As Americans participate in their third simultaneous war, we bring back an article that perhaps started it all. Related question: How many wars can we participate in simultaneously before the dollar collapses? I guess the sad thing is, we may find out.
Neutrality for Switzerland and the United States: A Viable Alternative to Interventionist Foreign Policy
For over half a century neutrality has been largely ignored in mainstream American foreign policy debates. The belief that America must participate in the conflicts of her time is commonplace, and it is accompanied today by the shunning of neutrality as naïve and anachronistic. Switzerland, meanwhile, is facing a situation in which she must decide whether to persist in her neutrality or begin a process that could ultimately result in the decisions which govern Swiss foreign policy being made somewhere other than Switzerland, i.e., Brussels. Both situations merit a review and reconsideration of neutrality. The presumptuous exclusion of neutrality has been extremely detrimental to the foreign policy debate in America. Not only has neutrality’s exclusion from the debate allowed interventionists to pursue their agendas with ever increasing recklessness and abandon, its exclusion has also denied us a viable foreign policy option that succeeds precisely where interventionism fails: preventing wars in the first place. It will be argued then that neutrality is a feasible foreign policy option for Switzerland and the United States. Such an argument will be based on the tenets of neutrality, its history in both countries, and a discussion of the plausibility and practicality of neutrality in addressing the needs of both countries, past, present and future.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion in the United States as to what exactly constitutes neutrality. Neutrality has been tied to other ideas such as isolationism, pacifism, and appeasement (Nordlinger 5).[i] It is important to separate neutrality, strictly speaking, from these and other ideas. While it is true, for example, that isolationism and neutrality are not mutually exclusive, it is equally true that isolationism is not neutrality per se. To begin with, neutrality can be defined as the “status of a nation that refrains from participation in a war between other states and maintains an impartial attitude toward the belligerents.” Isolationism, defined as “a policy of national…abstention from alliances and other international political and economic relations,” is then clearly not a synonym of neutrality. For example, a neutral state does not have to abstain from “international…economic relations” as long as it “maintains an impartial attitude toward the belligerents.” Similarly, while neutrality can be seen as pacifist in tendency in that it involves the opposition of a particular state to its own use of “war or violence as a means of settling disputes” between two other states, there is nothing in neutrality that prohibits a state from using war and violence to defend its neutrality if its rights as a neutral are violated. In fact, international law requires just such an armed defense.[ii] And in regard to the use of violence by any two third parties as a means of settling disputes between them, neutrality is per se completely agnostic.
It is a characteristic of post-Second World War America that American neutrality during that war is too often associated with appeasement or weakness in the face of Nazism. While it should be clear that the tenets of neutrality do not warrant any such association, one can go further. Political scientist Eric Nordlinger points out that “it is strategic internationalism, not [a strategy like neutrality], that could involve appeasement.” Moreover, if one spells out what appeasement consisted of in the context of World War II, it becomes clear that “it was Britain and France, not [neutral] America, that pressured Czechoslovakia to concede much of its territory to Hitler” (5).
Proponents of neutrality are also often accused of being naïve and out of touch with reality. Certainly, though, one can use these same adjectives to describe the ideas of contemporary, mainstream advocates of interventionism from the left-wing and the right. During the year prior to her appointment as Secretary of State by Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright faced questioning about the fact that economic sanctions sponsored by the United States against Iraq had led to the deaths of “half a million children.”[iii] Albright’s questioner pointed out that half a million children “is more…than died in Hiroshima,” asking, “and, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied that “…the price, we think, the price is worth it.” It is important to note that this is a price paid for a failed policy. As recent events have shown, sanctions failed to accomplish the alleged goals of U.S. interventionists of the left and the right, leading to the air strikes against Iraq under Clinton and the eventual invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Similarly, there are the instances at the end of the twentieth century of liberal and conservative interventionists alike insinuating that “new” Pearl Harbor attacks are necessary in order to convince a reluctant American public to maintain America’s worldwide hegemony. The right-wing Project for a New American Century’s report entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” tells us that “the process of [military] transformation” endorsed by the Project “is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” Zbigniew Brzezinski comes to a similar conclusion in his book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. Brzezinski was the national security advisor to former President Jimmy Carter. Anyone who implies that new Pearl Harbor attacks are an apt way to advance his or her interventionist agenda is displaying more naïveté and disconnectedness than even the most radical proponents of U.S. neutrality. It would appear, then, that perhaps the epithets commonly associated with neutrality are not necessarily warranted. A fair examination of neutrality requires that the epithets associated with it and its supporters be put aside and that neutrality be looked at in and of itself.
