Why is Switzerland a neutral country?

Why is Switzerland a neutral country?

For centuries, the tiny Alpine nation of Switzerland has adhered to a policy of armed neutrality in global affairs. Switzerland isn’t the world’s only neutral country—the likes of Ireland, Austria and Costa Rica all take similar non-interventionist stances—yet it remains the oldest and most respected. How did it earn its unique place in world politics?

The earliest moves toward Swiss neutrality date to 1515, when the Swiss Confederacy suffered a devastating loss to the French at the Battle of Marignano. Following the defeat, the Confederacy abandoned its expansionist policies and looked to avoid future conflict in the interest of self-preservation. It was the Napoleonic Wars, however, that truly sealed Switzerland’s place as a neutral nation. Switzerland was invaded by France in 1798 and later made a satellite of Napoleon Bonaparte’s empire, forcing it to compromise its neutrality. But after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the major European powers concluded that a neutral Switzerland would serve as a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria and contribute to stability in the region. During 1815’s Congress of Vienna, they signed a declaration affirming Switzerland’s “perpetual neutrality” within the international community.

Switzerland maintained its impartial stance through World War I, when it mobilized its army and accepted refugees but also refused to take sides militarily. In 1920, meanwhile, the newly formed League of Nations officially recognized Swiss neutrality and established its headquarters in Geneva. A more significant challenge to Swiss neutrality came during World War II, when the country found itself encircled by the Axis powers. While Switzerland maintained its independence by promising retaliation in the event of an invasion, it continued to trade with Nazi Germany, a decision that later proved controversial after the war ended.

Since World War II, Switzerland has taken a more active role in international affairs by aiding with humanitarian initiatives, but it remains fiercely neutral with regard to military affairs. It has never joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the European Union, and only joined the United Nations in 2002. Despite its longstanding neutrality, the country still maintains an army for defense purposes and requires part-time military service from all males between the ages of 18 and 34.

___ History of Switzerland

Originally inhabited by the Helvetians, or Helvetic Celts, the territory comprising modern Switzerland came under Roman rule during the Gallic wars in the 1st century BC and remained a Roman province until the 4th century AD. Under Roman influence, the population reached a high level of civilization and enjoyed a flourishing commerce. Important cities, such as Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, were linked by military roads that also served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west. Some tribes, such as the Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland, and the Burgundians, who ruled western Switzerland, settled there. In 800, the country became part of Charlemagne's empire. It later passed under the dominion of the Holy Roman emperors in the form of small ecclesiastic and temporal holdings subject to imperial sovereignty.

With the opening of a new important north-south trade route across the Alps in the early 13th century, the Empire's rulers began to attach more importance to the remote Swiss mountain valleys, which were granted some degree of autonomy under direct imperial rule. Fearful of the popular disturbances flaring up following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1291, the ruling families from Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed a charter to keep public peace and pledging mutual support in upholding autonomous administrative and judicial rule. The anniversary of the charter's signature (August 1, 1291) today is celebrated as Switzerland's National Day.

Between 1315 and 1388 the Swiss Confederates inflicted three crushing defeats on the Habsburgs, whose aspiration to regional dominion clashed with Swiss self-determination. During that period, five other localities (cantons in modern-day parlance) joined the original three in the Swiss Confederation. Buoyed by their feats, the Swiss Confederates continuously expanded their borders by military means and gained formal independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. Routed by the French and Venetians near Milan in 1515, they renounced expansionist policies. By then the Swiss Confederation had become a union of 13 localities with a regularly convening diet administering the subject territories. Swiss mercenaries continued for centuries to serve in other armies the Swiss Guard of the Pope is a vestige of this tradition.

The Reformation led to a division between the Protestant followers of Zwingli and Calvin in the German and French parts of the country respectively, and the Catholics. Despite two centuries of civil strife, the common interest in the joint subject territories kept the Swiss Confederation from falling apart. The traffic in mercenaries as well as the alienation between the predominantly Protestant Swiss and their Catholic neighbors kept the Swiss Confederation out of the wars of the European powers, which formally recognized Swiss neutrality in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Swiss remained neutral during the War of the First Coalition against revolutionary France, but Napoleon, nonetheless, invaded and annexed much of the country in 1797-98, replacing the loose confederation with a centrally governed unitary state.

