No. 414

S/SNSC files, lot 63D351, NSC 119

National Security Council Staff Study 1

top secret
[NSC 119]

The Position of the United States With Respect to Switzerland


1. To assess the importance of Switzerland to United States security interests and to determine what measures the United States should take to bring Switzerland’s position of military, economic and democratic strength into closer relationship with the common defense effort of the free European community.


2. As it is in the interest of United States security that full use be made of all available European resources in the common defense effort, the United States should review the possibility of relating [Page 882] the strategic position of Switzerland, its military and economic strength and the democratic spirit of its people, to the common defense effort.

3. The preservation of free democratic countries such as Switzerland is a basic objective of the United States and Switzerland’s geographic position exposes it to the danger of Soviet attack in the event of war in Europe. Strengthening Switzerland’s ability to defend itself, provided this can be done without detracting from the over-all military posture of the United States and its allies, would further this objective.

4. Swiss defensive capacities have three areas of weakness: (1) certain inadequacies in the equipment of its armed forces; (2) the difficulty of supplying a land-locked country; and (3) the absence of coordination between Allied and Swiss military planning.

Strategic Position and Military Strength

5. By virtue of its geographic position Switzerland is of strategic importance to the defense of Western Europe and therefore of security interest to the United States. If Swiss territory were violated by a Soviet attack across the Swiss plateau designed to outflank an Allied position along the Rhine, the Swiss armed forces would bear the brunt of the defense of what would thereby have become the common right flank. The Swiss Alpine redoubt lies across several of the mountain passes which give access to Italy from Germany.

6. Switzerland is at present one of the strongest and best prepared countries in Western Europe, capable of mobilizing its half million combat troops within 24 hours. Although Switzerland’s population is only 4 1/2 million, its militia system is capable of mobilizing armed forces totalling 818,000, including rear-area troops and local guards, within 72 hours. Combat troops are organized into 9 divisions, 24 specialized brigades, and an airforce of some 10,000 officers and men with 480 aircraft currently available for combat, of which 92 are modern British jets and 90 United States F–51’s.

7. Present defense plans, described October 15, 1950 in a speech by the Director of the Swiss Military Department, call for a three-stage resistance; at the frontier, on the plateau between the Jura and the Alps, and, only as a last resort, in the Alpine redoubt in southern Switzerland. All militarily important installations in abandoned areas are to be systematically destroyed. This is a significant revision of the World War II plan which provided for abandonment of the frontiers and the plateau, after delaying action, and withdrawal at an early stage into the redoubt, from which the main resistance was to be offered. Defense of the plateau is, of course, a much more difficult task than defense of the mountainous redoubt. This revision was made in the light of the treatment [Page 883] which the Swiss population, largely concentrated on the plateau, might expect to receive at the hands of a Soviet occupying army.

8. The Swiss Army would fight resolutely in defense of Swiss territory. Assisted by the natural defensive characteristics of the terrain, prepared positions and a loyal populace, it is capable of developing formidable opposition to an aggressor. Its effectiveness under present circumstances, like that of all free European armies, is limited by certain equipment deficiencies and in addition by the supply difficulties of a land-locked country and by the absence of prior coordination in military planning with the powers upon which Switzerland would call for military assistance in the event of an attack. On balance, Switzerland is at the present time more capable of national defense than other free European nations.

9. Swiss army equipment is deficient in long-range antitank weapons and radar. As it would not be feasible to manufacture this material in the country, the Swiss Government is endeavoring to purchase it in the United States, offering payment in hard currency. In order to meet its defense needs, Switzerland launched an extraordinary national defense program in 1950, involving projected expenditure of $865 million over the next 5 years. Some $329 million are earmarked for the acquisition of modern equipment. This program is financed on a pay-as-you-go basis through substantially increased taxation, and has been undertaken without foreign aid. Defense allocations amounting to 38 per cent of the total federal budget for 1951 are convincing evidence of the Swiss determination to build adequate defenses.

10. In an effort to overcome its vulnerable supply position, Switzerland is carrying out an accelerated raw material and food stockpiling program and has intensified measures to attain, in the event of war, as high a degree of economic self-sufficiency as possible.

11. During the last war, the Swiss Army readied plans for coordinating its defense efforts with the Allies, in the event Switzerland were attacked by the Axis powers; these plans were not, however, to be made available to the Allies in advance of an Axis attack. The inadequacies of such uncoordinated planning were demonstrated to the Anglo-French command at the time of the German attack on Belgium in 1940.

12. It is understood, of course, that the present Swiss concept of neutrality would limit the maximum cooperation obtainable, prior to attack or the obvious imminence of attack, to agreement on joint plans which would be effective only if and when the Swiss determine that they should be implemented. Coordination prior to an attack would, however, greatly enhance the value of the Swiss defense efforts, to both Switzerland and the Western Powers.