Neutrality is both a legal status in international law as well as a practical political concept that is a part of larger political ideologies (Karsh 5). A brief general summary and history of the legal development of neutrality will suffice, as the primary concern of this study is the plausibility of whether or not neutrality can provide for Switzerland and America’s security concerns. Historically, one can consider neutrality a corollary to war (Karsh 13). It has been traced all the way back to ancient Greece (Rubin 11). The legal framework which enumerates the rights and duties of neutrals and those countries interacting with neutrals slowly developed over many years and culminated in the provisions for neutrality established by the Hague Conventions (Karsh 18-19). The basic legal conception of neutrality provides that “the belligerents’ obligations towards a neutral state [are]…to respect [the neutral] state’s independence and territorial integrity” (Karsh 22). The neutral state is obliged to “prevent the [warring] parties…from exploiting its territory…for military purposes” and “to maintain absolute parity in its relations with the two rival camps” (Karsh 24). Such parity in relations, though, does imply that a “neutral state [must restrain its] sympathy or condemnation towards the belligerents” (Karsh 23-24). Lassa Oppenheim, an international law expert, points out that “the required attitude of impartiality [of the neutral state] is not incompatible with sympathy with one belligerent, and disapproval of the other, so long as these feelings do not find expression in actions violating impartiality” (qtd. in Karsh 24). Some will argue, though, that neutrality, as with other legal concepts, must sometimes be bent in order to be politically practical. It is one author’s opinion that “instances where [a] neutral state has succeeded in remaining outside the circle of war, even at the cost of [not entirely fulfilling its obligations as a neutral, should] be considered the success of neutrality as a foreign policy instrument” (Karsh 25-26). It will be interesting to note later on the implications of the experience of the United States during the world wars on such an argument. Neutrality, as a foreign policy, can be maintained on an “ad hoc” basis or as a “permanent” status (Karsh 26-27). It seems that Switzerland and the United States ought to pursue permanent neutrality, if they are to pursue neutrality at all, as permanent neutrality is far more “credible” than “maintain[ing] neutrality with regard to one war, while participating in another” (Karsh 26-27).
Neutrality has its political basis in two different ideologies, isolationism and classical liberalism (Gabriel 203-207). The two ideologies can best be differentiated by their treatment of international trade. While the isolationist, as mentioned earlier, prefers “abstention from…international… economic relations,” the classical liberal fully endorses international free trade (Mises xvi). This difference may seem tangential to the concept of neutrality, but it is actually the source of much debate concerning the economic basis required for a neutral foreign policy. Some argue that a necessary precondition for neutrality is autarky (Schwok 80). History has shown, though, that autarky most readily goes hand in hand with tyranny, rabid militarism and interventionism; Nazi Germany’s attempt at autarky and its subsequent demand for ‘lebensraum’ provides one such example. The incompatibility of neutrality and autarky is well summed up by economist Frederick Bastiat’s words, “When goods don’t cross borders…armies will.” Since the United States “export[s] and import[s] more goods and services than any other country” and since Switzerland “is highly dependent on foreign trade,” it seems unrealistic to argue for a neutral policy grounded in self-sufficiency; thus, the classical liberal free trade approach is preferred.[iv] Some sort of amalgamation of the two is also rejected as schizophrenic; a good policy, it seems, must be based on consistent premises.[v]
Edgar Bonjour, a professor of history, says “the idea of Swiss Neutrality is actually almost [as old as the] Swiss nation [itself]” (11). As early as 1481 the Swiss contemplated neutrality, considering “Swiss monk Niklaus von Flüe[’s]" argument that “the [Swiss] Confederation [ought] to remain neutral during foreign conflicts” as a way to “deny potential aggressors a casus belli” (Halbrook 7). It was not until after their defeat at the battle of Marignano in 1515, however, that the Swiss adopted a de facto policy of permanent neutrality (Halbrook 8). Marignano put an end to the Swiss expansionism of the late fifteenth and the early sixteenth centuries; during that time, Switzerland had come to be seen “as one of the most formidable of European states” (Steinberg 28-30). While the end of the militarism of “the invincible Swiss” and the move towards permanent neutrality in 1515 may seem to be an unlikely event at first glance, the underlying trends appear to be more continuous (Steinberg 30). As mentioned earlier, the Swiss always saw neutrality as an option, even if they didn’t always practice it. As an increasingly diverse country, Switzerland chose neutrality as a way to prevent the country from being torn apart by external conflicts (Halbrook 8). The Protestant-Catholic split of the Thirty Years’ War and the French-German divide of later wars exemplify the reason why participation in foreign wars could have easily torn Switzerland apart (Rubin and Wehrli 44-50).
