Switzerland: Europe's Strongest Neutral Armed-Power and the June 28-July 1914 Balkans Crisis
[laptop-built, view on narrow browser window]

"Switzerland is a giant fortress, disguised as a country."

"...what all prudent princes ought to do, who have to regard not only present troubles, but also future ones, for which they must prepare with every energy...

"...because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time because the malady has become incurable..."[italics added](1)
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Home References
Page 2: Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: Balkans Crisis Arbitration 1903-1914
1914: A general willingness to believe "war was something that was not going to happen in Europe."
Page 3: "Caught Looking": Physical Working Models
of European/British Response to June 28-July 1914 Crisis

Historians on Causes of World War I
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: Delayed Telegrams June-July 1914
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey on the June 28-July 1914 Crisis
Winston Churchill on the June 28-July 1914 Crisis
June 28-July 1914: The Tactic of Timidity
Ambiguous Defensive/Offensive Military Preparations
June 29th-July 1914, Wagons-Lits to the French Riviera

July 16, 1945: Trinity
Effects of Atomic Detonations: Hiroshima, Nagasaki
Japan: Feasibility of Atomic Demonstration-Test in 1945
USAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

"To make peace secure for the future, it would have been necessary for the Great Powers to have intervened to make the settlement of Bucharest a just one. This they did not do. They dared not do it, being too afraid of trouble between themselves.

"They were afraid to move lest they should come in contact with each other, and yet their very care to prevent falling out among themselves in 1913 was, in fact, going to render peace more precarious in the year that followed."[italics added]
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey(2)

  • Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: Local European Crises May Destabilize the Great Powers:
It is faintly astonishing the Great Powers did not think of calling in heavily armed-but-neutral Switzerland to arbitrate 1905-1914 local European crises.

For example, as quoted above, the iconic British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, who acknowledged he was at "the centre of affairs", straightaway admits the Great Powers were "too afraid of trouble between themselves..." to always arbitrate local crises in Europe. This would seem an extraordinarily serious problem.

If the great Powers were sometimes "too afraid of trouble between themselves..." to always arbitrate local crises in Europe, what would prevent a local European crisis from expanding, dragging in one or more of the Great Powers and thus risking the peace of Europe? Was this not the exact problem in the July Crisis?

July 1914 igniting WWI was in large degree a direct consequence of a deadly serious crisis instablity between the Great Powers themselves.

The Great Powers' crisis instability could severely limit or even prevent the Great Power's from proposing crisis arbitrations. After a crisis breaks out, the Great Powers may have to wait on the sidelines for a considerable length of time -hours, days or even weeks - before making a proposal to arbitrate the crisis.

All this time typically lightning-fast telegrams were flying around to the capitols of Europe/Britain, not always accurate, or suddenly ramping up the spectre of imminent war between Britain and France booted up entirely by telegrams falsely reporting incomprehensible, completely fictitious military maneuvers in Asia.


If the Great Powers had the courage to admit such obvious and dangerous instability problems, their foreign ministers could have stepped on the famous (notorious) Wagon's-Lits Orient Express and traveled to The King of the Neutral Armed-Powers, Switzerland, to ask for assistance in proposing arbitrations in Geneva, or Zurich if (when) local European crises break out.

In 1914 Switzerland was by far Europe's strongest neutral armed-power, and Neutral Armed Powers would have been INCOMPARABLY less suspect regarding ulterior motives or hidden agendas for assisting in arbitrating the 1905-1914 Balkans Crises.

All the other Great Powers were colonial powers. So were the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. Britain had many colonies all over the world and interests in the Balkans Region, so Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, as superb and astute as he was, could not realistically claim to be an impartial arbiter.

Furthermore, in 1914 it so happens that all 5 Great Powers were afflicted with severe problems themselves: France, tumultous, Germany, unstable, Russia, weak, Britain, afflicted by faction, the Ulster Crisis and the Sufferagettes, and Austria-Hungary was also unstable.

None of those Great Powers could be relied on at every moment to have the complete attention-span necessary to equitably arbitrate sudden breakouts of local European crises.

The foreign secretary:

"The truth probably is, that there were sinister and reckless influences in Austria."(3)

Sinister is possibly too strong a word. But there certainly were radical military elements in Austria-Hungary.

The foreign secretary:

"In Austria, as in Russia, there was no head with direction and grip of affairs."(4)

True. The foreign secretary wrote that in 1925. However, the foreign secretary must have known about Austrian/Russian instability years before the June 28-July 1914 Balkans Crisis struck.

The foreign secretary:

"On the other hand, I felt some hesitation about again proposing a Conference. It had been suggested to me, perhaps quite wrongly, that in proposing and presiding over the 1912-13 Conference I had seemed to one high person in Berlin to be a little too prominent in continental affairs."(5)

True, the foreign secretary [right] was prominent. But that likely was in no small part because of all the Great Powers' representatives, the foreign secretary was possibly the most talented and trustworthy at crisis resolution." (But see (6)

The foreign secretary:

"Britain had taken such a leading part in the Conference of 1912-13; now it was the turn of someone else."(7)

Agreed. The Swiss.

