The Swiss have a long history of remaining neutral in conflicts. Just how does this work? Does the Swiss government (or any other government that wants to remain neutral) simply say “OK, we’re neutral.” What are the practical effects of this? If I was an American soilder chasing a German soilder during WWII and he ran across the border into Switzerland, did I have to stop trying to kill him? What if I was supposed to, but shot him anyway?

You’ve pretty much got it. The country basically states it is neutral and that’s it. Of course, they have to act neutral as well. If one side or the other thinks you’re aiding their enemy they might state that your ‘neutrality’ is crap and attack.

I think if you were caught crossing Swiss territory they would ‘politely’ (possibly at gun point) turn you around and head you back towards the nearest convenient border. If you killed someone on their territory I believe they’d arrest you and throw you in jail (for bringing the war to them and potentially jeopardizing their neutral status). I imagine if you chased someone just barely inside their border and killed them they might turn a blind eye and shove you back across the border.

From what I understand, the Swiss know that saying “I’m neutral” isn’t worth much without a way of ensuring that you remain so. The Swiss countryside is peppered with gun turrents (some disguised as chalets), fortresses, bunkers carved into the cliffs and mountians, flood zones, minefields, and various other things that makes the entire country a deathtrap to any army that tries to force its way through. I had always thought when I was younger “well, so what if you’re neutral? If someone wants to attack you, they’re going to do so regardless of what you say.” Apparently, the Swiss have found a way around that.

Interesting link of Swiss military fortifications

Under international law, a neutral country is required to intern troops of belligerent countries. If a country were to allow belligerents to maneuver on its territory, that would give the lie to neutrality. In other words, if you use a country as a staging area, legally speaking that country must either be a co-belligerent (your ally) or a conquered enemy.

Internment is sort of like capturing enemy troops, but the troops aren’t supposed to fight (and usually they don’t, since they’ll be pretty decently treated by the neutral power until it runs out of food for internees!) American and British pilots crashing over Switzerland were routinely interned by the Swiss - it would be theoretically possible to escape but that would just lead you into France, Italy, or Germany. So the Allies just resigned themselves to months or years, more or less under house arrest. I don’t know if the Swiss used cheap hotels or warehouses or what; I don’t think they made dedicated internment camps. In any case it was better than being a POW.

Switzerland has gun turrets, yes, but the really brilliant thing they’ve done is to turn their neutrality into a bankable commodity. It’s not for nothing that Switzerland has become an international banking hub. Since the Swiss owe no allegiances to anybody, everyone knows it’s a safe place to put their money.

Switzerland isn’t going to freeze your assets if your country adopts a government it doesn’t like.

Likewise, no one’s going to invade Switzerland. That’s partly because the Alps are impassable and easily defended, but also because everyone’s got money in Swiss banks, including any allies you may have, and you don’t want to piss them off.

Neutrality makes Switzerland a wealthy nation.

One thing to bear in mind is that “neutrality” only works as long as others are doing the fighting for you. There is little doubt that if the Nazis or Soviets had succeeded in establishing their hegemony over all of Europe, they would ultimately have taken over Switzerland as well. Only while the wars (or cold wars) are still raging is a neutral country allowed to remain neutral, as the major powers see no need to add to their opponents.

From this perspective, “neutrality” is nothing more than a cop-out.