After 1515, Swiss political entanglements abroad slowly dwindled; one hundred and fifty-nine years elapsed before Switzerland actually made “perpetual armed neutrality” its “official [foreign] policy” (Rubin and Wehrli 45). Author Stephen Halbrook tells us that perpetual Swiss neutrality paused only once, at the behest of Napoleon’s army. The “brave” defense of Switzerland and its eventual succumbing to the French taught the Swiss and its potential enemies a lesson. “The Swiss,” Halbrook indicates, “[became] determined never to allow an invasion again.” Potential enemies of Switzerland acquiesced and never invaded again (Halbrook 13-15). In 1815, the great powers of Europe recognized Switzerland’s permanent neutrality and enshrined it in international law (Bonjour 59-60).
“When the ‘Great War’ broke out…with combatants on all borders of Switzerland,” says Halbrook, the Swiss were ready. The nation mobilized a citizen’s army of nearly half a million (19). While that is not an insignificant number, it is also small relative to the armies of the other powers.[vi] Yet, Switzerland had another advantage; according to author Julian Grande, the Swiss army was composed of “all good marksmen,” against which the French and German soldiers paled in comparison (qtd. in Halbrook 20). Those critical of Switzerland’s purported greed and cynicism in dealing with Nazi gold during World War II ought to remember the first World War in which “a small country strategically located in the heart of Europe” risked much to preserve its neutrality (Halbrook 20). “Neutrality,” Halbrook reiterates, “did not lead to prosperity [for Switzerland] during World War I” (20). In the end, of course, Switzerland maintained her independence, only to face a similar situation twenty-one years later.
Much has been written on the Swiss experience in World War II. Needless to say, Switzerland found itself in yet another difficult situation. This is obvious from a strategic military standpoint, but it is also true from a moral standpoint. There are stories that demonstrate Swiss compassion for Jews before, during and after the war, as well as stories that demonstrate indifference to the same (Halbrook 38, 53, 207-208). Perhaps what is most regrettable is the denial of “unlimited asylum…or free emigration to German and Austrian Jews” (Halbrook 53). That the denial of asylum to Jews, however, was motivated primarily by racism does not appear to be true (Halbrook 53). This is not to say that there were no anti-Semites in Switzerland, but it is important to note that while Nazi Germany disarmed Jews as a preliminary step to their eventual extermination, Switzerland had armed every Jewish male citizen as part of her policy of armed neutrality (Halbrook 57). It is also important not to blame neutrality. Neutrality, as a foreign policy, would have been completely compatible with a policy of asylum for all Jews. The decisions Switzerland made about asylum were strategic and moral in nature and are not the primary focus of the discussion at hand.[vii]
Issues of asylum aside, Switzerland survived another world war; her deterrence policy, armed neutrality, served her well. She managed to “[avoid] much of the damage” associated with the war, “retain[ing her] old-world charm.”[viii] Despite this fact, many criticisms have since arisen about Swiss neutrality during World War II. Some critics maintain that Switzerland “prolonged the second world war” because of its trade with Nazi Germany; these same critics often ignore the war-prolonging implications of Roosevelt’s unconditional surrender policy and the fact that it was the vengeful Treaty of Versailles that prompted the rise of Hitler in the first place (Hofer 76). Clearly, wars are terrible things and there is much blame to go around; nevertheless, that the unconditional surrender policy promulgated by Allied leaders could have easily cost millions of unnecessary Allied deaths is “unquestionabl[e]” (Fleming 467). Whether Switzerland’s contribution to the German military effort, “0.05% of the total,…could have prolonged the war cannot be answered at all,” argues writer Walther Hofer, “simply because there are too many imponderables in the picture” (Hofer 77). Moreover, this ignores the fact that Swiss trade with the belligerents was roughly equal at the beginning of the war, disproportionately favored Germany in the middle of the war, and disproportionately favored the Allies as the war ended (Karsh 52-54).
Switzerland’s trade with both sides was essential to her survival as a neutral and therefore essential to her uninterrupted survival as a nation (Schaffner 4). Siding with the Allies would have meant, from Switzerland’s position, certain defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany; siding with the Axis powers is almost inconceivable, assuming the Swiss did not want to alter their institutions of government, not to mention the vast increase in Allied criticism that would have been rightfully heaped upon Switzerland for such actions. Unless critics of Switzerland’s policy of trade with both sides would have preferred Switzerland as an ally of Germany or a war-ravaged and nonexistent Switzerland, at least from 1939 to 1945, they must come to realize that Switzerland’s only option was neutrality. The maintenance of neutrality, in turn, since Switzerland was dependent on foreign trade, required equal trade with both sides (Schaffner 4).
