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Swiss stay on sidelines as Nato hits 60

Switzerland has contributed to Nato peace efforts in Kosovo Reuters

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization celebrates its 60th anniversary, the likelihood of Switzerland joining the alliance is remote, says a Swiss security expert.

This content was published on April 4, 2009 - 10:51

Full membership is not on the cards because of the country's neutrality, Victor Mauer tells swissinfo, but Switzerland can still play a role within Nato's Partnership for Peace programme.

Leaders of the organisation's 28 member states were meeting in Strasbourg, France, on Friday and Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the treaty in 1949.

And although Switzerland is not present, it has benefited from the alliance's protection in the past, according to Mauer.

swissinfo: Nato is celebrating its 60th birthday. Would it be worthwhile for Switzerland to be a full member of the alliance?

Victor Mauer: The question of full membership isn't an issue for Switzerland. The country has basically never asked for it, although it did benefit from the alliance's nuclear shield during the Cold War.

A conventional attack is very unlikely now. Full membership would also find little support inside the country. And it would also not be acceptable because of Swiss neutrality.

swissinfo: Would the biggest disadvantage of membership be Switzerland having to give up its neutrality?

V.M.: Yes. Article Five of the Washington Treaty makes it clear that if an armed attack takes place against a member state, other members will give support, including the use of armed force. This would mean Switzerland would have to abandon neutrality.

swissinfo: Switzerland does take part though in Nato's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme. Couldn't this be harmful to Swiss neutrality?

V.M.: No. Swiss neutrality is in no way called into question by the participation in the PfP programme, which promotes civil and military cooperation. It could be a stepping-stone towards Nato membership at a later date, but there is absolutely no obligation. Transformation and training programmes are at the core of the programme. Each country can decide the extent of its commitment.

swissinfo: What significance does Switzerland have for Nato?

V.M.: Compared with other countries, its significance is rather minor. But Switzerland contributes for example actively to the composition of the training programmes in Zurich and Geneva.

The Swiss military contribution itself is small compared with other countries. Switzerland has its Swisscoy contingent [up to 220 volunteers of volunteers from the armed forces] with the Kosovo Force (Kfor). But it is an important and widely respected contribution.

swissinfo: But there are people in Switzerland who see the country's Nato commitment as detrimental to neutrality. Why is that?

V.M.: For some, Nato remains an alliance of the Cold War. But those who criticise Nato as a classical military alliance are still stuck in the mental trench of the East-West conflict. The organisation left the Cold War behind it a long time ago.

swissinfo: So Nato has changed since 1949?

V.M.: That is correct. The alliance has undergone a fundamental transformation since 1989/1991. But even during the Cold War it was more than just a military alliance. It was a transatlantic consultation forum that embodied security on the inside and outside.

This in no way contradicts the fact that Article 5 – the support obligation – had an enormous appeal after 1990 for eastern European states.

swissinfo: The Nato operation in Serbia in 1999 was a preventive strike, which was carried out without a United Nations mandate. Will that be the Nato policy of the future?

V.M.: You have to look at the context of the intervention in 1999. The massacre in Srebrenica was still in people's minds. Everyone knew that action had been taken much too late during the Bosnian war.

Europeans and Americans agreed that there should not be a second humanitarian catastrophe in the Balkans. There was no UN mandate because the Security Council could not reach a decision, as was often the case during the Cold War.

It would be completely inappropriate to describe Nato as an intervention force. Today it is a defence organisation, a cooperative security organisation and crisis manager with global duties.

swissinfo: What the world be like without Nato?

V.M.: After the fall of the Soviet Union and the break up of the Warsaw Pact there were also plenty of people expecting Nato to end. That it survives can be put down first and foremost to a successful fundamental transformation process which began at the latest in 1994 and adapted to new security challenges.

If Nato were dismantled, there would be the inevitable question of which structures would take its place. We need watchdog structures, whether they are in the world of finance and the economy or, as is the case here, regarding security. I believe the world would be on the whole more insecure if the alliance did not exist.

swissinfo-interview: Etienne Strebel

Nato

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military and security alliance that consists of 28 independent member countries.

In accordance with the Treaty, the fundamental role of Nato is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means. But it is playing an increasingly important role in crisis management and peacekeeping.

It is based in Brussels and its current secretary-general is Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of The Netherlands. On April 4 Nato leaders appointed Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the organisation's new secretary-general after overcoming Turkish objections to a leader who angered Muslims around the world by supporting the right to caricature their prophet, Mohammed.

Nato has 23 partner countries, including Switzerland and Russia.

Missions currently include Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Darfur in Sudan. It also has a fleet of ships in the Mediterranean Sea to defend against possible extremist attacks.

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Victor Mauer

As deputy director of the Center for Security Studies in Zurich, Mauer heads the organisation's project on European Security and Transatlantic Relations.

He studied politics, history, European and international law, and international relations at Bonn, Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Mauer specialises in European security, European integration and transatlantic relations.

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