The Porcupine Principle

For a long time, I’ve thought of Swiss international policy as a life guide: whatever the problem, stay out of it. And while I took it for granted that Switzerland didn’t get involved in any conflict, I didn’t realize until reading John McPhee’s book La Place de la Concorde Suisse how hard Switzerland worked to make their neutrality more than a cute idea. During WWI and WWII, the entire country was armed to prevent Germany, Russia or anyone else from making them fight. And even now, if a country ever invades Switzerland, the army is ready to go guerrilla. From John McPhee:

To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition. That is the number officially printed. It has been suggested to me that to approximate a true figure a reader ought to multiply by two … Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them. There are weapons and soldiers under barns. … There is food, of course, and needless to add, munitions … there is Swiss Army bread that lasts two years.

Life, like international relations, often doesn’t let you choose if you want to stay neutral. It takes work not to get worked up, not to get involved and to stay cool.

The Swiss definition of neutrality absolutely includes the army, because the task of a neutral country is to defend its territory. … “We want peace, but not under someone’s conditions.”