The idea of American neutrality, like that of Swiss neutrality, is nearly as old as the nation itself. Two months after the Declaration of Independence was issued, John Adams argued, “we ought to lay it down as a first principle and a maxim never to be forgotten, to maintain an entire neutrality in all future European wars” (Borchard and Lage 21). The emphasis on ‘never to be forgotten’ is added as an admonishment of the fact that, in terms of the contemporary American foreign policy debate, neutrality has been nearly totally forgotten. Certainly, though, this was not always the case. The most famous annunciation of American neutrality is found in George Washington’s Farewell Address, in which he advises his countrymen:
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens, the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial, else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided . . . Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side and serve to veil…the…influence [of] the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests. The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible (Washington 27).
Washington was not only the first President, but as such, he was the first President to make neutrality an official foreign policy of the United States.[ix] When “war broke out between Great Britain and France” in 1793, Washington issued a “Proclamation of Neutrality” (“The United States Should Remain Aloof from Europe” 23-24). American neutrality did not end with Washington. Thomas Jefferson attempted to maintain U.S. neutrality during his presidency, although the country had trouble enforcing its neutral rights to trade with both belligerents when war again broke out between Britain and France.[x] In response to British violations of American neutral rights, Jefferson asked “Congress in 1807 for an embargo that would suspend all U.S. trade with foreign nations.”[xi] The embargo failed, doing massive harm to the American economy, again demonstrating the necessary coupling of neutrality and free trade.
America’s neutrality during this period allowed for the “maximiz[ation of] the nation’s security and minimized the risks in providing for it” (Nordlinger 50).[xii] In other words, America expanded and developed domestically, while avoiding wars she did not have the resources to fight. Taking into consideration America’s position on a continent thousands of miles from its potential rivals, it appears to be very reasonable that almost no one questions the merits of early American neutrality towards European affairs (Nordlinger 11). It is in questioning the merits of American interventionism during and after the emergence of America as a superpower, then, that controversy arises. Many claim that ‘everything changed’ at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century (“Washington’s Farewell Address No Longer Applies to the United States” 29). It is important therefore to review the history of America’s emergence as a world power and as an intervener in European affairs in order to decide whether this claim is actually true or just a convenient ploy to advance an interventionist agenda.
Eric Nordlinger gives us a summary of America’s emergence as a superpower: “Toward the end of the nineteenth century the United States attained the…resources and potential capacities of a major power…It began to act like a major power with the building of a world-class navy, war with the…Spanish…over Cuba, followed by [numerous Pacific] annexations.” Nordlinger, a strong advocate of what he calls a “national strategy” for American foreign policy, points out that on the face of it, the claim that America has to forgo a neutral foreign policy because she has attained superpower status is absurd. That things changed during the years in question is true, but these changes “did not require or justify the rejection” of a strategy like neutrality. Nordlinger asks:
…how does it follow that [America’s emergence as a world power] somehow require[s] [her] to take up the activist mantle of…internationalism? The internationalists of the time and their subsequent scholarly defenders voiced a truly paradoxical argument: The resources of a great power make for constraint rather than autonomy, the need for effortful involvements rather than (more) safety at home…Theodore Roosevelt was wrong in flatly asserting what became the conventional…wisdom: ‘We have no choice as to whether or not we shall play a great part in the world.’
Admittedly, great power status does allow American culture and commerce to play “a great part in the world,” but that does not justify political entanglements and intervention (52-54). One scholar, Efraim Karsh, who wrote a book entitled Neutrality and Small States, goes further, arguing that neutrality is actually an easier choice for a more powerful nation. Karsh says, “the chances that a large state will succeed in maintaining neutrality are, ostensibly, better than those of a small power – due to the belligerent’s awareness of the high cost of violating the large state’s neutrality” (4).
After the battle of Marignano, the Swiss made a choice. This choice was nearly the opposite of the choice America made at the end of the nineteenth century. On the one hand, the Swiss chose to forsake their expansionism for de facto neutrality. America, on the other, chose to forsake her history of neutrality and opt for overseas interventionism. If it is possible for a small, formerly warring state in the midst of Europe to give up its expansionism and to successfully maintain its territorial integrity and sovereignty via a foreign policy of neutrality, how much easier it would have been for a large, powerful, non-engaged state oceans away from potential rivals to renounce any future expansionism and maintain its sovereignty and integrity by the same method!
