The Case for Armed Neutrality

Wars are costly and destructive. In war, there are few winners, as even the victors end up sustaining heavy losses in terms of life and money. Financial losses can eventually be absorbed, but no one can bring back a lost life. Civilians die during wars as much as soldiers do, and sometimes even at higher rates. A sovereign state is supposed to protect its citizens and maintain peace, but warfare does the exact opposite. Even being peaceful is not enough for a nation, as this does not necessarily ensure peace. As horrific as they are, wars have always remained an integral part of human existence. Just because one individual or a nation is peaceful does not mean that others will commit to this path. To ensure peace, nations have always needed to remain prepared for war. Armed neutrality is a concept advocated by the political philosophy of Isolation Moderation that supports neutral, well-armed states that desire peace. 

Armed Neutrality in Isolation Moderation

Armed neutrality has largely been viewed as an independent concept before officially becoming an important component of the philosophy of Isolation Moderation. In principle, it can fit within several political theories throughout history, but not as concretely as it does with Isolation Moderation. Nations need to prosper without spending excessive efforts looking outward. They need to get their own house in order instead of getting themselves involved with the affairs of others. Isolation Moderation believes that while we all should be focusing internally, we cannot always ensure that others are doing the same. There will always be rogue elements and nations that will make up ‘casus belli’ (a justification for war) and violate other nations and their sovereignty. There is no global police force or central authority to enforce right and wrong among states. Every country is on its own in this regard. This is why armed neutrality is very important for all states to pursue.

Sovereign states need to have a strong military so that they can preserve their autonomy and way of life from aggressive nations. Powerful and well-armed states are mostly left unbothered. Even on an individual level, we see many self-defense training courses that train people in the art of protecting themselves. Nations do the same thing by maintaining a strong military and learning modern methods of warfare and self-defense. Armed neutrality means that a nation is well-armed and capable of protecting its interests and citizens while being neutral and peaceful at the same time.

Isolation Moderation, Armed Neutrality, and the Utopian Ideal

On the surface, Isolation Moderation is made up of many incredible ideas and solutions, that it almost feels like a utopian ideal. This philosophy, in fact, is a highly practical political concept supported by facts and historical examples. Whenever a utopian world is discussed, it almost seems like it is something more fantasy and not ever truly meant for human possibility. Reading Isolation Moderation makes one believe that a utopian world does not have to be an idealized dream, but that it is actually very practical and achievable. The most important matter for nations to achieve harmony is to commit to being peaceful and minding their own business. International treaties or pacts become meaningless when individual nations realize what is best for them, and start implementing it. Peace is a default state of humanity, and this is what makes Isolation Moderation a strong political thought of the modern world—by giving a blueprint for a utopian world. Armed neutrality is an important part of achieving this blueprint.

When a nation adopts armed neutrality, it sends a strong message to rival states that any military aggression on their part will not be tolerated. Armed neutrality will prevent most potential wars from even starting. A large number of nations today are embroiled in different disputes with each other. In almost all of these conflicts, each side believes that they are right and the other is wrong. One party ends up initiating a military campaign to take resources from another, and conflicts arise. This is among the key factors that result in never-ending war in today's world and throughout history. There can be a limitless number of factors that can spark a war, as conflicts continue to surface consistently, even among largely liberal and democratic countries. 

Humanity's past was even more centered on war and conquest than today. Nations who could not effectively stand up to their enemies' aggressive behaviors ended up perishing. There are numerous examples of states that were once prominent, but no longer exist today. Only the very fittest could survive and maintain their existence. Nations who survive and thrive are mainly those who were conquerors themselves or those who were neutral and peaceful (but also very well-prepared for war at the same time). These have included conquering nations such as Great Britain or France, and even peaceful nations such as Switzerland.

Armed Neutrality – Switzerland as a Case Study

The Swiss military has been one of the most effective self-defense forces for centuries. The region was a part of the Holy Roman Empire for much of the Medieval Age. The Swiss population mainly consisted of peasants, and its military was nothing more than a militia. Unpopular policies (which included border disputes) by the Austrian Hasburgs led its inhabitants to develop a strong sense of protectiveness for their land and its way of life. Although it did not have a strong central army of its own, its peasants began to resist outside control. A large part of the male population began preparing for potential war. Soon after, the Swiss were able to inflict two successive defeats on the disproportionately larger and more powerful Austrian armies at the Battle of Morgarten (1315) and the Battle of Sempach (1386). This initiated the start of a proud military culture within Switzerland that remains to this day. Encouraged by their victories, much of the Swiss population would train itself constantly for potential war. Since Switzerland is a very small nation, it was not in the position to expand or conquer. It was only interested in defending itself through the principles of armed neutrality. Switzerland remained peaceful and never attacked other nations. This explains why professional Swiss soldiers would often end up taking mercenary jobs for other militaries as there was no purpose in their own military when Switzerland was not facing an attack. In this role, the Swiss mercenaries would train other foreign militaries, and even served as guards in the Vatican. These overlying dynamics drove Switzerland into forming and maintaining a unique and strong military culture that was following the principles of armed neutrality.

The armed neutrality of Switzerland helped to develop the country into a prosperous and well-protected land. Switzerland is one of the wealthiest nations in the world and the standard of living remains high. This was only made possible by the hard work of its people, as well as a strong inward approach of doing things (in line with the principles of Isolation Moderation, of course). During the years in which Europe was plagued by two global wars, Switzerland chose peace and neutrality, while also maintaining a strong military defense; this discouraged attacks from outside belligerents. Both World Wars saw Switzerland wisely maintaining its sovereignty as the entire world around it was engulfed in flames. The Second World War destroyed entire countries, economies, and societies as a whole, while Switzerland remain unscathed. During the height of both the Axis and Allied dominations of Europe, Switzerland bowed down to no one. If the country had been as weak as Austria, Czechoslovakia, or the other small Balkan nations, it would have certainly been invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. Germany, despite its overwhelming military power, and being led by one of the most belligerent dictators in history, never dared to attack Switzerland.

It is reported that the reason Germany could not invade a neutral and small nation in the heart of Europe was the knowledge of rapid military mobilization among the Swiss population. The Swiss geography also added an extra layer of protection to its defensive capabilities as the mountainous region was difficult to invade. Bunkers, towers, redoubts, and other defensive structures were built throughout the country. Switzerland was very much an independent and self-sufficient territory, lying in the heart of Europe that was completely under the yoke of Nazi Germany and the other Axis forces.

Swiss Neutrality During the Second World War

Armed neutrality arguably played the primary role in the survival of Switzerland during the Second World War, and throughout much of its history. Had it taken either side, it would not have come out of the war in good shape. If it had joined the Allies, the Germans would have been forced to invade, despite knowing it was a difficult feat to undertake. This was especially true because they could not have afforded the presence of an Allied nation residing deep within their territory when they were already invested militarily on multiple fronts. In contrast, if the Swiss had joined the Axis Powers, then the Allies would have invaded or at least called for an unconditional surrender by Switzerland near the end of the war. In either case, it is almost certain that Switzerland would have not remained untouched by war if they had chosen to intervene. Occupation of Switzerland by either Axis or Allied nations would have meant a total economic regression for the country for decades to come. The effects of the Second World War were felt for decades in almost all of the European countries. Switzerland was the nation that came out of the war safe, sound, and prosperous due to its armed neutrality.

If you are interested in learning more about these ideas, please order your own copy of Isolation Moderation.

Ash G. Witt

Ash is an international relations policy analyst, focusing on military affairs. He has worked for several public policy institutes and has had the opportunity to deeply understand the practical political and foreign policy structures of the modern world.