The Congress of Vienna in 1815 re-established the old confederation of sovereign states and enshrined Switzerland's status of permanent armed neutrality in international law. In 1848, after a brief civil war between Protestant liberals seeking a centralized national state and Catholic conservatives clinging on to the old order, the majority of Swiss Cantons opted for a Federal State, modeled in part on the U.S. Constitution. The Swiss Constitution established a range of civic liberties and made far-reaching provisions to maintain cantonal autonomy to placate the vanquished Catholic minority. The Swiss amended their Constitution extensively in 1874, establishing federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters, as well as introducing direct democracy by popular referendum. To this day, cantonal autonomy and referendum democracy remain trademarks of the Swiss polity.

Switzerland industrialized rapidly during the 19th century and by 1850 had become the second most industrialized country in Europe after Great Britain. During World War I serious tension developed between the German, French, and Italian-speaking parts of the country, and Switzerland came close to violating its neutrality but managed to stay out of hostilities. Labor unrest culminating in a general strike in 1918 marked the interwar period, but in 1937 employers and the largest trade union concluded a formal agreement to settle disputes peacefully, which governs workplace relations to the present day. During World War II, Switzerland came under heavy pressure from the fascist powers, which after the fall of France in 1940 completely surrounded the country. Some political and economic leaders displayed a mood of appeasement, but a combination of tactical accommodation and demonstrative readiness to defend the country helped Switzerland survive unscathed.

The Cold War enhanced the role of neutral Switzerland and offered the country a way out of its diplomatic isolation after World War II. Economically, Switzerland integrated itself into the American-led Western postwar order, but it remained reluctant to enter supranational bodies. Switzerland did not for many decades join the United Nations, even though Geneva became host to the UN's European headquarters and the country played an active role in many of the UN's specialized agencies. Switzerland also remained aloof in the face of European integration efforts, waiting until 1963 to join the Council of Europe. It still remains outside the European Union. Instead, Switzerland in 1960 helped form the European Free Trade Area, which did not strive for political union. Following the Cold War, Switzerland joined the Bretton Woods institutions in 1992 and finally became a member of the United Nations in 2002.

Source: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: Background Note: Switzerland

How DID Switzerland Manage to Remain Neutral During WWII?

Switzerland, a small and beautiful country situated within the Alps has been in a state of perpetual neutrality since the major European powers decided so during the 1815 Congress of Vienna which concluded the Napoleonic Wars. Switzerland has used its state of neutrality to remain withdrawn from warfare for a long time.

But how did Switzerland manage to remain neutral even with the Second World War erupting around it?

To keep the country safe from the Allies and Axis powers, the Swiss used a strategy called “armed neutrality,” requiring maintaining a sizable army to isolate itself within the country’s frontiers and allowing it to defend against foreign incursion.

Yet the country was not been entirely without military activity during the Second World War. Shortly after the start of the war, the Swiss government mobilized its entire army in just three days. Over 430,000 combat troops and 210,000 in support troops, including 12,000 women, were mobilized.

Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.

Though the Germans and Italians had a detailed plan to invade Switzerland, the plan was never enacted and Operation Tannenbaum was canceled.

The Swiss transformed its strategy from defending all its borders to concentrating its forces between the Alps, a plan called National Redoubt. The plan worked on the basis that the Swiss army would give up control of the populated central areas and direct its focus to the main transportation links.

Plan of the defense lines of the National Redoubt.Photo: Senna CC BY-SA 3.0

Despite the high mobilization of its forces, Switzerland served as an espionage camp for both sides. In 1942, the United States even established the Office of Strategic Services in the city of Bern. The Office helped develop tactical plans for Allied invasions of Salerno in Italy and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.

Though the country was in a neutral state and refused to negotiate its neutrality, both the Allies and Axis powers violated Switzerland’s territorial integrity during the war.