"On the other hand, if no one else moved, then the proposal must be made by us before it was too late."(8)

There was NO COORDINATION between the Great Powers for promptly proposing crisis arbitrations. Zero. If there was ever a Jonestown-style suicidal arrangement between the Great Powers to "accidentally" boot up a World War, this was it.

The foreign secretary:

"To make the proposal too early was to court refusal on the ground that a Conference was unnecessary and premature; possibly it would have more chance of being accepted if it came from some other quarter."(9)

Yes. Geneva. Or Zurich, as the Orient Express and other railways probably made Zurich more convenient for almost everybody.

The foreign secretary:

"Lichnowsky’s [Prince Lichnowsky, German Ambassador to Britain, stationed in London] hope and mine that if new difficulties arose in the Balkans they would be discussed between us as frankly as in the last Balkan Crisis, that of 1912-13, was genuine..."(10)

According to the famed WWI historian Luigi Albertini, to settle that one 1912-1913 Balkans Crisis: "...About sixty-three seatings were held..."(11)

To settle 1 tiny Balkans Crisis: 63 meetings. How would such an event be possible?

[(right) Salvador Dali]

A British steamer in 1910 took 5 days to reach New York. Departing from London, at a meeting a day it would be a 5-day steamship voyage across the Atlantic to New York and back across the Atlantic to London 6 times in a row. See here.

But that's not the half of it. Instead of 2 months, the 63 meetings actually took over 8 months. From London, that's sitting in a 1905 steamer for 25 non-stop round-trip Atlantic Ocean crossings to New York.

The foreign secretary put it this way:

"It was said after the first few weeks that Cambon [Paul Cambon, French Ambassador stationed in London], when asked about the progress of the Conference, had replied that it would continue till there were six skeletons sitting around the table."(12)

63 meetings. 1 crisis. The arbitration "...would continue till there were six skeletons sitting around the table." So when the June 28,1914 Balkans Crisis struck, the Great Powers must have assumed they had all the time in the world to settle it.

The difficulty with such a leisurely approach, combining an expected 3 or 5 or 8-month-long crisis arbitration timeline with lightning-fast telegraph communications, is with heavily-armed European countries, within close proximity to each other, practically in each others' laps, all sharing alliances/ententes, ready to mobilize millions of soldiers@Maxim machine guns/artillery to the Front at the drop of a hat, one thing everybody agreed upon was no one could say with any authority when peace had actually arrived.

This fearsome reality should have been reason enough for the foreign secretary to take a 5-minute cab ride from the Foreign Office on Downing St. to Charing Cross Station (London), step on the Wagons-Lits "Orient Express", and the next day arrive in Switzerland to make some inquiries for any assistance they may care to offer regarding prompt arbitration proposals as local European crisis erupt.

As they erupt. And not a minute later.


  • The Hague, Netherlands:
It is not at all clear why the Hague, in the Netherlands, was chosen in 1899 and 1907 as the center for European Crisis Arbitration. The Netherlands is located at the very edge of Europe. Reportedly the Hague, in Dutch "Die Haghe", was started in 1242 by Floris IV, Count of Holland, who "wanted a plot of land near a pond in the woods", as a "hunting lodge..." He ordered the erection of walls of earth and wood around the grounds."(13)

This later became The Dutch center of government, The Binnenhof, surrounded by earthen walls and wood. Possibly some deterrent effect in 1242AD. Gone by 1914. The Netherlands' extreme geographical flatness makes it almost impossible to defend: in WWII the Germans crossed the border and Rotterdam surrendered in 96 hours, the Netherlands surrendered the next day.

The opposite of an historically neutral country, the Netherlands was a fierce competitor with Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and other European countries for overseas colonies (New York was originally Dutch, called New Amsterdam).


  • Switzerland: Europe's Strongest Neutral Armed-Power/Swiss Alps:

Whereas Switzerland has a number of just outstanding attributes which seems to make it the single most powerful neutral country for prompt crisis arbitrations.

Unlike the Hague in the Netherlands, or London in Britain, Switzerland is located in the center of Europe, convenient to reach by train for all the Great Powers. This also makes Switzerland much closer to travel to from the Balkans region, the site of most of the 1905-1914 crises.

In it's history some reports say Switzerland began with three cantons. Tiny nearby regions eventually joined. But the Swiss had much larger neighboring countries, deterring Switzerland from trying to colonize them. Also Switzerland has no access to the ocean, which usually eliminates colonizing overseas foreign lands.

As Switzerland doesn't have any colonies which could be adversely affected by a ruling, Switzerland offers an intensely neutral role in arbitration.

The Swiss defensive position is called aggressive defense. Before WWI, Switzerland faced potential belligerents on all sides; Germany, France, Austria-Hungary and Italy. So the Swiss built hundreds of heavily-armed underground defensive positions that assured any would-be invader extraordinarily heavy attrition rates. It worked; neither the Germans nor the French nor Austria invaded Switzarland in WWI.

[Note the post-1914 Swiss treatment of captured foreign soldiers.]

Cosnider the "defense" of the Hague, with it's walls of earth and wood. It's right next to the North Sea. It could be invaded by land and by ship. Geographically, the Hague seems one of the worst locations for European crisis arbitrations. London is not even in Europe.

