The United States is a world power; it has a population of over 300 million; it has the world's largest GDP at $14.58 trillion, a military budget of over $700 billion that dwarfs the next 12 countries in the world combined with a leading role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) collective defense. In spite of the recent financial crisis, rising debt and high unemployment, no one would deny the power of the United States, even in relative decline.
Switzerland is a small, landlocked country in the middle of Western Europe. It has a population of 8 million - smaller than metropolitan New York -, ranks 19th in the world in GDP with $527 billion and 37th in military expenditure with $4 billion. Switzerland is a neutral country that is not a member of any defense institution such as NATO or even the European Union. Except for its recent adhesion to the United Nations, Switzerland stands fundamentally alone on the world security stage.
Why has the United States been so virulent in its recent attacks against Switzerland? Given the long, historical background of cooperation between the Sister Republics, including similar Constitutions and federal systems as well as Swiss representation of the United States in Iran and Cuba, there must be some rational argument for the current disproportional assault against Swiss banks and Americans living overseas in Switzerland. Switzerland is being picked on; the United States is acting like a bully. There is no attempt here to condone the actions of certain Swiss bankers and banks or Americans who have broken the law. Not at all. But why so much attention to Switzerland and not to tax havens like the Cayman Islands or Delaware?
Perhaps, and this is mere conjecture, the recent economic recession in the U.S. has caused a spat of jealousy across the Atlantic. Indeed, with unemployment hovering near double digits, there must be enormous envy in Washington about the high Swiss standard of living. With Congressional infighting ruining any possibility of overhauling an overly costly health system that leaves millions uninsured and many dissatisfied, there might be jealousy about the Swiss system that has many expatriates eternally grateful for the low cost and outstanding care they receive here. Or maybe it is jealousy of the Swiss education system where one does not have to pay $40,000 a year for a decent primary through secondary education or $52,000 a year for a college degree. Do Washington politicians really believe that harassing Swiss bankers and Americans overseas will stabilize their weak economy or are they merely pandering to the public's James Bond image of Switzerland to cover up their own incompetence?
To add insult to injury, the United States crushed Switzerland this weekend in the tennis Davis Cup in Fribourg. Roger Federer and teammates could not counter the American armada; a most apt reflection of the power relationship between the two countries today.
February 12, 2012