Defensive Humanitarianism


During World War I, the Swiss state interned nearly 30,000 foreign soldiers who had previously been held in POW camps in Germany, France, Britain, Belgium, Austria, and Russia. The internment camp system that Switzerland implemented arose from the Swiss diplomatic platform of defensive humanitarianism. By offering good offices to the belligerent states of WWI, the Swiss state utilized humanitarian law both to secure Swiss neutrality and to alleviate, to a degree, the immense human suffering of the war. The Swiss government mixed domestic security concerns with international diplomacy and humanitarianism. They elevated a domestic policy platform to the international diplomatic level and succeeded in building enough trust between the party states to create an internment system that reconceptualized the treatment of foreign soldiers from the holding of prisoners to the healing of men.

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