Swiss Foreign Policy, 1990

Jan 12, 2021

«Die Teilung unseres Kontinents fällt der Vergangenheit anheim», proclaimed the President of the Swiss Confederation Arnold Koller at the Paris Summit of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE): «Was die Völker jahrzehntelang herbeiwünschten, beginnt: eine Ära der Zusammenarbeit zwischen Ost und West, mit dem Ziel, ein neues, geeintes Europa zu errichten» (doc. 50, dodis.ch/54685).

After the epochal upheavals of 1989, 1990 was also marked by the European turnaround. The democratic changes in Central and Eastern Europe, the disappearance of East-West antagonism and the reunification of Germany gave wings to the European idea. In the midst of these changes, Switzerland is being questioned about its neutrality, its role in the international community and its position on European integration. The new volume of Swiss Diplomatic Documents (DDS) sheds light on the major developments in Switzerland’s international relations in 1990 through a selection of documents and a multitude of cross-references to other official sources as well as information from the online Dodis database.

Visits from the East

The fact that the «Epizentrum der westeuropäischen Politik» is shifting «etwas nach Osten» has not only been in connection with the reunification of the two German states (doc. 43, dodis.ch/56427). The policy of official visits also reflects this change. In February, Polish President Wojciech Jaruzelski visits Bern (doc. 5, dodis.ch/56181): in the autumn, the Federal Council received the last head of the GDR government, Lothar de Maizière (doc. 35, dodis.ch/55552) finally there were meetings with Václav Havel, the icon of the «Velvet Revolution» in Czechoslovakia, (doc 54, dods.ch/55850) and the Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze (doc 58, dodis.ch/55430). With an initial framework credit of CHF 250 million, Switzerland also supported the transformation processes in Eastern Europe, first and foremost in Poland and Hungary, which were already the most advanced in the reform process (doc. 12, dodis.ch/55680).

Is neutrality still in keeping with the times?

On the question of the recognition of the independence of the three Baltic states, Switzerland held back. Driven by its policy of neutrality, Switzerland cautiously argues that the prerequisites for recognition are not yet present (doc. 61, dodis.ch/54526). «Bedeutung, Wert und Sinn der Neutralität als Institut des Völkerrechts und als aussenpolitische Maxime der Schweiz» were however increasingly questioned (doc. 24, dodis.ch/54523). Uncertainty is spreading with the advent of the new geopolitical situation following the abrupt end of the East-West conflict. In this context, neutrals and non-aligned parties are indeed losing their importance as they move away from their traditional role as mediators. This uncertainty has also had repercussions on the evaluation of Swiss security policy – the «Report 90», which is aimed in particular at a younger generation critical of the armed forces (doc. 19, dodis.ch/54937).

Feelers put out with international organisations

In general, the «Swiss Sonderfall» is being called into question; Liechtenstein’s accession to the UN in September 1990 makes «die Veränderung der Beziehungen der Schweiz zur Weltorganisation» topical again (doc. 41, dodis.ch/56180). As part of a UN Transition Assistance Group peacekeeping operation in Namibia, Switzerland is carrying out a major engagement. It is thus taking a long-awaited step in the direction of «eines vermehrten weltweiten Engagements auf dem Gebiet der Friedenssicherung (doc. 31, dodis.ch/56036). Switzerland also positioned itself confidently vis-à-vis the Bretton Woods institutions as well, and attempted to strengthen its accession to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank: In a «Phase der Hinwendung zu Europa dürfte die Normalisierung der Beziehungen zu den Institutionen von Bretton Woods den notwendigen und willkommenen Ausgleich schaffen sowie gleichzeitig die offene Haltung gegenüber der Welt dokumentieren» (doc. 1, dodis.ch/54926).

EEA or «colossal isolation»

The pièce de résistance of Swiss foreign policy in 1990 remained the negotiations on the European Economic Area (EEA). The national government discussed various options – that Switzerland should remain outside the single market and that the Confederation should remain the «cavalier seul» in the long run seemed out of the question. The «Mittelweg» of the EEA was seen by the Federal Councillors as «die einzige realistische Möglichkeit» for Switzerland (doc. 8, dodis.ch/54934). They were striving for a solution «qui maintienne l’harmonie entre les spécificités suisses et la participation à l’Europe», while being aware that the negotiations would not lead to a «solution tout à fait conforme à nos espoirs» (doc. 23, dodis.ch/55262). Nevertheless, at the end of the year, the Federal Council had mixed feelings about the negotiations: the EC treats Switzerland in an «unerträglich» way, and it must find the courage to say no. This was countered internally: «Die Alternative für die Schweiz wäre eine kolossale Isolation in einer Zeit, in der die EG eine sehr grosse Attraktivität aufweist» (doc. 56, dodis.ch/54945).

Gulf crisis, economic relations and sanctions

In addition to the European arena, the tense situation in the Middle East was a focal point of Swiss diplomacy, be it in terms of humanitarian aid or mediation services between parties to the conflict, for example in Israel/Palestine or Lebanon (doc. 47, dodis.ch/55025). Like the international community, Switzerland does not recognise the «zwangsweise völkerrechtswidrige Annexion Kuwaits durch den Irak» (doc. 29, dodis.ch/55715) and took part – for the first time ever – in a UN sanctions. On the other hand, the Swiss government maintains its economic relations with South Africa’s apartheid regime, even as Nelson Mandela urges Federal Councillor Felber in a conversation to reconsider Switzerland’s rejection of international sanctions (doc. 25, dodis.ch/54851). On the other side of the Atlantic, the travels of Federal Councillor Delamuraz and his trade diplomats were influenced by the neoliberal turn that is sweeping the South American continent (doc. 26, dodis.ch/56121 et doc. 59, dodis.ch/54750).

Cooperation with developing countries

Although Switzerland concentrates its aid on Eastern Europe, it does not neglect development co-operation with «Third World» countries (doc. 39, dodis.ch/56092). Parliament thus approves a new framework credit of 3.3 billion CHF for the continuation of technical cooperation and financial aid to developing countries. However, the question of support for repressive regimes still arises. In Nepal and Rwanda, Switzerland calls for respect for human rights (doc. 14, dodis.ch/56128 et doc. 48, dodis.ch/56080).

Switzerland – not a special case?

Finally, the FDFA is in the throes of change: in addition to technical innovations, the field of international relations is expanding at an ever-increasing pace, creating new areas of activity. At the same time, Federal Councillor Felber sees his department as a mediator and a scout for a population that is perceived as ignorant: «[N]ous sommes là pour convaincre nos concitoyens que leur regard ne doit pas s’arrêter au mur d’en face ni même à la frontière de notre pays – il est trop petit.». It is therefore necessary to abandon the long-held view that Switzerland is a «cas particulier»: «[L]a Suisse, État, Nation, n’est pas un ‹Sonderfall› c’est un petit morceau de la géographie du continent européen et c’est un État qui a les mêmes responsabilités que tous les autres États de ce continent et du monde» (doc. 32, dodis.ch/54342).