It’s hard to overstate how much the Crypto AG scandal has shaken Switzerland. For decades, US and German intelligence used the encryption devices of this Swiss company to spy on other countries.
From the Cold War to the 2000s, Crypto AG sold the devices to more than 120 governments around the world. The machines were encrypted, but this week it emerged that the CIA and Germany’s BND had tampered with the devices so that they could crack the codes and intercept thousands of messages. Rumors had circulated in the past, but now everyone knows it. labeled Made in Switzerland, to Iran so that Washington could eavesdrop.
There are only a handful of countries on the planet that have opted for neutrality; Austria is one, Sweden another. But no country has made neutrality a status symbol like Switzerland. Now that the Crypto AG scandal has emerged in all its tacky details, there is not a newspaper or broadcaster in the country that does not question Switzerland’s neutrality. It is also a country that sold faulty encryption machines.
A federal judge is already on the case and politicians across the spectrum are calling for a parliamentary commission of inquiry. This is a country whose neutrality has allowed it to represent the interests of the United States in Iran for 30 years and the interests of Tehran in Washington. Switzerland negotiated hard behind the scenes with the United States to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to Iran to alleviate the worst effects of the sanctions.
Swiss neutrality is revered as if it were in the country’s DNA, as part of a unique national identity, and not as the pragmatic policy of a small country that hired mercenaries from the rest of Europe until its leaders decided that not fighting at all could. be more secure. We survived two world wars” is a phrase often heard in Switzerland. It can be irritating to citizens of other European countries who also survived those wars, in a far more heartbreaking way.
Switzerland’s neutrality kept it out of those wars, and in 1945 Switzerland’s economy and infrastructure emerged, phoenix-like and unscathed, as its neighbors swept up the ashes and debris. How the Swiss made themselves useful Neutrality, however, is not a force field that keeps enemies at bay. It’s not a magic word you can chant and the bad guys will leave you alone.