Switzerland: Good offices: Adjusting to the changing face of conflicts

by Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch
Jan 25, 2013 – 11:00

Good offices continue to play a significant role in Swiss peace policy, according to the foreign ministry. However, the number of protecting power mandates is dwindling.

Whether it’s acting as a messenger between two non-speaking states or trying to actively mediate and broker a resolution, Switzerland’s good offices have a long tradition.

The alpine nation first acted as a protecting power in the 19th century when it looked after the interests of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Dukedom of Baden in France during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71.

The “golden period” for so-called protecting power mandates – looking after another country’s interests in a third state – was during the Second World War: by 1943/44, Switzerland was juggling 219 mandates for 35 states.

“Switzerland used good offices to compensate for its neutrality, which had a bit of a bad reputation after the Second World War,” Daniel Trachsler, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), told swissinfo.ch.

The Cold War also resulted in demand for Swiss services, with 24 mandates held in 1973. Since then, however, the number of mandates has dropped to six (see box and graphic).

Cold War thaw

There are three reasons for this decline, according to Trachsler, author of a report published in February 2012 called Representing Foreign Interests: Rebirth of a Swiss Tradition?.

“First, decreasing demand. Many countries re-established diplomatic relations after the end of the Cold War,” he said.

“Second, the representation of foreign interests is a traditional instrument aimed at easing tensions between states, but nowadays more and more conflicts are intrastate in nature.”

Opposing actors, he added, are not only states but armed non-state actors and the instrument of the protecting power is not geared towards this type of conflict.

“And finally – especially at the end of the 1990s – the Swiss government was somewhat reluctant to accept new mandates. But this has changed in recent years, as shown by the representation of Russian interests in Georgia and vice versa.”

For these reasons, the CSS report said a renaissance of “this traditional element of Swiss foreign policy” was not to be expected, despite recent positive headlines.

read more here:


Switzerland’s protective power mandates

A protecting power mandate is required if two states break off diplomatic and/or consular relations in a conflict situation. It covers some of the duties carried out by the previous official diplomatic representation.

Provided all parties involved agree, the protecting power represents the interests of one state (the sending state) in a third state (the receiving state) and provides protection for the citizens of the sending state who are living in the receiving state. Through these services a channel of communication is also kept open between the conflicting states.

Currently, Switzerland is exercising the following six diplomatic mandates in representing the interests of:

The US in Cuba (since January 6, 1961)
Cuba in the US (April 1, 1991)
Iran in Egypt (May 9, 1979)
The US in Iran (April 24, 1980)
Russia in Georgia(December 13, 2008)
Georgia in Russia (January 12, 2009)

(Source: foreign ministry)

Categories: Europe, Switzerland

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