Switzerland’s Good Offices

Thanks to its diplomatic mediation and facilitation efforts, Switzerland has played a part in resolving many international conflicts.  It also represents the interests of states whose diplomatic relations have broken down.

Speaker's lectern at an OSCE meeting
© FDFA, Béatrice Devènes

As a neutral country with a longstanding federalist tradition, Switzerland regularly offers its good offices to parties in conflict.  This may simply be a matter of offering its territory as a negotiating venue or go as far as active involvement. In such instances, Switzerland initiates contact between the opposing sides, offers to act as mediator in order to find common ground and may even help negotiate a peace agreement. 

In recent times Switzerland has been involved in as many as 15 negotiations.  For example, it successfully brokered the Nuba mountains ceasefire agreement in Sudan. It took part in discussions between rebel groups and the government in Colombia. It facilitated official meetings between Sri Lanka rebels and the government, and helped bring about the peace agreement between Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government.  For years, Switzerland also aided the talks on Iran’s nuclear programme.  These negotiations ended with the signing of an agreement in 2015. 

Today, violent conflicts tend to be between rival groups within states. Switzerland has adapted its good offices accordingly, now offering these services to rival groups within a country, as well as state representatives.  Switzerland is increasingly involved in operations launched by several states or coordinated by international organisations like the UN, the European Union or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In the case of the ongoing civil war in Syria, for example, it seconded specialist staff to the UN and hosted the talks of April 2016 in Geneva. 

Switzerland's good offices also include carrying out protective power mandates in the event of a conflict between two states. Switzerland acts as a ‘post box’, representing the diplomatic interests of the one state in the other, thereby allowing both sides to keep relations but to a minimum. Switzerland currently has four such mandates: Iran in Egypt, the United States in Iran, Iran in Saudi Arabia (and vice versa). Until 2015, Switzerland represented the United States’ interests in Cuba (and vice versa).