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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Invade Switzerland?

My recent post about off-shore tax havens -- where $32 trillion dollars of questionably-gotten wealth is stored -- caused me to wonder why we don't just invade Switzerland, Bermuda, Dubai, etc. simultaneously, take the wealth, and then use it to pay down our debt.  The invasion would be temporary -- we'd simply do whatever is necessary to extract the assets from those bank accounts, and then when that "mission is accomplished" we'd reinstall the original Swiss government, as if nothing had happened.  If done correctly -- with the appropriate awe-inspiring mission name (operation Blatant Heist?) -- the mission could be accomplished with little or perhaps even no bloodshed.

As usual, I'm not the first person who has had this thought; Mohan Kannegal suggested it in October 2011 as a way for Europe to solve its ongoing crisis, Robert Hurley suggested it in 2009 (and in turn found his blog being monitored by the Swiss Government), there's an mp3 available on Amazon called "I want to Invade Switzerland," and I'm sure there have been others.  Kannegal appears to have been joking, because in the end he proposes that the invasion be conducted by Berlusconi and his paramours.  Hurley's main concern seems to be tracking down the money siphoned off (i.e. stolen from U.S. taxpayers) during the rebuilding of Iraq, which he thinks probably ended up in accounts in Dubai.

There is also considerable scholarship out there on the question why Hitler didn't invade Switzerland; apparently, he didn't like the Swiss and had several plans on the drawing board (plans which acknowledged the difficulty of such an enterprise, given the terrain), but in the end just didn't get around to it.  Might have turned out differently if he had been more successful elsewhere.

The Swiss in WWII expected an invading force of 15 Italian divisions and 11 German divisions -- 300,000-500,000 men.  But today's warfare is very different.  We've shown in Iraq and Afghanistan that we can inflict significant damage without risking any of our troops.  And if we explained the endgame to the Swiss government and the Swiss people -- and perhaps offered them a hundred billion dollars of our take -- we might be able to accomplish the whole thing with little or no bloodshed.

I have not yet researched the question of whether physically invading Switzerland and toppling its government would automatically give us access to the wealth stored in Swiss banks.  I do not even know what form that wealth takes.  Part of my reason for naming "Bermuda, Dubai, etc." above, and calling for a simultaneous invasion, is that I have a feeling that the Swiss bankers nowadays might have a method of wiring the money out of the country on a moment's notice; we might only be able to solve that problem if we simultaneously conquer every place where the money might conceivably be wired.  I also don't know enough to know whether the money might be wire-able and thus salvageable to a non-tax haven country; perhaps they could simply break it up and wire it to a bunch of different US and English banks without anyone knowing it.  If it's legal -- or even if it's just not detectable -- there would doubtless be an array of non-haven bankers salivating to receive such transfers.  But these are problems for others to ponder and solve.  So when I say "invade Switzerland" I mean do everything that is necessary to take over its banks and the wealth they hold.

Nor have I looked into how we could square such an invasion with the United Nations.  Do we just need Security Council approval?  Or everyone's?  It does seem that the vast majority of countries stand to gain from the plan.  The problem is that the governments of those countries might not be so happy about it . . . .

When you think about it, the case for invading Switzerland is a lot stronger than that for invading Iraq or Afghanistan.  In those cases, the vast majority of the population had nothing to do with the actions that justified our invasion -- they did not elect their governments, and probably did not favor the government's policies.  And yet we invaded both, and killed a large number of innocent civilians in the process.  As I understand it, our main justification for doing so was to prevent  additional attacks on the United States.  But we'll never know if it "worked," or if the hostility that we've provoked will ultimately lead to worse attacks.

Of course, cynics think we did it for the oil, or merely at the behest of those who knew that they'd get lucrative contracts for going in and rebuilding everything that we knocked down in the process of the invasion (thinking George Schultz, CLI, and Bechtel here).

To get support from the right people, our plans might have to include doing some damage.   Unfortunately, the "right people" in this day and age probably think that the possibility of Swiss Bank accounts and offshore tax havens is actually a good thing, or (if Hurley is right) are holders of those accounts themselves.

All in all, this may well be the ultimate case in which the ends would justify the means.  Indeed, we would take pains to ensure that the means are both bloodless and benevolent.  We could appoint a neutral judicial panel, which, in a fully transparent process, would look at each account and make a determination of where the funds should go.  In some cases -- if the account was owned by someone who earned the money through healthy capitalistic practices (say, Mitt Romney) -- we might even give most of it back.  But if it was money represents foreign aid that was stolen from its rightful recipients by a third world dictator -- or if it was siphoned off of U.S. Iraq rebuilding funds -- the outcome could be very different.

The Hurley blog says that the IRS (in 2009) was trying to get the names of 52,000 U.S. accountholders from UBS (a historically corrupt and/or very unlucky Swiss bank), and Wikipedia confirms this, and indicates that some settlement was reached in 2010 where the US got access to records for some (it doesn't say how many or what percent of te 52,000) tax evaders.  Apparently, they (and other European tax havens including Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Andorra, and Austria) did relax the bank secrecy laws somewhat around this time.  But that's not the point.

The Hurley blog also quotes a Swiss official as saying that its banking secrecy laws essentially provide employment for one million people, and that doing away with those laws would cause those people to become unemployed.  Velcome to the global economy, volks!

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