Swiss Bf 109 E-3a

For instance, during the German invasion of France, Switzerland’s airspace was violated more than 190 times. Some incidents occurred when the Swiss attempted to shoot down at least a dozen Luftwaffe aircraft between May 10 and June 17, 1940.

Switzerland used a smart strategy where they would force German aircraft to land on Swiss airfields after potential airspace violations. This continued even after Hitler warned them against interfering with his troops.

Camouflaged cannon at the Lucendro dam in the Gotthard region. It has a 105 mm calibre and fires up to range of 17 kilometres (11 mi).Photo: Clément Dominik CC BY-SA 3.0

Meanwhile, Hermann Göring, the Luftwaffe commander, sent saboteurs to destroy the Swiss airfields, but they were captured before they could cause any damage.

Similar incidents occurred when Allied forces broke the Swiss air perimeter, with a total of 36 American and British airmen killed while flying over Swiss territory.

Camouflaged infantry fortification in Sufers (machine gun bastion left, antitank gun right, housing, and connecting tunnel underground).Photo: Kreteglobi CC BY-SA 4.0

On October 1, 1942, the first American bomber was shot down by the Swiss. Only three of the crew survived. Moreover, many Allied troops that were captured by the Swiss were interned, while over a hundred Allied aircraft were held within Switzerland until the end of the war. Only 940 American attempted to escape into France.

In 1944, a United States representative claimed that the airspace breaches were likely due to navigational errors during bombing raids over Berlin.

Letter from OSS director William J. Donovan regarding bombings of Swiss towns.

In addition, the Swiss actively maintained its trade links with Germany to prevent it from invading the small country. On April 1, 1944 this led to an Allied bombing of the town of Schaffhausen, killing 40 people and destroying over 50 buildings, including some factories producing parts to be exported to Germany.

The allies claimed the attack was a mistake, clarifying that they intended to attack the town of Ludwigshafen am Rhein, 176 miles (284 km) away. Nonetheless, the attack prompted the Swiss to switch to a zero tolerance policy for any airspace violations and authorized attacks against American aircraft.

WWII MG Bunker A 5841 St. Margrethen. It stands in the area of the railway bridge between Switzerland and Austria and was part of the border fortifications. Photo: Kecko CC BY 2.0

Despite both the Axis and Allied powers pressuring Switzerland to not trade with the other side, Switzerland continued trading with Germany to dissuade them from invading. In the meantime, Switzerland grew wealthier, with 1.3 billion francs worth of gold being sold to Switzerland by the German Reichsbank in exchange for Swiss francs.

By mobilizing its army, maintaining a strict neutrality policy, actively defending against foreign trespasses, and trading with Germany, the Swiss were able to escape the devastation that the Second World War brought to much of the European continent.

…and then again in 2007

March 1, 2007. A group of Swiss military recruits are patrolling the Switzerland-Liechtenstein border. Unfortunately for them, some bad weather sets in and they lose their way in the dead of the night, accidentally stumbling across the border into the neighbouring principality. Incidentally, Liechtenstein has no army of its own, so the 170 armed men may well have overthrown the tiny country if they so wanted. This minor ‘invasion’ caused little to no fuss on either side of the border, and in fact the Liechtensteiners weren’t even aware of the incident (“These things happen,” was their government’s nonchalant response when the Swiss owned up to their accidental invasion the next day). But it still counts as a black smudge on that famous Swiss neutrality, just like when…

How neutral is Switzerland, really?

It isn’t easy being neutral these days. With unilateralism on the rise in global politics, Switzerland is finding it more difficult to interpret its neutrality. In an increasingly polarised world, Swiss political decisions risk upsetting one partner or the other.

