Swiss Foreign Policy, 1976–1978

Jan 3, 2022

«The activation of our foreign policy is in progress». The former Federal Council and head of the Federal Political Department (FPD, today FDFA) Pierre Graber was convinced when he gave an exclusive interview to a Lucerne newspaper in February of 1976. According to him, the experiences during the oil crisis and the recession of the past year had shown Switzerland, «that world politics does not take place on another planet, but rather, that it affects everyone directly in their daily lives» (Doc. 1, In the following years 1976–1978, Switzerland’s foreign policies were shaped by openness and normalization. This becomes apparent when looking at the recently published documents in the new volume of the records of Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland (DDS) and the online database Dodis. (Open Access Version of this volume)

New Universality

The Helsinki Process as well as the North-South Dialogue had opened up a new scope of action in Swiss Diplomacy. At the same time, the Federal Council had felt more obliged to consider, «by strictly respecting the principle of noninterference, whenever and wherever possible, humanitarian aspects» towards foreign countries (Doc. 40, Under the central maxim of solidarity, the young Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit began their missions in different parts of the world (Doc. 50, From 1978 on, Federal Councilor Pierre Aubert increased the focus on human rights policy (Doc. 114, The reinforced traveling diplomacy of the new foreign minister in regions of the «Third World» and in Eastern Europe became a symbol of the new universality and availability of the Swiss foreign policy (Doc. 111, und Doc. 146,

New foreign-policy agents

The new openness did not find favor with everyone. Within his department, Aubert was faced with considerable opposition (Doc. 143, After only four months in office, he tried to appease: «These new directions do of course not replace the traditional values of our diplomacy. They rather complete and strengthen them», he assured in a circular letter. «They are the natural consequence of our country’s new pronounced engagement in the world, set about in the 1970s, that begin to pay off» (Doc. 146, In the years prior, the Swiss electorate had already claimed a right to be heard more in the matters of foreign affairs: In 1976 Swiss voters rejected the payment of a loan in the amount of 200 million Swiss francs to the International Development Association (IDA) and accepted the extension of the state treaty referendum in 1977 (Doc. 46, Beside the Swiss electorate and the parliament, a rising number of administrative bodies in other departments started to exert influence on the Swiss foreign policy by maintaining international relations on their own. However, this was not much appreciated by the FPD (Doc. 68,

The base of Swiss development assistance

Due to the rejection of the loan for the IDA, the Federal Council missed its aim to match the Swiss financial support to that of other industrialized countries (Doc. 24, «In our country, our awareness is not yet heightened enough for the economic and political importance of developmental problems», stated Graber and Ernst Brugger, the head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs (Doc. 77, As a result, Switzerland was under pressure to advance its involvement in foreign aid (Doc. 174, Financial aid loans for developing countries were converted into gifts (Doc. 75,, investment protection agreements were contracted (Doc. 13,, and loans were given to state socialist countries in Eastern Europe (Doc. 70, To this day, the Federal Law on Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid that was established in 1976 is the base of Switzerland’s official development assistance.

Export promotion and capital market intervention

In order to support the economy in times of the global recession and the strong Swiss franc, Switzerland started to promote exports (Doc. 82, and Doc. 137, The collaboration between embassies and the commercial department was intensified, and foreign trade largely expanded (Doc. 110, At the same time, the Swiss government focused on interventions in the international capital market (Doc. 175, In this, Japan – to which the Swiss situation bore a strong resemblance and «a common interest for a better international coordination of financial and exchange rate policies» – proved to be a central partner in the support measures (Doc. 194, Although the new Swiss monetary policy was internationally welcomed (Doc. 180,, Switzerland was still criticized for its banking secrecy. The world’s press gloated over the Crédit Suisse scandal in Chiasso (Doc. 62, And this time, it was not just the banks that were under fire, but so was the Federal Council (Doc. 49,

Loss of topicality of the migration dossier

With the economic crisis came a high rate of unemployment which led many foreign workers to return to their home countries. As a consequence, and in view of the proposed new Federal Act on Foreign Nationals, Switzerland began negotiating especially with Spain and Italy (Doc. 118, Points of discussion were, among others, the education of children of migrants in their native language and local culture. In the case of the Jugoslav consulates, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland, as well as the immigration authorities, feared «an inadmissible intrusion into our political order» (Doc. 27, At the same time, Switzerland made an effort to contribute to an international solution for the increasing refugee crisis in Southeast Asia by taking in «boat people» and other people (Doc. 193,

International Integration – an uphill battle

What remained contentious was Switzerland’s membership in international organizations: «In theory, Switzerland’s accession to the UN is desirable. But the public opinion is not yet ready for it», was the conclusion (Doc. 2, Even after the government decided to let the electorate vote on the question of the accession, it was aware «that it will be hard to win the fight» (Doc. 156, By consulting with the European Community (EC), Switzerland tried to achieve its goals in the European integration process. This included negotiations for an insurance agreement (Doc. 87,, cross-border bus traffic (Doc. 55, or for research (Doc. 57, With the cessation of most of the residual duties between the EC and EFTA, the opening of the markets in Western Europe and with it «one of the most important trade goals of the post-war era» was achieved (Doc. 183,

Above suspicion?

Not being a member of the UN also brought forth repercussions in terms of security policy: At the UN General Assembly, Switzerland was not able to take a stance on the subject of disarmament (Doc. 166, Instead, Switzerland ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty eight years after signing, pledged to implement it to the International Atomic Energy Agency and joined the London Club for nuclear exports, because «there is no actual alternative» (Doc. 36,

It was further noted with relief that the purchase of the new Swiss fighter aircraft Tiger F-5 was not affected by the scandal involving the US manufacturer Lockheed (Doc. 11, The international bribery scandal also caused ripples in Switzerland and lead to parliamentary inquiries. The affair around brigadier Jean-Louis Jeanmaire, who was charged with treason after passing on classified information in 1977, drew much attention (Doc. 51, – as did the exposure of espionage activities by foreign diplomats in Switzerland (Doc. 80, The years 1976–1978 reveal that Switzerland was less and less «above suspicion».