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Policy Against Alliances

13. The Swiss constitution expressly enjoins the Federal Government “to maintain (Swiss) independence and neutrality”. This is interpreted as prohibiting political or military alliances. The constitutional provisions express a national policy which is deeply and firmly rooted in Swiss life and which has, moreover, proved effective in maintaining national independence for well over a century. Any departure from this national policy of neutrality will occur only from independent Swiss decision; outside pressures are far more apt to retard than to facilitate a movement away from strict neutrality.

14. Definite possibilities exist, nevertheless, of inducing Switzerland, to take practical steps, looking to closer cooperation with the Western Powers, through a more flexible interpretation of its policy of neutrality, the purpose of which is, after all, the eminently realistic one of preservation of national independence. The Swiss, moreover, recognize the USSR as the only potential aggressor in Europe. Switzerland’s official neutrality in no way implies indifference to the outcome of the struggle between the West and Soviet communism. The Swiss regard themselves as belonging not only geographically but ideologically to the West; and the temper of Swiss official and public opinion is overwhelmingly pro-Western and anti-communist. There is no internal communist threat.

15. The Swiss concept of neutrality has, in fact, shown signs, during the past few months, of becoming less inflexible. This has been particularly true in respect to the problem of East-West trade. In response to the United States representations, Switzerland in July 1951 adopted controls over the export of strategic items, atomic energy materials and munitions to the Soviet bloc substantially similar to those enforced by countries members of the Coordinating Committee for Export Controls.

16. Switzerland has also introduced a stringent export-import control system designed to prevent transshipment or diversion of United States strategic goods to the Soviet bloc via private Swiss intermediaries.

17. As further evidence of willingness to interpret its concept of neutrality in favor of the West, the Swiss government has been willing to make exceptions in favor of the United States and other NATO countries in the neutrality ban on arms exports, whereas it does not license any weapons for export to the Soviet bloc.

18. Switzerland’s policy of neutrality does not arouse any particular opposition on the part of the European members of NATO, such as the United Kingdom and France, but appears to command their respect and sympathy to a considerable degree.

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Economic Position

19. Switzerland has an exceptionally strong economy. There is virtually no unemployment. As Switzerland must import practically all of its raw materials, the main difficulty facing Swiss industry is that of obtaining an adequate supply of such commodities as copper, steel, lead, zinc, coal, etc.

20. Although Switzerland itself needs no ECA aid and has received none it has been a member of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation since its inception. In 1950 the Swiss also joined the European Payments Union. Switzerland’s economic ties are overwhelmingly with the non-communist world.

21. Switzerland’s industry is making a growing contribution to the defense production programs of the NATO countries. It is manufacturing rockets, airplane cannon and other weapons in addition to supplying machine tools for the manufacture of time fuses, gears, precision instruments and other materials for the rearmament efforts of the United States and other NATO countries. This area of cooperation is susceptible of appreciable enlargement, and could provide additional industrial facilities for overcoming critical deficiencies in our defense production programs. Any large increase in Swiss defense production destined for allied countries is of course dependent on availability of raw materials. In many instances the materials required are in world-wide short supply and allied industries are not capable of operating at full capacity due to material shortages. However, in carefully selected fields, notably those in which the availability of skilled Swiss labor or existing complex Swiss manufacturing plants promise more efficient and more rapid production of end items, the allocation of materials to Switzerland for production of allied defense products is in the overall allied interest.


22. The United States should seek to bring Switzerland’s position of military, economic and democratic strength into closer relationship with the common defense effort of the free European community.

23. In seeking this objective the United States should be guided by the following considerations

If the Soviets attacked across the Swiss plateau in an effort to outflank an Allied position on the Rhine, the Swiss army would bear the brunt of the defense of what would thereby have become our common right flank.
The Swiss army is presently one of the strongest in Western Europe, there is no internal communist threat and the population is devoted to its traditional democratic ideals. This combination, [Page 886] coupled with natural terrain features, provides a firm position on which the line of NATO defenses may be anchored and despite military deficiencies mentioned in c below makes the Swiss defense position presently stronger than that of other Western European countries.
Swiss defensive capacity is, however, limited by certain inadequacies in the equipment of its armed forces, the vulnerable supply position of a land-locked country and the absence of coordination of Swiss war plans with those of the Western Powers.
The Swiss are ready and willing to pay hard currency for the military equipment they require.
Switzerland’s policy of neutrality is so much an article of national faith that Swiss participation in formal collective security arrangements is unlikely and pressure on Switzerland to enter into such arrangements would not be productive at this time.
Definite possibilities exist on the other hand of inducing Switzerland to take certain practical steps looking to closer cooperation with the Western Powers through a more flexible interpretation of its policy of neutrality, because that policy has as its practical purpose the preservation of national independence and Switzerland is not neutral in its attitude toward Soviet communism.
Switzerland’s economic strength, the alignment of its economy with that of the West and its increasingly cooperative commercial policy make its economic influence beneficial to our security interests in Western Europe.
Industrial potential is available in Switzerland to meet deficiencies in the defense production programs of the NATO countries, particularly if Switzerland is enabled to import the necessary materials.

  1. Regarding the origin of this paper, see footnote 1, supra.