In 1954, the Swiss promulgated the so-called Bindschedler Doctrine, specifically outlining the nation's neutral position in peacetime. This doctrine strictly differentiated between the political and technical aspects of international affairs. Thus, while Switzerland would keep aloof from political and military alliances, it would play an active role in international economic, humanitarian, and technical organizations, displaying its commitment to international solidarity. During the Cold War, Swiss foreign policy hence pursued economic integration without political encumbrances.
Swiss Cold War security policy, with its emphasis on autonomous national defense by a militia army, was derived from the principle of armed neutrality. The concept of the citizen-in-arms was an important part of Swiss life and provided for a large army despite the nation's small population. At peak strength, the Swiss Army could field 600,000 soldiers.
During the early Cold War, Switzerland sided with the West and indirectly profited from the nuclear umbrella of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Under Federal Councilor Max Petitpierre (1945–1961), the Swiss government emphasized that the nation was ideologically aligned with the West, although it remained militarily neutral.
As a small landlocked country, Switzerland relied heavily on international trade. Therefore, with the exception of the subsidized agricultural sector, it supported the reduction of trade tariffs. Switzerland remained prosperous throughout the Cold War, depending on industrial exports such as textiles, chemicals, and engineering-related products. Switzerland also kept its place as an international financial center. Because the Swiss eschewed a large welfare state, their economy weathered the economic storms of the 1970s and 1980s rather well. The nation boasted comparatively low inflation, low unemployment, and positive growth and productivity. In addition, labor-management relations remained positive and nonconfrontational, which added to Swiss economic stability.
Swiss politics are unique in that parties are highly decentralized and are focused on local rather than national issues. Although all the major parties are represented at the national level, they tend to be fixated on local constituencies and their particular interests, which dilutes the political system at the federal level. There is also a plethora of political parties in Switzerland that are decidedly balkanized by the large number of religious and linguistic cleavages throughout the country. Large French, German, and Italian-speaking populations help account for the great diversity in the political process. The four largest political parties in Switzerland are the Social Democratic Party (SPS), the Swiss People's Party (SVP), the Radical Party (FDP), and the Christian Democratic Party (CVP).
The Cold War accorded Switzerland an intermediary role in the East-West conflict. Switzerland provided its mediation services offices to both East and West, including offers to mediate a settlement to both the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli conflicts. In 1953, Switzerland engaged in the Korean War cease-fire agreement through two international commissions. Swiss neutrality was further recognized when the Soviet Union suggested in 1955 that Austria should develop a neutrality of the kind practiced by the Swiss.
Switzerland also took on international mandates to act as a protecting power, such as in representing U.S. interests in Cuba after 1961. In addition, Geneva served many times as a center for international negotiations. In 1985, for example, Geneva was the site of the historic summit between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Switzerland also hosted the humanitarian offices of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, which aims at assisting civilian victims of war.
In the 1970s, under Foreign Minister Pierre Graber (1970–1978), Swiss foreign policy became more active and multilateral. The Swiss Federal Council's landmark 1973 Security Report envisioned political participation in international security organizations such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Switzerland played an important role in the CSCE together with other neutral and nonaligned nations.
During the Cold War and beyond, Switzerland's relationship with an increasingly united Western Europe was often troubled. Switzerland joined the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) in 1948 and, with great delay, the Council of Europe in 1963. Yet Swiss relations with Europe became more difficult after the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), founded in 1960 with Switzerland as an active member, lost its importance in the 1970s with British entry into the European Economic Community (EEC).
After a late, even if most-narrow, referendum in favor of joining the United Nations (UN) in March 2002 (in 1986, a vast majority of Swiss voters had still voted against such an entry), Switzerland's major challenge in the twenty-first century remains the shaping of its relationship with a dynamically proceeding European Union (EU).
Katzenstein, Peter. Corporatism and Change: Austria, Switzerland and the Politics of Change. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984.; New, Mitya, ed. Switzerland Unwrapped: Exposing the Myths. London: Tauris, 1997.; Spillmann, Kurt R., et al. Schweizer Sicherheitspolitik seit 1945: Zwischen Autonomie und Kooperation [Swiss Security Policy since 1945: Between Autonomy and Cooperation]. Zürich: Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2001.