Today in Legal History: Swiss Neutrality Recognized by League of Nations

The League of Nations officially recognized Switzerland as neutral on February 13, 1920. This was not a new position for the Swiss; the Treaty of Westphalia did the same, as did the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Ironically, Switzerland did not join the United Nations until 2002, although it had been actively involved prior to joining.

Switzerland is not the only neutral UN member; Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden are also formally neutral. Permanent neutrality prevents the country from participating in conflicts and creates rights and duties in peacetime as well. A neutral country’s own territory and airspace are respected, and it is also forbidden to help or harm a belligerent – even if the same treatment is accorded for both sides. A neutral country may not be involved in an armed conflict as a peacekeeper; it may only take arms for its own self-defense.

Switzerland took on the position of neutrality for a pragmatic reason. As Switzerland borders Germany, France, and Italy, it was at high risk of invasion and perpetual warfare. Neutrality allowed Switzerland to keep its independence.

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