Permanent armed neutrality for the US?

Here is a very odd post which proposes that the United States should adopt the traditional Swiss foreign policy maxime of permanent armed neutrality.

From a (hopefully informed) Swiss point of view, this position is quite untenable. Firstly it displays a lack of understanding of the very different relative weights and statures of the two states in the world. The Swiss David has come to accept neutrality as his preferred mode of operation in the highly pugnacious European environment after 1600 because he lacked power and direction to behave otherwise. Proof of that hypothesis is that before the period of the growth of strong nation states, the ancient Swiss were a highly respected military great power with a fairly expansive streak. But after some strategic defeats, the virtue of neutrality in my view is a lack of opportunity rather than a deliberate policy decision. For a small state like Switzerland, neutrality and the pursuit of law & order in international relations makes sense.

Secondly, for the US Goliath with its unsurpassed economic & military resources, the world looks quite different. Any administration that would deliberately dispense with the creative options it has at its disposition in persuing its own interests would give way to either less reluctant foreign powers or a more "activist" administration. Here, the temptation to resist is power-driven unilateralism - a temptation to which the current administration obviously has trouble resisting.

In international relations, thirdly, power and the horror vacui relative to power is just a reality, to be moderated by international law. Having the most powerful state on the globe withdraw into its own shell will not help anyone, as we we were forced to observe when the US was going through one of its isolationist phases.

Being liberal in the classical European sense, I very much believe in the non-coercion principle promoted by Perry, but this principle unfortunately has a very weak standing in the world of international politics, which ultimately is about power, i.e. force & coercion.

P.S. With the evolution of a more cooperative environment in Switzerland's immediate neighbourhood, traditional neutrality and aloofness is coming under increased pressure lately. For example , the Secretary of Defense has recently called for a debate about universal conscription upon which the Swiss militia is obviously based. Consequently, many of those sham Chalets are up for sale or demolition now.


Anton said...

Having the most powerful state on the globe withdraw into its own shell will not help anyone, as we we were forced to observe when the US was going through one of its isolationist phases.I wonder what you mean by that. 1917, perhaps, when American intervention prolonged a pointless war and helped set up the conditions for the next war?

Anonymous said...


WWI was at a total stalemate on the Western Front by late 1917. All the protaganists were physically and emotionally exhausted and unable to advance and unwilling to just go home.

The US entry into WWI (which I believe was a mistake) turned the tide against Germany because the US could supply fresh manpower and war materiel.
In effect, the US entry into that war ended the war sooner.
As for the harsh conditions imposed upon Germany per the Treaty of Versailles, it was the French and English who wanted to punish Germany. President Wilson, was a utopian who believed that harsh treatment of Germany would only embitter them and lead to further conflict later.
History proved Wilson correct. Further, Wilson was a strong proponent of the League of Nations, but was unable to convince the US Congress to allow the US to join that organization.

On another note, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton both believed that the US should avoid all foreign conflicts. Unfortunately, the US moved away from that policy in the mid-1800s and got involved in conflicts that the US should have, and could have avoided. Frankly, I personally believe the US should once again embrace the non-interventionist ideas of Washington and Hamilton.

Non-intervention and minding your own business does not preclude getting invaded or taken over by an enemy. For example, in the 20th century Norway, Denmark, Holland, Greece, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Luxembourg, Kuwait, etc. etc., were all invaded by larger, more aggressive powers.

Why ? because there will ALWAYS be a Hitler or Stalin or Saddam Hussein.
History has repeatedly demonstrated that peace loving, pacifist countries cannot guarantee their freedom just because they do not bother anybody; oft times it is an invitation for a larger more powerful country to march right in.

Even Switzerland had its arm twisted very tightly by the Nazi's during WWII to force them to provide foodstuffs and other manufactured materials to support the Nazi war machine. In turn, the Nazi's permitted the Swiss to import coal and other essential products to allow their economy to function. In this case, the Nazi's could get what they needed from the Swiss without having to invade them.