This content was published on January 28, 2021 - 13:52 January 28, 2021 - 13:52 Kathrin Ammann

  • Deutsch (de) Wie neutral ist die Schweiz wirklich? (original)
  • Español (es) ¿En qué medida es neutral Suiza?
  • Português (pt) A Suíça é realmente neutra?
  • 中文 (zh) 瑞士到底有多中立?
  • عربي (ar) إلى أي مدى تبدو سويسرا مُحايدة فعلاً؟
  • Français (fr) À quel point la Suisse est-elle vraiment neutre?
  • Pусский (ru) Насколько Швейцария нейтральна на самом деле?
  • 日本語 (ja) スイスはどれくらい中立なのか?
  • Italiano (it) Quanto è neutrale davvero la Svizzera?

Neutrality, as an instrument of foreign policy, is so firmly rooted in the national consciousness that it seems indisputable. It gives diplomats enough room to manoeuvre to pursue their goals.

The day Switzerland became neutral

This content was published on Mar 20, 2015 Mar 20, 2015 The neutrality so strongly associated with modern Switzerland originated in a congress 200 years ago, when the Great Powers met in Vienna.

Up to now, Switzerland has benefited from its neutral status as “neutrality has allowed the country to be recognised as an independent political actor,” said Laurent Goetschel, director of the research institute Swisspeace in Bern in an interview with Swiss public television SRF in 2018.

However, the question is: how much longer will the Swiss be able to hold on to this room to manoeuvre? Should Switzerland make deals with Washington or Beijing, Brussels or Moscow, Tehran or Riyadh? These decisions arise more often on issues such as importing technology and trade agreements but also when it comes to the importance of universal values and international law when selecting trade partners.

China visit exposes cracks in Swiss neutrality

This content was published on Apr 30, 2019 Apr 30, 2019 Swiss President Ueli Maurer’s recent visit to China shows the complexity of Swiss neutrality in the face of current geopolitical realities.

One example is the long-standing trade dispute between the US and China. Switzerland aims to sign a free trade agreement with the US while also seeking to update its existing trade agreement with Beijing.

Switzerland’s efforts to clarify its relationship with the European Union is another example. The EU could be less tolerant of Switzerland’s reluctance to adopt EU sanctions against Russia.

The country also faced difficult decisions when it came to the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Switzerland opted out of a joint EU statement demanding an investigation into his murder and calling on Saudi Arabia to support it.

Press freedom becomes a test case for Swiss foreign policy

This content was published on Sep 11, 2019 Sep 11, 2019 As Switzerland and other countries back multilateral efforts to bolster a free press, NGOs are watching to see if concrete actions will follow.

How do Swiss political leaders navigate these dilemmas? “In this increasingly polarised world, Switzerland needs to know exactly what it wants,” foreign minister Ignazio Cassis recently tweeted.

The definition of neutrality is disputed in domestic political circles. Depending on their foreign policy vision, politicians interpret the term differently. Left-wing politicians tend to push for an active policy of neutrality, which allows Switzerland to take a stand on issues. In contrast, right-wing parties often equate neutrality with non-interference and restraint.

What will happen to Switzerland’s bid for the UN Security Council?

This content was published on Jun 20, 2019 Jun 20, 2019 Switzerland is hoping for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2023-24 but now more parliamentarians are opposed on grounds of neutrality.

Surveys indicate that neutrality is very important to the Swiss public. A 2018 survey found that 95% of Swiss were in favour of maintaining neutrality. It also showed that over the last two decades the Swiss have increasingly called for a stricter interpretation of neutrality.

Armed neutrality

This content was published on Nov 29, 2016 Nov 29, 2016 Switzerland and neutrality are synonymous but that does not mean the Swiss have no military might.

Officially, Swiss neutrality is still considered to be the ability to negotiate with anyone. However, Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer clarified: “This does not necessarily mean that we always agree on all points.”

Swiss president continues on his ‘autocrat world tour 2019’

This content was published on Nov 21, 2019 Nov 21, 2019 Ueli Maurer meets Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow. It is his fourth foreign visit this year that has raised eyebrows.

With Switzerland hoping for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the debate on Swiss neutrality is gaining momentum again.

Too small to succeed? Switzerland’s candidacy for the UN Security Council

This content was published on Sep 27, 2020 Sep 27, 2020 Two decades after joining the UN, Switzerland now has its sights on a seat on the Security Council.

