Switzerland’s long history of international crisis mediation has had mixed success

A long history of diplomacy.
A long history of diplomacy.
Image: Reuters/Miro Kuzmanovic
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Switzerland stands ready to step in and act as a mediator to resolve the North Korea crisis, Swiss president Doris Leuthard told told reporters in the capital Berne today.

“I think it really is time for dialogue,” Leuthard said. “We are ready to offer our role for good services as a mediator. I think in the upcoming weeks a lot will depend on how the US and China can have an influence in this crisis. That’s why I think Switzerland and Sweden can have a role behind the curtain.”

Leuthard pointed out the role her country has played in facilitating dialogues around the world to achieve peace. Switzerland is known for its neutrality (it hasn’t fought a military battle in 500 years). And the country also has a long-standing tradition of brokering peace deals by acting as a mediator. In fact, facilitation and mediation to secure peace has been the cornerstone of Swiss foreign policy.

Many countries have turned to Switzerland to help broker peace to ongoing civil wars, while others asked for mediation in matters of trade (the most notable example being the conflict between Russia and Georgia about Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization).

In the last two decades, Switzerland boasts of having taken part in “20 processes in 15 countries and regions.” These have included several peace treaties that brought an end to civil wars:

  • Burundi: Swiss mediators were involved in the Arusha and post-Arusha peace talks from 1997 to 2008, to bring an end to a 12-year, ethnic-based civil war.
  • Colombia: The Swiss helped mediate the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels. An amended peace treaty was ratified last year.
  • Indonesia: Switzerland helped mediate the Aceh peace process, between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (an armed separatist group). After a peace treaty was signed, the armed wing of Free Aceh Movement dissolved. Swiss mediators were also involved with the implementation of the peace agreement (2005–2007)
  • Nepal: Swiss mediators were involved with Nepal’s peace process, which culminated in the 2006 peace agreement signed by the Maoist insurgents and the Nepalese government. The agreement ended the country’s civil war.
  • Sudan (Nuba Mountains): A Swiss ambassador led the mediation team for the Nuba Mountains Ceasefire Agreement in 2002, which resulted in a ceasefire and was considered a vital step in the long road to try to achieve peace between South and North Sudan.

Of course some of the agreements that the Swiss helped mediate have failed to achieve lasting peace, and many of the conflicts involved are still raging today. Some of the less successful attempts at mediations include:

  • Cyprus: Switzerland helped mediate the talks that took place Bürgenstock in 2004 for the reunification of Cyprus. The plan was later rejected by the Greek Cypriot population and peace process is still ongoing.
  • Israel/Palestine: Swiss mediators have been with the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian territories since 2003, but talks have stalled.
  • Sri Lanka: Switzerland hosted talks between Sri Lankan government and the rebel l Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2006. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the 2002 ceasefire in the initial discussions, but LTTE pulled out of the second round of talks over a dispute over their safety. The government then blamed LTTE for a suicide bombing and launched a two-day offensive. The government defeated the rebel group in 2009, but ethnic conflict and human rights abuses reportedly persist.
  • Sudan (Darfur): A Swiss expert was involved in the first peace negotiations on the Darfur conflict in Abuja. The agreement was only signed by one faction of Darfur’s rebel movement (there are several) and the Sudan government. Fighting continues.
  • Uganda: A Swiss mediation expert was involved in the peace process (known as the Juba talks) between the government of Uganda and the Lord’s resistance army (LRA). The Swiss mediator designed the entire negotiating process and drafted the truce agreement signed in 2006. But Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, refused to sign the following peace agreement in 2008, resulting in the collapse of the accord.
  • Western Sahara: Swiss mediators were involved in the Western Sahara peace process, a UN initiative kickstarted in 2010. The peace process suffered many setbacks and is still ongoing.

If Switzerland were brought in to mediate the North Korea crisis, the first major obstacle would be finding a location that all sides could agree to. As Leuthard points out, “Twitter won’t be an adequate instrument.”

If Switzerland can stop US president Donald Trump from tweeting his geopolitical intentions, that may end up being the country’s greatest mediation achievement.