Switzerland is best known for five things – Watches, Alps, Chocolate, Banks, and Roger Federer. Switzerland has Italy in the south, France in the west, Germany in the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein in the east.
With all these countries as neighbors, one question arises that why did Switzerland never participate in World Wars and why no one ever tried to conquer Switzerland despite being a small country. In context to these questions, neutrality and almost impossible to invade always stands as answers. Let’s discuss it in more detail.
Neutrality of Switzerland
Before World Wars
Before 1848 Switzerland was a confederation. Wars occurred within the country, between states as well as on foreign territories. In 1815 when the Napoleonic Wars ended, Swiss neutrality was imposed by “the treaty of Paris” as a counterpart for being recognized as independent as it would be beneficial if Switzerland served as a buffer zone between France and Austria to help stabilize the region.
World War I
Switzerland was a small country, surrounded by The Allied Forces on one side (France and Italy), and The Central Powers on the other (Austria and Germany).
Before the war, it had a good bond with Germany due to trade. Thus, tensions with France were high and the Triplice was making life easy for Switzerland with a good trade agreement and on the other hand, it was trading a lot with England.
Inside the country, a certain amount of the German elite worked in industries, banks, and other important sectors.
Many Bankers and industrialists were in favor of participating in the war as it could bring future profits and trade concessions And many swiss leaders thought that Germany would win in case of war, Switzerland gets some territories and trade concessions.
Coming to the military side, the army leader, Ulrich Wille was a germanophile and wanted Switzerland to join the war after Italy entered the war.
But some problems resisted the participation of Switzerland in the war, which included the problem of food. Swiss agriculture was not capable of supplying the entire population and most of the food came from the Entente. Germany would starve the entire country.
And trade with Germany was also important, Coal was coming from there, and the Germans were buying a lot from the Swiss industries. Considering all these things, neutrality was the best thing to do. Secondly, not everyone in the country was germanophile, the french-speaking side was closer to France. So, Switzerland didn’t enter the war.
World War II
In World War II the situations were not the same as WWI, especially Switzerland was far from being nazi-friendly. At that time, Swiss leaders and the elites were all liberals and nazism is the ultimate anti-liberalism and the anti-communism of the Nazis and fascists was very welcomed. For that reason and because Switzerland always privileges good trade relations.
The military leader during World War II was General Henri Guisan who was a francophile leader.
At the beginning of the war, Switzerland had a very multilateral strategy, trading with many different countries.
But after the French capitulation in 1940, and Switzerland was surrounded by the Axis powers. In such a weak position, Switzerland leaders demobilized the army and put them back to work to show that it had no ill intentions towards the Axis and could be useful as an independent country to them.
Economically the swiss government subsidized german imports on the territory, to make them believe that don’t invade, they were useful that way, they trade, and won’t attack them either.
Concluding that in WWI Switzerland did think about joining the war but the opportunity cost of doing so seemed too high in the end, neutrality was the best option and in WWII, the country was surrounded by enemies, so it was either neutrality or invasion.
Hitler’s urge to conquer Switzerland
Hitler came to power after the First World War. His main agenda was to conquer and fight against all the countries that caused humiliation to Germany. Since Switzerland was not one of them, it was not one of the main targets of Germany.
The significance of Swiss Banks can be dated back to history. Not only did the banks help the Nazis get away with the loot, but Switzerland was also a center for the wealth of all European countries. Hence, invading the country would decrease the wealth dramatically.
Hitler, however, did plan the invasion of Switzerland, which was named Operation Tannenbaum. But people then advised him against it, and it was called off.
Almost Impossible to Invade Switzerland
Being surrounded by the mountain range has helped Switzerland to stave off invaders for ages and a great part of the country is flat and very good for the movement. The Alps is indeed an obstacle, especially that bombs are placed under every bridge and tunnel crossing it.
But it would be a mistake to overestimate the geographical importance and this plan allowed for fortification of the Alpine region and was continued post-WW2 as the threat of a Soviet invasion was high. The government in Bern could have been crushed easily and the country could have been starved by cutting their access to trade.
The Swiss military has wired the entire mountains and infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, to blast in case of any invasion so the invaders will have to waste a huge amount of time and energy in finding proper entry routes into the country. Additionally, many tunnels, bunkers, and fortresses have been built inside the mountains that can house a complete division of the army, thus acting as suitable points from where the military can efficiently bleed the invaders dry through a battle of attrition.
Apart from this, the Swiss were extremely organized and prepared for the worst. Marksmanship was encouraged among young boys, and military service was mandatory for all young men. Even though it has about 150,000 active military personnel, if the nation gets invaded almost 4,000,000 citizens are immediately available for military service with another 3,000,000 fits for service as well and in a fraction of seconds, the nation gets all of its able-bodied citizens ready to pick a fight with the invaders.
The K31 rifle was owned by most of the Swiss in Switzerland during the World Wars. They had built their infrastructure in such a way that in the case of an emergency it would help them. Over that, Switzerland was surrounded by mountains which were very difficult for the opposition to invade, and at the same time, there were soldiers stationed; ready to defend their country.
Switzerland’s foreign policies are extremely economics-oriented, favoring trade and financial openness as its diplomatic power comes from its economic power, especially its financial power and the leaders are all liberals coming from the financial and industrial sectors.
Due to the country’s neutrality, it never had enemies that could invade them purposely and its security at the borders makes it a non-strategically desired land and proved to be almost impossible to invade.
If you found this article interesting, then do check a similar article like this one where we discussed “Why Bhutan is the happiest and the most peaceful country.”