In a book, former Swiss foreign affairs minister Micheline Calmy-Rey explains why she believes the candidacy is compatible with neutrality.

Neutrality faces ‘huge challenges’, warns ex-Swiss foreign minister

This content was published on Jan 28, 2021 Jan 28, 2021 Micheline Calmy-Rey defends her vision of modern neutrality.

Why is Switzerland a neutral country? - HISTORY

By Taylor Morrison
Contributing Writer

The small and neutral Switzerland is a historically multilingual nation. Established in 1291 as a “defensive alliance among three cantons,” the country now consists of 26 of these small administrative states, all of which have their own distinct identities and cultures. Because the cantons differ from one another, it comes as no surprise that present-day Switzerland is very diverse, comprised of an array of ethnic groups all speaking various languages. Despite this great diversity Switzerland has been able to define and maintain a national identity through its official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch. These four languages directly reflect the four largest ethnic groups in the country. However, Switzerland’s multilingualism extends much further nearly 20 percent of Switzerland’s resident population is foreign and speaks many other languages than the four officially designated by the Swiss government. Given such extensive diversity and the steady rise of English worldwide, how has Switzerland maintained its multilingualism and what is the role of English within it?

I argue that Swiss multilingualism is maintained by the cultural interactions among the population and the devolved system of governance in which the regions are able to control policies like those of language and education. This allows for the preservation of distinct cultures and identities, but English threatens Switzerland’s existing structure of multilingualism as it grows in popularity worldwide.

Switzerland is a federation made up by different localities known as cantons. As a result of federalism, certain powers are assigned to the federal government while others are assigned to the localities. For the most part, policymaking power is devolved to the cantons. Such is the case with language and education policies. Because these powers have been delegated to local officials, practices can vary from region to region so long as they are in compliance with federal laws.[1] What stems from this devolution is the principle of “territoriality.”

According to Article 70 of the Swiss constitution:

“The Cantons shall designate their official languages. In order to preserve harmony between linguistic communities, they shall respect the traditional territorial distribution of languages, and take into account indigenous linguistic minorities.”[2]

Additionally, it states that “The Confederation and the Cantons shall encourage understanding and exchange between the linguistic communities.”[3] Thus, the devolution of policymaking power to the local level is used not only to preserve the cultural diversity of the nation, but also to govern and facilitate interactions among the people of Switzerland.

What makes Swiss multilingualism unique is that it lacks a common trait found in most multilingual societies: language mixing or code switching. Jesse Levitt points out that this is because each language has “defined boundaries.” Each official language has its own role. For example, “All federal laws are published in German, French and Italian,” the Federal Assembly uses French and the “Romansch normally use German” in formal situations.[4] This principle of territoriality allows for only one official language per canton, often the local language as most cantons’ official languages fall along language boundaries, although there are a few bilingual and even trilingual cantons.[5]

Education policy is similarly guided by the principle of linguistic territoriality in that the language of instruction is determined by the cantons. Despite a canton’s decision to use one language in its schools, it maintains multilingualism in the region by offering courses on Switzerland’s other official languages.[6] Daniel Stotz makes it clear that in Switzerland, “public education is entrusted with the objective of good multilingual citizenship.”[7] As added support for maintaining multilingualism, Switzerland places a strong emphasis on school instruction in its citizens’ native languages. This gradual immersion makes it easier for them to process information in the language to which they are accustomed and provides a strong foundation for learning other languages.[8] The Swiss approach of viewing knowledge of languages as an asset and not a deficit has maintained multilingualism in spite of “defined borders” and linguistic territoriality.

