Due to its geographical location, the ethnic composition of its population, and its relatively minute territory, Switzerland has had to obtain neutral status in order to maintain its internal cohesion. The Swiss Alps serves to link Germany and France through the Italian peninsula, and throughout the country's history, its national territory has been coveted by surrounding powers. Declaring neutrality and being ready to enforce it was and continues to be the best means by which Switzerland can maintain national security.
The Swiss population is composed of French, German, Italian, and Romansh speakers. These are the four official languages of the country, and they represent the diversity that existed within its borders for much of its history. In fact, in the late 18th and early 19th century, the nation was reduced to a vassal state due to internal disorder. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who, in 1803, restored order.
With Napoleon’s defeat, however, the Swiss were determined never to suffer an invasion again. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna, consisting of major European powers who had convened to discuss international relations in the post-Napoleonic era, deemed Switzerland to be a neutral country. This neutrality was reaffirmed in 1920 by numerous countries. Once it joined the League of Nations, during the 1920s and 1930s, it was willing to take on the duties of member nations, thereby making its neutral status void. In the 1930s, however, the country regained its neutral status once it was relieved of these duties.
During World War II, the country adhered to its neutral status by never officially becoming involved in the war. Its status was also a result of its small geographical territory, which measures a total of 15,940 square miles (41,285 square kilometers). While the Swiss army was fully mobilized in case of a German invasion, it was understood that the nation would be likely to fall.
Neutrality was not fully implemented by the Swiss. There is cause to believe that Swiss national and private banks helped Nazi officials to launder goods stolen during the Holocaust. War material manufacturers are also known to have aided the Axis powers. Recent findings, recorded in a report known as the Eizenstat report of 1997, however, indicate that such activities cannot be proved. Furthermore, Switzerland also allowed the Allies to gather intelligence information concerning the activities of Axis powers.
Today, Switzerland officially remains a neutral nation for the same reasons it has always done so, despite involvement with multilateral institutions. It joined the United Nations in 2002, but, as of 2013, it is not part of the European Union.