Some will point out that modern technologies eviscerated the ocean barrier between America and her potential enemies abroad. Yet, a new barrier had seamlessly replaced the old. America’s emergence as the world’s strongest power would be more of a deterrent to aggressors than an ocean had ever been. So, the same benefits of neutrality that America enjoyed in her earlier years could still be enjoyed within the context of America’s new status as an emerging superpower. America could still grow and develop domestically, while avoiding wars, since they were wholly unnecessary to the maintenance of America’s security.
Yet, opponents to neutrality persist, arguing that the world wars demonstrate that American neutrality does not work. It seems, though, a better argument would be that the world wars demonstrate that an attempt to maintain nominal neutrality while in fact pursuing a biased foreign policy does not work. It is a cruel irony that one collection of essays for and against the isolationist form of neutrality depicts President Woodrow Wilson as a hero of neutrality (“The United States Should Be Neutral” 45-46). Thomas Fleming, an eminent American historian, calls neutrality under Wilson “a sham” (32). “At the outset” of the war, one source says, “Germany and Britain…sought to terminate U.S. trade with the other. Exploiting its naval advantage, Britain gained the upper hand and almost ended U.S. trade with Germany.”[xiii] Yet, Fleming states, “the Americans [did] little or nothing to protest the British blockade.” Proponents of neutrality wondered “why the United States had kept its ships out of the war zone that England had created but refused to recognize the German war zone around the British Isles.” In other words, America, an emerging world superpower, did “little or nothing” to defend its right to trade with Germany (32). Meanwhile, the United States continued trading in large volumes with the Triple Entente (Fleming 71). “By 1916,” Fleming writes, “the [U.S.] was supplying…Britain, France and Russia with 40 percent of their war matériel. …Watching this performance, Germans…became more and more embittered and skeptical about Wilson’s [avowals] of neutrality” (71-72). In the end, lack of food, which Germany would have been receiving from neutrals in absence of the British blockade, drove Germany to begin its own submarine blockade of Britain (Fleming 36, 74). After the sinking of a British ship carrying armaments by a German submarine killed 128 Americans, America abandoned pseudo-neutrality and declared war on Germany (Fleming 55-56). One U.S. Senator, Robert La Follette, put it best when he said, “The failure to treat the belligerent nations alike, to reject the illegal war zones of both Germany and Great Britain, is wholly accountable for our present dilemma” (qtd. in Fleming 36).
Deja vu may be the best way to summarize American neutrality in the Second World War. The Roosevelt administration’s de facto oil embargo against Japan and its commitment to a lend-lease program of which Britain was nearly the only beneficiary put Roosevelt on par with Wilson in his disregard for authentic neutrality (Fleming 18-19, 82). Yale law professor Edwin Borchard criticized the Roosevelt administration’s attempts to send military aid to Britain as “a hostile act” that “is inconsistent with that neutrality which official groups profess to wish to maintain” (Borchard 108-109). Japan, dependent on foreign oil, imported nearly half of her oil from the U.S. prior to the embargo (Fleming 16). The oil embargo helped to provoke the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, after which any pretense of U.S. neutrality came to an end (Fleming 20-24).
It seems likely that America’s security even if she had remained neutral in World War II would have been maintained. This is best demonstrated by Nordlinger’s assertion that “a Germany in control of continental Europe could not breach [the English Channel].” “Surely” then, says Nordlinger, “there was no way for [German] forces to cross thousands of miles of ocean to threaten a many times over more formidable opponent” (58). Thus, honest neutrality could have saved millions of American lives; America could have stood as a pillar of peace and security in a world twice gone insane. Instead, America despite her strength joined in the insanity that the small, relatively weak nation in the middle of Europe, Switzerland, managed to stay out of. The defeat of Nazi Germany and its allies came at the cost of an alliance with one of the few governments to outdo the Nazis in terms of the murder of their own citizens, the U.S.S.R., and America’s sad status as the only nation to ever actually use a nuclear weapon offensively. So, it appears that the humanitarian justifications for U.S. intervention in World War II are lacking.
In summary, it seems that Wilson and Roosevelt participated, perhaps intentionally, in a historical maneuver that discredited neutrality in the eyes of Americans. By actively labeling their policies as ‘neutral,’ they twice facilitated the depiction of war as a result of American neutrality when the country actually went to war as a result of the de facto biases in their policies. This discrediting of American neutrality and America’s subsequent unnecessary interventions all over the globe have the potential to become the greatest of all the humanitarian costs of American intervention in the world wars.