Cross-cultural interactions also maintain multilingualism in Switzerland. Not all cantons are officially monolingual, and even those that are, are exposed to other languages through migration. People are free to move and are not limited by language. This means that in some cases, a person moves to a canton where he or she may not necessarily speak the official language. Jesse Levitt describes this, citing a trend of Swiss citizens moving from German-speaking areas to French-speaking areas, making it necessary for the German migrants to learn French as a second or third language.[9] Multilingualism is not only maintained by canton to canton movement but also by migration from other countries. Foreigners make up about 20 percent of Switzerland’s resident population and statistics show that of these residents, nine percent use a language other than one of the four official Swiss languages.[10] While this means that some students are not being educated in their mother tongue (especially if the mother tongue is not one of the four official languages), some praise Switzerland for providing immigrants with the same access to the dominant languages in school, in the belief that a common education promotes social cohesion.[11]

English poses a new threat to Switzerland’s long-standing multilingualism. It lacks a historical hold on the nation, but is slowly becoming the “lingua franca” for universal communication.[12] It is estimated that “there are three times as many non-native English users as native” in the world today. Despite the large number of non-native English speakers, a study by the British Council has found that “by 2015, 2 billion people in the world will be studying English.”[13] In Switzerland, “English is widely used in academia, administration and the big corporations” and there is growing support for the country to adopt English as the fifth official language.[14] The Swiss National Science Foundation is a major proponent of this idea, stating that “knowing English would help public administration communicate with all citizens,” those living abroad and at home.[15] As more Swiss citizens move among cantons and more foreigners move into Switzerland, it is clear that communication in one of the four official languages may be difficult and English could be a unifying force for the country. However, it does not have a long history of use nor does it represent Switzerland’s traditions. It threatens to shift the balance in favor of monolingualism as opposed to upholding the multilingualism that has existed in the nation for hundreds of years.

The growing presence of English is evident within education. As previously stated, the cantons choose schools’ language of instruction and establish the other national languages as secondary language subjects. English is not one of the four official languages of Switzerland, yet like German and French (the two most commonly used official languages) it is offered as an option for study.[16] In fact, English is more popular. A student survey in Zurich showed that “out of 3,966 German-speaking seventh- and eighth-graders who had learned French as a second foreign language and English as a third foreign language, a majority are more interested in learning English than French they…would prefer English over French, if given a choice between the two.”[17]

As of now, the influence of English is contained mostly in schools, as major broadcast media outlets such as the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation continue to broadcast only in German, French and Italian. However, public opinion also seems to indicate a shift toward English. Grin and Korth found that Swiss public opinion, “while overwhelmingly in favor of developing access to English for all children in the education system, is torn over the position that national languages should have in the curriculum: should it be given more or less importance than English, or should they be on par?”[18] These findings show a society leaning towards English, foreshadowing a future where the use of English could surpass that of Switzerland’s official languages.

Switzerland is a historically multilingual nation with a form of government that for the most part, maintains a great degree of cultural diversity. However, globalization has led to the rise of English, which is now influencing the country’s language and education policies. The challenge that lies ahead for Switzerland is integrating English in a manner that does not undermine its long-standing multilingualism but instead, enhances it.

  • OFFICIAL NAME: The Swiss Confederation
  • POPULATION: 8,292,809
  • CAPITAL: Bern
  • AREA: 15,940 square miles (41,284 square kilometers)
  • OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: German, French, Italian, Romansch
  • MONEY: Swiss franc
  • MAJOR RIVERS: Rhône, Rhine


Switzerland is a small mountainous country located in central Europe. This landlocked country is about the size of New Jersey and is between France and Italy. It is also bordered by Austria, Germany, and Liechtenstein.

Most of the population lives in the plateau which is between the high Alps in the south and the Jura mountains in the north. The mountainous area in the south is sparsely populated.

Map created by National Geographic Maps


Switzerland is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. The Swiss are well known for their watches and clocks.

There is not a single official language in Switzerland. People speak one of several languages, including Swiss German, French, and Italian.


The Swiss Alps are high, snow-covered mountains most of which are over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters). The most famous peak is the Matterhorn which is 14,692 feet (4,478 meters) tall, but the highest peak is Dufourspitze at 15,203 feet (4,634 meters).

Scientists are concerned that glaciers in the Swiss Alps have lost a lot of ice coverage in the past 40 years. This may be related to global climate change. Rapid melting of the glaciers could cause flooding to the villages below.

