«St. Gallen Symposium»
Bern, 05.05.2022 - St. Gallen, 05.05.2022 – Address by Ignazio Cassis, President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA – Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen
The subject of this symposium, 'Collaborative Advantage', could not be more topical.
We are meeting here today at a time when a radical unilateral action is being met with a resolutely multilateral response.
• Russia's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine was and remains radically unilateral. It violates state sovereignty. It violates international law. It violates humanity. It violates the peace order.
• The unified response by the Western democracies to this aggression has been resolutely multilateral: within days, a framework of sanctions against the aggressor was in place.
While the sanctions are extensive, clearly there are also limits to them:
• They were not intended to prevent the war nor are they now able to stop it.
• They are limited in scope.
• Regretfully, they also affect many people who are not responsible for the war.
• And yet, they do isolate the aggressor.
Switzerland has fully adopted the sanctions and stands on the side of international law and against injustice,
• on the side of the self-determination of independent nations,
• on the side of solidarity,
• on the side of values that are also our values,
• on the side of freedom.
The stand we have taken is that of a small and neutral, but by no means passive, state. Yet the Federal Council could not take this step without fundamental considerations.
What may seem emotionally right must also be rationally justifiable.
• Our moral obligation must also be matched by our responsibility in terms of state policy;
• both towards our own citizens and towards the community of nations.
This shows that for Switzerland, a small neutral state, multilateralism entails both constructive room for manoeuvre and conflicting objectives.
This is what I want to focus on today:
• to show what a government must weigh up when making a decision,
• to show how multilateralism relates to our neutrality,
• and how it relates to democracy, to sovereignty
• and to federalism, which makes decisions at the lowest rather than the highest level possible.
1. Constructive handling of conflicting objectives
Ladies and gentlemen
There are those who see Switzerland's identity in its sovereignty. Multilateralism makes them sceptical.
For others it is only logical that there are international problems that can only be solved across borders, in a coordinated and joint manner, without compromising our own sovereignty. In themselves, sovereignty, neutrality, and solidarity are not controversial.
The question is how to bring the three together in a way that is acceptable to the majority.
The mere fact that we have adopted the sanctions has provoked a big debate about neutrality:
• some are already planning an initiative to save neutrality – based on a narrow understanding of it
• others have already thought about a closer relationship with NATO in order to provide Switzerland with a protective shield. Their understanding of neutrality is much broader.
Many citizens in Switzerland think that the Federal Council made the right decision. Because when choosing between freedom and oppression, one cannot be neutral in the sense of indifference.
In Switzerland, some people have a rather dynamic and others a much more static understanding of our state system.
Even if a clear decision is needed at the end of the day, such conflicting perspectives have to be taken seriously.
I will outline this briefly:
• Direct democracy, as a system of general participation, leaves the important decisions to the people.
• Multilateral decisions, on the other hand, are not – or not always or not entirely – in our hands.
• Sovereignty protects states, especially small states, from external interference. It is part of our DNA. And yet, it is not absolute.
• And neutrality, after all, must be credible. First in our own country, where it has an almost mythical status, but also in the international community, whose interests it also serves.
- Otherwise it will not be accepted.
- Nor would it be accepted if Switzerland simply sat on the sidelines. Because neutrality must go hand in hand with solidarity.
• The strictly binding part of our neutrality is the law of neutrality, which prohibits us from intervening militarily.
- This means that we can neither send in troops nor deliver weapons. The law of neutrality is, so to speak, the cornerstone of our neutrality.
• The part that is constantly adapted to geopolitical reality is our policy of neutrality.
- It is an instrument for our security policy, our solidarity with the international community and the defence of peace, which also means peace for Switzerland.
- Neutrality policy is not a dogma, but a flexible instrument of our foreign and security policy. That is why there is room for manoeuvre.
Russia has violated the prohibition of the use of force enshrined in international law so seriously that Switzerland's failure to act would have played into the hands of the aggressor.
• This served as a yardstick for the Federal Council's decisions.
• And that is why Switzerland cannot and must not accept this war without taking action, and must take a stand.
• This is our humanitarian tradition.
2. When multilateralism becomes imperative
Ladies and gentlemen
The sanctions are not a direct expression of multilateralism. After all, Switzerland took its decisions as a sovereign nation.
But they are indirectly related to multilateralism.
• Some of their effects can only be achieved together, in a unified way, through collaborative efforts.
• There are complex, overarching, transnational issues with implications for humanity as a whole.
- Problems which are important yet which no country can solve on its own, such as climate change, pandemics, natural disasters, global economic crises, cybersecurity, mass migration and, once again, wars of aggression that trample the existing international order underfoot.
Multilateral action is an imperative on all these fronts.
• Because there is no alternative.
• And because the consequences of inaction will ultimately affect the generation that organised this symposium and chose the topic.
When people join forces, they achieve better results.
• It is something we are taught in kindergarten: One for all, all for one.
3. Leadership requires a compass, not a checklist
Ladies and gentlemen
Of course, imperfection is everywhere in our world, it is also intrinsic to world politics, to multilateralism.
But what conclusions do we draw from this?
• That politics has failed?
• That we should only work with groups that do everything just the way we would like them to?
• That we should throw up our hands in resignation?
• Resignation is neither an answer nor an attitude, nor does it solve even one of the challenges facing humanity.
This is why the Federal Council's response is that we will play an active role in making the existing multilateral institutions fit for the future.
• That we will actively shape developments - with all the modesty of a small state.
• That we will step up our efforts to involve not only state actors but also essential non-state actors in the multilateral order,
- such as the ICRC, academia, businesses or civil society organisations that are dedicated to achieving the same goals – for example, in the fight against poverty or climate problems.
- That we are ready to take more responsibility for an effective and democratic multilateralism.
- Most notably with our first-ever candidacy for a non-permanent seat for Switzerland on the UN Security Council.
4. The strength of the next generation
I said earlier that inaction hits hardest the generation that chose the topic of this symposium:
• You, the 30 members of the International Students' Committee and the 450 student volunteers - you all are representing this generation.
To conclude, I would like to address you in particular.
After all, intergenerational dialogue is one of the main pillars of this event and I look forward to discussing these topics with you afterwards.
We live in a world that is growing together and drifting apart at the same time.
• It is growing together because of digitalisation, globalisation and the countless ways we can now communicate with each other.
• But it is drifting apart because of growing polarisation and disparities and the emergence of opposing blocs.
Such contradictions are part of the human condition. And of the world.
This is the world you want to and will have to shape as you grow older.
• It is also a world where 'why' will matter more than 'precisely how',
- because those who are always in favour in principle but object when it comes down to the details will miss the boat.
• And that is the reason this 'why' is such a powerful driver for new action. For action that starts with the meaning and then looks for the most effective way to the goal. For action that breaks old paradigms, because new ones are both possible and necessary.
In our highly interconnected, constantly interacting world without technological boundaries the best way to tackle the big questions of mankind is to join forces.
Never before has any generation been
• better educated,
• more prosperous,
• more diverse, open-minded, mobile
• and more multi-optional and therefore less frustration-tolerant than your generation.
Nor has any generation known more countries, more ways of life, or more about diversity than your generation.
No generation has ever been more united in calling for global solutions than your generation.
You represent a generation,
• that is ready to take responsibility,
• that does not think in terms of hierarchies, but in terms of solution cycles,
• that is more conscious of habitats than of borders.
In short, you represent the generation that stands for the future and that deserves our trust.
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