The Cold War has long been the realm of the internationalist and the interventionist. If American neutrality during the two world wars is to be criticized, then American neutrality during the Cold War is unspeakable. Yet, there are those that question this conventional wisdom. Nordlinger contends that America’s security remained ensured in the aftermath of the Second World War. “Manifest superiority in strategic air and naval power” it is argued, “was more than adequate to guarantee control over both oceans, rendering impossible any significant threat to the Western Hemisphere. And there was the additional check [of] the atomic arsenal and its ability to destroy the Soviet war machine before it could be employed against the United States” (60). It is important to mention here that Karsh believes a nuclear deterrent is more effective if practiced by a neutral. “While the nuclear weaponry of a particular member of an alliance,” Karsh reasons, “is perceived by the rival superpower as being offensively oriented, as part and parcel of the overall power of an opposing camp…the neutral[‘s]…possession of nuclear arms tend to be perceived more readily as being purely defensive in nature.” Thus, a neutral country can more easily evade “such dangers…[as] a pre-emptive blow and preventive attack…[and] being dragged into other countries’ wars” (185). Some interventionists argue that it was necessary for America to save Western Europe from Soviet domination, but this would only “dissipate America’s power by trying to extend defense perimeters across the Atlantic. Given its geostrategic…advantages, U.S. defenses should be concentrated in the Western Hemisphere” (Nordlinger 60-61). “Containment policies” were also unnecessary Nordlinger contends, as “Soviet expansion would…succeed” at first only to cause “likely [future] targets….[to] balance against Moscow.” Internal pressures would overwhelm the communist world causing it to split under its own weight; these pressures were made manifest by Yugoslavian and Chinese “refus[als] to accept Stalin’s directives” (61). Moreover, Richard Lebow and Janice Stein in their book We All Lost the Cold War put forth the argument “that Washington’s faith in the efficacy of showdown diplomacy actually prolonged the Cold War.” Perhaps most important is the great economist Ludwig von Mises’ assertion of the impossibility of rational economic calculation in a socialist system; the Soviet Union, it seems, was doomed to failure from the beginning. If America had put more faith in the strength of her own supposed ideals, i.e., freedom and capitalism, she might have avoided the Cold War altogether.
Some general critiques of interventionism also apply to the Cold War period. Nordlinger suggests that U.S. officials have learned the purported lessons of the 1930s too well. Interventionists still concerned about the 1930s in the 1980s can be accused of the same thing of which they accuse proponents of neutrality, recklessly adhering to a policy that no longer applies (113-118). Nordlinger reasons that blind adherence to internationalism and the failure to consider policies like neutrality have led to intervention as a default foreign policy doctrine. In other words, if something is wrong in the world, no matter how distant, in geographic or other terms, from the U.S., our default policy is to intervene. This “geo-strategic indiscriminateness” has led the U.S. to involve itself in far too many conflicts (78). Even one who favors an actively interventionist foreign policy should see the wisdom in ‘picking one’s fights.’ The willingness to develop what author Robert H. Johnson refers to as “a geostrategic rationale for the importance of [intervening in] almost any country” leads to the military and other resources being stretched too thin (qtd. in Nordlinger 78). This in turn leads to a less, not more, secure America.
Many interventionists have a pet cause; some maintain that America must go abroad to secure access to oil. Yet, the law of unintended consequences is omnipresent; an argument can be made that interventionism to secure oil supplies has actually increased our dependence on oil imports and thereby hurt our security in the long run (Nordlinger 86-87). Instead of becoming more and more energy efficient, like Japan for example, allowing the military to guarantee a constant supply of oil has not provided American businesses with any incentive to decrease our reliance on foreign oil (Nordlinger 86). The worst case scenario after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, that Hussein would have eventually “gained control of all the oil fields in the Gulf” region and by monopoly “drive[n] up the price of oil to maximize revenues,” would only have resulted in a ten dollar increase in the per barrel price of oil (Nordlinger 85-86). This, argues Nordlinger, surely did not justify claims “that Saddam could ‘strangle’ the world economy.” Intervention in the Persian Gulf region, therefore, is unjustifiable even on financial grounds in that it cost “$40 billion a year to protect $14 billion of current oil imports” (86).