Most animals in Switzerland live in the mountains. The ibex, a species of mountain goat, was hunted to near extinction in the early 1800s. The species has since been reintroduced and more than 15,000 ibex now live in the Swiss Alps. Hikers may also encounter chamois, another goatlike animal, and marmots. The forests of Switzerland are also home to deer, rabbits, foxes, badgers, squirrels, and many bird species.

Switzerland History

Switzerland history is about as interesting as history gets. Like all of the countries in Europe, Switzerland has been home to human activity for more than 100,000 years. Many of the people who inhabited modern-day Switzerland in the early years didn't establish permanent settlements. As far as the first farming settlements are concerned, the earliest known examples date back to around 5300 BC. The first group to identifiably inhabit what is now Switzerland, however, were the Celts, who were moving east at the time. This occurred around 15 BC, which is also when the Roman ruler, Tiberius I, conquered the Alps. The Celts occupied the western part of Switzerland, while the eastern half became part of a Roman province that was named Raetia.

In terms of interesting facts about Switzerland, it is worth noting that the Romans conquered the various tribes that had taken up residence in the country in and around 15 BC. The Roman colonization of Swiss lands would last up until 455 AD, which is when the Barbarians decided to invade. Not long after the Barbarians conquered the Romans, the Christians would move in. During the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, the Swiss territory became part of the Frankish Empire. It was none other than Charlemagne who eventually conquered the various cantons in Switzerland, and he did so in 843. The Swiss lands would be divided until 1,000 AD, which is the year that they joined the Holy Roman Empire and became unified.

There aren't a lot of historical attractions that date back to the Roman days in Switzerland, though visitors can visit some interesting ruins that offer insight into early Swiss history. Near the city of Basel, some of the most interesting Roman ruins can be found. This site, which is known as Augusta Raurica, is only about seven miles from the city, and among its highlights are some fascinating ruins and an excellent museum. Two other attractions that offer insight into the storied history of Switzerland are the Grossmunster Cathedral and the Fraumunster Church, both of which can be found in Zurich. These cathedrals have been renovated and partially rebuilt since their creation, though they originally date back to the days when Switzerland was little more than a chess piece in the strategic game of European domination.

Switzerland Map

Looking at the historical facts about Switzerland, how often this country changed hands starts to stand out. The lands that we know as Switzerland today fell into the hands of the Houses of Savoy and the Hapsburgs, among other ruling factions. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, the seed of independence was sewn. In the year 1291, some of the cantons in Switzerland formed an alliance, which was the impetus for the push towards sovereignty. After breaking from the Holy Roman Empire in 1439, the Perpetual Alliance, as this alliance of cantons was known, signed a treaty with France that proved to cause some significant turmoil within the Swiss borders. In the early sixteenth century, what amounts to a civil war of sorts broke out in Switzerland due to some of the agreements between the alliance and France. One of the more interesting dates in Swiss history is 1516. This was the year that the alliance decided to declare their neutrality. To this day, Switzerland maintains a neutral stance in terms of world affairs. The country has not gone to war since 1815, and interestingly enough, it was one of the last countries to join the United Nations.

Before Switzerland joined the United Nations, it became a center for the Protestant Reformation, which led to numerous wars, such as the Battles of Villmergen, which took place in 1656 and 1712. In 1798, Switzerland was conquered by the French Revolution. The Swiss refused to fight alongside the French troops of Napolean once the Russian and Austrian forces arrived, however, and Swiss autonomy was reestablished shortly thereafter. The Congress of Vienna set the borders of Switzerland as they are known today in the year of 1814. This is one of the more interesting facts about Switzerland. One of the other more interesting years in Swiss history is 1848. This was the year that the country adopted its federal constitution, naming Bern as the capital in the process. The development of the country would begin not long afterward. In the late 1800s, tourism really started to take off in Switzerland, and the rest of the world started taking notice of how beautiful the country is. The Swiss Alps cover most of the country, and they are among the most picturesque mountains in the world.

