the elaboration of the free trade agreement with the EEC
constitutes the core part of the new volume of the Diplomatic Documents of
Switzerland (DDS). This volume, number 25, focuses on Switzerland’s
foreign relations from 1970 to 1972. This edition of documents comprises
telegrams, circulars, correspondence between Swiss diplomatic
representations and the headquarters in Bern, the minutes of sessions of
the Federal Council, as well as memos and work papers originating from
various federal departments. In relation to the agreement with the EEC,
Federal Councilor Hans-Peter Tschudi recorded the fact that it would lead
«to a development of our country in the direction of Europe […] that would
be practically irreversible» (doc. 160,, original in
German). Many documents are reminiscent of the challenges with which Swiss
diplomacy has been dealing up to this day in more than just the solving of
«institutional issues» with the EEC.

The origins of the OSCE
More than forty years before Switzerland’s 2014 presidency of the
Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Federal Council
and the Federal Administration developed an active travel policy, in order
to exchange views with Eastern and Western Governments, regarding the
European Security Conference that would take place in Helsinki, in 1973
(doc. 156, and doc. 157, Switzerland
became highly involved in this organisation, the OSCE’s predecessor
organisation. Bern explicitly attempted to play a part in the proposal for
a system that would enable the peaceful settlement of disputes (doc. 173, «Were our country to be absent, this would go against the
fundamental rules of its policy, the basis of which is neutrality and
solidarity, openness and cooperation» (doc. 144,, original
in French), as stated in a 1972 policy document of the Political
Department, the present FDFA.

Mutual legal assistance treaty with the U. S.
The negotiation process which took place in May of 1973 is another
reminder of current affairs, as it lead to the still valid mutual legal
assistance treaty with the U.S. According to a permanent study commission,
a «noticeable loosening» of the concept of sovereignty took place in the
years prior to the negotiations, and «never before had so much been
expected of Switzerland in the field of legal aid» (doc. 66,, original in German). The U.S. interest in international
crime fighting became an increasing threat to the Swiss banking secrecy,
which the financial centre as well as trading associations protected
strongly every time it was being attacked.

Radical changes in the field of monetary policy
In light of an overflow of dollars, in 1971, the Swiss Federal Council, in
agreement with the National Bank, decided to reevaluate the Swiss Franc.
To the people, this was proof of the Government’s courage and decisiveness
– «we were finally ruled over for once» (doc. 72,, original
in German).

This was followed in summer by President Nixon’s termination of the U.S.
dollar’s convertibility to gold. This was one of the last symptoms that
indicated the upcoming crumbling of the Bretton-Woods system, which in
turn, would lead to the Swiss Franc’s being increasingly used as a reserve
currency (doc. 140, Nello Celio, the Swiss Minister of
Finance, was concerned about the developments he observed in the global
monetary and economic policy. «Along with the National Bank […], I believe
that we must, in time, become further engaged in monetary issues, if we
want to be in control of something», were his words to Eberhard Reinhard
from the Swiss Credit Institution (doc. 166,, original in

«The number of big banks increases massively»
Foreign Minister Graber too recognised «that in the monetary sector,
Switzerland was not far from becoming a Great Power» (doc. 66,, original in French). Some were however more critical in
this area as well. When the Swiss Bank Corporation tried to push the
Federal Banking Commission to hurry the opening of a Japanese bank’s
branch office in Zurich, as it was the condition for the SBC to itself be
able to open a branch in Tokyo, it was given a harsh answer: the
Commission «never disguised the fact […] that it considered the massive
increase in big banks as well as the inflow offoreign banks into
Switzerland as unhealthy and damaging to the country’s general interest»
(doc. 117,, original in German).

Terrorism reaches Switzerland
A characteristic of the early 1970s is the growth of international
terrorism, the effects of which even Switzerland could not avoid. With the
plane crash caused by a bomb exploding on board an aircraft in the area of
Würenlingen in February (doc. 8, and doc. 12, and the hijacking of a Swissair aircraft on its way to
Jordan, which was orchestrated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine, in September 1970 (doc. 37,, Switzerland became
increasingly caught up in the Arab-Israeli conflict. A particular
challenge came in the form of the abduction of Giovanni Enrico Bucher, the
Swiss Ambassador in Rio de Janeiro, by Brazilian Guerilleros (doc. 51, and doc. 59,

«Good deeds»
A traditional subject that becomes more important in volume 25 is that of
Switzerland’s «good deeds». To what lengths should one go when one acts as
an «honest broker»? This is the type of question that Swiss Ambassador
Silvio Masnata, who represented the U.S. interests in Cuba, asked himself.
Was he to convey messages to Havana on behalf of Washington, which – based
on his knowledge of U.S. interests – he thought ought to be improved? «If
you notice someone on the street who is about to step into an open
manhole, do you not shout out to them to be careful?» (doc. 76,, original in French). Switzerland especially played this
part when the negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union regarding
nuclear arms reduction were transferred to Geneva (doc. 155,, or in the case of the conflict surrounding the
independence of Bangladesh (doc. 87, and doc. 106,, in which Switzerland was given a double mandate
empowering it to act as protecting power for the interests of both India
and Pakistan (doc. 113, and doc. 126,

The rise of China
Through the organisation of a exchange of diplomats, Switzerland was also
able to play an active part in dealing with the tensions taking place
between the People’s Republic of China and Cambodia (doc. 121, With Peking’s admittance to the UN in 1971 (doc. 102, and President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, the «Middle
Kingdom» again became a focus of Swiss foreign relations. In his talk to
the diplomatic corps, Federal Councilor Graber recorded the fact that «the
centre of gravity of world politics» had shifted from Europe to Asia and
that in the future, China would «play a political part which would match
its geographic and demographic size» (doc. 89,, original in

«Does one dare wear the bold swimming costume?»
A certain normalisation came into place, with regards to the «divided
states». Bern recognized North Vietnam, for instance (doc. 90, and in the context of its position in the Armistice
Commission, it dared a – however unsuccessful – attempt to take up
diplomatic relations with North Korea (doc. 168, In its
relations with the GDR too, the setting up of diplomatic representations
on both sides meant that, in the words of Hansjakob Kaufmann – the Head of
the newly opened representation in East Berlin – Switzerland was taking a
«first step into the cold water». To him, this was not enough: «We should
not act like a lady who owns a somewhat bold swimming suit, but then, can
never muster the courage to actually wear it.» (doc. 181,,
original in German). In the end, on December 20, 1972, shortly before most
of the other Western countries, Bern took up diplomatic relations with the
GDR (doc. 179,

«What the people must not be informed of»
Switzerland’s foreign policy became a growing subject of public debate.
The FPD focused its efforts in having a professionalized communication
policy «which made use of modern technologies, especially audio-visual
ones, that would make reaching the wider population possible», so as to
foster a «climate of interest, openness and understanding of the problems
which affect our country’s fate on a larger scale» (doc. 52,, original in French). Opinions however varied as to how
much the population should be informed of. The footnotes of the over 180
documents printed in the new volume provide references to about 1500 other
documents, which can accessed though the online database Dodis

One of these documents is a list established by the Integration Bureau,
which bears the following intriguing title: «What should not be said in
the declaration to the people regarding the treaty between Switzerland and
EEC» (, original title in German).