If there has ever been a time for a return to neutrality in America, it is now. In terms of her rival states, she is unmatched; in fact, she could easily spend less on military expenditures and still strengthen the defense of America itself. Continued military engagement abroad can only stretch her too thin. ‘Rogue nations,’ even those that would threaten the use of a nuclear weapon against the United States, should be deterred by what remains the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. And even if they are not, intervention can only further provoke them. The “War on Terrorism” has turned a conflict between the United States and Al Qaeda into a wider confrontation involving ourselves, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and other terrorists and insurgents formerly unaffiliated with Al Qaeda. Moreover, we have allied ourselves with some of the primary sponsors of radical Islamic terrorism, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Aside from this, few Americans have come to face the fact that, as one Middle East scholar, William Cleveland, puts it:
…perhaps the most crucial link among September 11, Al Qaeda, and the core Middle East can be traced to US foreign policy and perceptions of the United States itself. The attacks of September 11 gave rise to a brief period of US soul-searching in which the predominant question was “Why do they hate us so much?” It seemed to come as a surprise to many Americans that their country’s policies could generate levels of anger and frustration sufficient to trigger such deadly retribution. Yet…recent history reveals a pattern of US policy that was insensitive to, and largely ignorant of, Arab and Islamic public opinion. Bin Laden himself identified the following causes of grievance: the US position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, continued US support for the maintenance of economic sanctions against Iraq and the hardships they imposed on the Iraqi people, and the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia – a presence seen as an insult to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina (Cleveland 543).
This is not to say that a renewed commitment to U.S. neutrality would pacify the entire Islamic world, but it is to say that a problem, i.e., U.S. intervention in the Middle East, is not its own solution. Insofar as terrorism is motivated by Muslim anger about foreign intervention, neutrality can be seen as a step in the right direction. And insofar as terrorism is motivated by Muslim anger in general, neutrality is irrelevant. There will always be those madmen willing to use violence as a means to achieve their irrational purposes, but intervention only lends them support; an impoverished Muslim that resents the West will not be impressed by the coercive hand of the U.S. government attempting to rectify his position. This is where private, voluntary American philanthropic efforts and free exchange between cultures must come in. In short, the U.S. military should come home now.
On the issue of terrorism, the same is true for Switzerland; though, Switzerland finds itself in a better position, having never intervened in the Middle East in the first place. There is no reason for Switzerland to take sides in the War on Terrorism, despite the Bush administration’s rhetoric. Switzerland can fight terrorists in the same way it fights all other murderers and arsonists.
The real issue that Swiss neutrality faces is that of European integration. It may appear that Swiss neutrality and some form of integration with Europe, particularly that of the economic variety, are not completely mutually exclusive. It also seems that Swiss neutrality’s success in providing for Switzerland’s defense for nearly five hundred years, from 1515 until the present, except for Napoleon’s invasion, is an impressive track record. The European Union, if it is successful in its avowed goals, will create a peaceful community with which Switzerland can cooperate economically without abandoning neutrality.[xiv] And if the E.U. is unsuccessful, if it breaks up or stalls, Switzerland’s neutrality will regain its importance as a mechanism for avoiding conflict in the heart of Europe. As there are no clear and present military dangers to Swiss security that would merit a rethinking of neutrality, neutrality ought not to be abandoned, if and when Switzerland chooses any further economic integration.
Swiss neutrality, which persisted in the very midst of two world wars, should not be abandoned for “light and transient causes.” European unions have been attempted before. The prior attempts were under conquerors; the attempt at hand is seemingly a more voluntary one. Yet, perhaps the greatest threat to Swiss security arises in the form of a European Union itself. Jørn K. Baltzersen, a concerned European citizen, tells us that massive voluntary political unions like the one which united the thirteen former-colonies into one United States of America have a tendency to become involuntary. The American Civil War put an end to the concept of a voluntary union of states, outlawing by force any ability to secede. History is fraught with such examples. The potential exists in the E.U. for the same result, though obviously not in the short term. Economic cooperation and the preservation of neutrality would allow Switzerland its best safeguard against such a union-gone-wrong. A Switzerland that is fully integrated into the E.U. stands less of a chance against such a union than a Switzerland which has maintained its neutrality and independence.
Neutrality, then, is not a foreign policy for those that favor the trend of the day. Neutrality stands as an option that looks to the future, as the Swiss did after the French occupation. Neutrality attempts to minimize and prevent conflicts before they start, through deterrence, preparedness, and free exchange. Neutrality is realistic, at a time when the goals of the internationalists and interventionists are becoming less and less so. Neutrality is confident, not like the overconfidence of imperialism, but the quiet confidence of a nation whose goal, in spite of war, is peace. Most importantly, neutrality has worked. A small nation in the middle of Europe’s conflicts avoided these conflicts in all instances except for one in a period of five hundred years. Another small nation on the Atlantic seaboard of North America avoided these conflicts as well, allowing it to emerge as a leading world power.