Switzerland history is full of interesting facts, and one could study it for years if they were so inclined. For travelers, visiting some of the country's historical attractions is one of the best ways to embrace Swiss history. In Bern, two of the more interesting historical attractions include the Zytglogge and the Munster. The former is a medieval clock tower that features moving puppets and a fifteenth-century astronomical clock. As for the Munster, it is a fifteenth-century Gothic cathedral that is noted for its complete main portal, its soaring tower, and its valuable stained-glass windows. Another good way to gain insight into the history of Switzerland is to visit some museums while in the country. The Bern Historical Museum is a good place to learn about the capital, and most of the other cities and towns in the country offers their own history museums. Learning as much as possible about Swiss history before visiting the country is a good idea. It helps travelers better appreciate the attractions, the culture, and the people.

Switzerland Is A Great Economic Success. Why Don't More Countries Follow Its Example?

WHY ISN'T SWITZERLAND held up as an impressive economic model for other countries? Why does the IMF ignore its lessons of long-term success when recommending prescriptions to nations that get into trouble? Swiss growth rates, very dependent on exports, have been good despite the country's low-growth neighbors.

Bern, Switzerland, capital city of an economic powerhouse. (Getty)

--Taxes. Understanding investment's basic importance to progress, this Alpine nation imposes no capital gains tax. That's right: zero. Its value-added tax (VAT)--7.7%--is paltry by European standards, where punishing double-digit levies are the norm. The corporate tax rate averages 17.7%, better than the rates of most of its peers (the rate varies depending on which canton--the equivalent of a state or province--the company is located in the lowest is a mere 11.5%). The highest personal income tax rate (federal and local) ranges from 22% to 45%. The comparative range in the U.S. is 37% to over 50%.

Naturally, the IMF and all too many economists recommend burdening taxpayers even more.

--Currency. During the past 100 years, no other nation in the world has matched Switzerland for sound money. Not even close. This utterly underappreciated virtue has been crucial to the country's superb economic performance. Capital creation and investment flourish best when a currency's value is fixed. Yet the IMF routinely tells troubled clients, such as Argentina, to let theirs "float," a euphemism for devaluation, to ostensibly spur exports. Left unexplained is how Switzerland has become an export powerhouse despite its supposedly overvalued franc.

The Swiss federal system--in which its 26 cantons have considerable autonomy--has enabled its German-, French- and Italian-speaking citizens to live peaceably and productively together for more than 800 years.

Steve Forbes is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media. Steve’s newest project is the podcast “What’s Ahead,” where he engages the world’s top newsmakers,

Why did Switzerland and Austria choose to stay neutral during the cold war?

Switzerland has a history of neutrality going back to the 1500's after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 Neutrality became the official and permanent official foreign policy, it has adhered to this ever since so taking sides in the 'Cold War' was effectively prohibited by its own constitution.

Austria's post war position was different, like Germany she was treated as a prime belligerent nation as she participated/cooperated on the side of Nazi Germany, and as such was jointly occupied, divided up and ruled by the four victorious nations like Germany was.

However when occupied Germany was returned back into a two state status, (West Germany formed May 1949, and East Germany formed 7 October 1949), Austria's position became an issue in the 'Cold War' due to it having been apart of Germany before the war, after it was annexed in 1938, but it was during the Moscow Conference in 1943, it was decided the annexation would be ignored, and would be treated as a separate country after the war.

The issue of its status however was quickly resolved mainly due to the warming of relations between the East and West during the Early 1950s and 60s, when the Soviet Union's 'Stalinist Foreign Policy' was dropped, and led to the Four Powers agreeing to create the modern state of Austria, but it would be a non-participant in the 'Cold War'. The Austrians were given full independence on the 15 May 1955, and its new government made a promise of "Perpetual Neutrality", much like that of the Swiss.

As a note, we can also see that these two countries have persisted with this neutrality, by not joining NATO -as did Sweden, Southern Ireland and Finland (despite Finland playing on Hitlers side a little bit, they in 1944 were able to establish peace with the USSR, and have kept neutrality in most conflicts today).

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