Yet every time a crisis broke out, everybody was expected to step on a train and travel all the way to the North Sea (the Hague), or cross the channel by ship, and take another train to St. James Palace, or wherever else in London conferences were being held.

The Great Powers of France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Britain had decades and decades to observe that Europe's strongest neutral power was sitting right in the middle of them all. The Swiss Alps must be one of the greatest locations in Europe to deter against invasion, and better positions the Swiss to act as a neutral arbiter of local European crises.

It may be that picking London, or Paris, or the Hague as the location to hold crisis arbitrations had perversely encouraged radical elements in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe to try and start conflicts, as they felt France, Britain and the Netherlands, all mega-colonizers, could not be relied upon to hear every side and come to a equitable agreement.

Balkaneers may have felt it was better to fight than expect extraordinarily violent and virulently competitive 1,000 year-old Colonial Empires to make equitable local Balkans crisis settlements.

Yet Switzerland, the undisputed King of the Neutral Armed-Powers, was standing on site right there, waiting to help put out the raging fires in the Balkans and Morocco.

Switzerland is a tiny country, surrounded on all sides by gigantic nations. The last thing Switzerland needed was a local Balkans crisis becoming a wider conflict that could drag in the Great Powers. So they had the best of reasons to consider agreeing to assist the Great Powers in European crisis arbitrations.

All the Swiss needed was the green light from the foreign secretary.

page in development



(1) Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince Ch III: Concerning Mixed Principalities.

(2) Twenty-Five Years: 1892-1916, Vol I, at 253, 254.

(3) Twenty-Five Years: 1892-1916, Vol II, at 32.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Twenty-Five Years: 1892-1916, Vol I, at 304.

(6) The foreign secretary's insuperable defect was he did not like Europe, and except to attend a funeral, never visited Europe. This is a stupendous defect in a foreign secretary. He spoke no European languages, except possibly French, and that badly.

Contrast that with von Bismarck:

"French he speaks with the purity and fluency almost of a native, and the same may be said of his English... Not so fluent is the Chancellor's Italian as his French, but yet he can read the journals of Rome... Once, too, he boasted that he was 'about the only man in the Foreign Office who understands Russian'—a language which he.... acquired during his residence at St. Petersburg.... And not only did he master Russian, but he also learned Polish to a degree enabling him to make himself understood."
Lowe, Charles (2005). Prince Bismarck: An Historical Biography With Two Portraits, at 538–40.

Or King Edward VII: In one secret 1903 visit to Paris, the British King, a huge fan of European travel, Paris and very fluent in French, turned an historically incredibly hostile country overnight into a friendly one, single-handedly overturning centuries of fierce rivalries/wars.
On one holiday across the Channel to Europe.

If that's not a major lesson in diplomacy for all the 1914 Great Powers', it's not clear what would be. King Edward VII's accomplishment was exactly the kind of staggeringly successful diplomacy necessary for a drastic reversal of Europe/British gov't/public opinion in 1914.

As for as the foreign secretary, if there was a European contest for an anti-foreign secretary, it's true the vote for weekend fishing enthusiast E. Grey would be unanimous. The foreign secretary got all his information second-hand, he never personally crossed the channel (except for a funeral in Paris that he really did not want to attend) to see for himself what was happening on the ground, compared to all the reports he read.

A classic consequence of the obvious danger of the foreign secretary's lifelong usage of Britain like his own personal isolation-tank was his 1918 reaction to reports of the 1917 Russian Revolution:

"Nevertheless, Russia free may yet become more powerful in the war for freedom and far more helpful in the making of peace than she could ever have been under a reactionary Government.

"And nothing should shake our confidence that in the long run the change in Russia must be a great good, not only for Russia but for Europe, and, indeed, for the world.

"A free Russia is a splendid increase of freedom in the world, and whatever the immediate and passing effect upon the progress of the War, the future effect upon democracy in Europe and upon international relations generally must be most favourable and of incalculable value and benefit."
Sir Edward Grey: The Conflict for Human Liberty: 1918, at 3, 4.

Need any more be said? That must qualify as the worst, most destructive predictions made by any leader or official in the entire history of England. The Russian Revolution was one of the most degenerate events of that century, booting up Communism and the deaths of many millions of Russians, the Iron Curtain and the dreaded Cold War.

Possibly Britain's Entente with Russia had perversely encouraged the foreign secretary into such nonsensical opinions. Regardless, such hopelessly optimistic views on the 1917 Russian Revolution point directly at the requirement for an ARMED NEUTRAL arbitrator located IN EUROPE.

(7) Twenty-Five Years: 1892-1916, Vol I, at 305.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Ibid.

(10) ibid at 292.

(11) Luigi Albertini: The Origins of the War of 1914, Vol I, at 423: "The Conference, at which Grey presided, met for the first time in 12 December 1912... About sixty-three seatings were held, the last on 13 August 1913..."

(12) Twenty-Five Years: 1892-1916, Vol I, at 256.

(13) The Dutch centre of government: a brief history.

December 2019-2020