And neutrality will continue to work. No country would dare challenge the world’s pre-eminent power, which places its defense over the temptations and costs of empire. Switzerland too, for security purposes, would do well not to inherit through union the reputations of the former imperial powers of Europe and the conflicts associated with them. History, it has been shown, is on the side of neutrality. The future, by implication, is as well, since “there is nothing new in the world but the history you do not know” (Fleming v). For these reasons, neutrality can and ought to serve as the foreign policy for both the United States and Switzerland. Such a proposal has long been missing from the debate; this article has attempted to fill the gap.
[i] All book sources are cited using parenthetical documentation of page numbers with a link to the cited book on Amazon.com or another appropriate website; all internet sources are cited using hyperlinks within the sentence in which the cited information is contained.
[ii] Wilfried Aichinger, “What Actually is Neutrality?” Austria Today, 3/89, 14.
[iii] The source itself refers to “U.S. led” economic sanctions against Iraq. It is unclear from the source whether the U.S. and U.N. sanctions were one in the same. It is important to point out that Switzerland, a neutral country, did, unilaterally and not as a member of the U.N., participate in sanctions against Iraq. See Samantha Tonkin, “Swiss Lift Trade Embargo on Iraq,” The Iraq Foundation, 30 May 2003, <http://www.iraqfoundation.org/news/2003/emay/30_swiss.html> (2 April 2006); see also Dietrich Kappeler, “Switzerland,” DiploFoundation, < http://conf.diplomacy.edu/conf/NEUTRALI/switzer.htm> (2 April 2006), 4.7. Swiss neutrality and the Gulf War, as well as “Global Energy Sanctions,” Energy Information Administration, July 2004, <http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/sanction.html> (2 April 2006), U.N. and U.S. Sanctions Against IRAQ Lifted. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of sources delineating the relationship of the Swiss sanctions to the U.N. and U.S. sponsored sanctions. If interested, it is recommended that the reader do more research. It will suffice to say that the purpose of the quote as cited here is to demonstrate the mentality of an avowed interventionist.
[iv] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004, s.v. “United States (Economy)” and “Switzerland” respectively.
[v] While there are other sources for this concept, much credit must be given to Professor Peter Hess of the University of Texas for the idea of using the term ‘schizophrenic’ in this instance. Also see Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., “Are Conservatives Crazy?” LewRockwell.com, 30 March 2006, <http://www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/two-brains.html> (4 April 2006).
[vi] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004, s.v. “World War I”
[vii] This article makes the case for neutrality as a viable foreign policy; it does not specifically advise, for example, how much a neutral country ought to spend on armaments. Neutrality can certainly be a strategic decision, but it is not in the exact same sense that spending on armaments is. Thus, a country like Switzerland that is strategically neutral can, under that umbrella, pick and choose other strategies: let the Jews in as a way to rally allied nations to defend Swiss neutrality; or not let the Jews in as a way to reduce the likelihood of a German invasion. This is not to say that letting the Jews into Switzerland would have actually rallied any allied support for Swiss neutrality, or that letting Jews in ought to be considered from a strategic standpoint. It is certainly this author’s opinion that the asylum issue ought to be decided from a moral standpoint and that the Swiss should have forgone the decreased likelihood of a German invasion in favor of doing what, in hindsight, is clearly the right thing to do.
[viii] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004, s.v. “Switzerland”
[ix] No information could be found as to the practice of neutrality under the Articles of Confederation.
[x] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004, s.v. “United States (History)”
[xi] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004, s.v. “United States (History)”
[xii] It is important to point out that the American neutrality Nordlinger refers to in this instance was maintained on an ad hoc basis. One possible example of America’s interventionist policies during the same period is the Monroe Doctrine which put America in the business of deterring European intervention in other nations in the Americas, although it can be argued that the original proponents of the doctrine never intended to use actual intervention to back it up; instead, they could easily rely on the British Empire’s support for the same policies the doctrine embodied. Moreover, the Monroe Doctrine actually reaffirmed America’s commitment to stay out of European affairs. See “Monroe Doctrine,” Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monroe_Doctrine> (27 January 2007).
[xiii] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004, s.v. “United States (History)”
[xiv] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004, s.v. “European Union”