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Switzerland. Can a neutral country abandon it in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

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Switzerland is on the verge of breaking with its long-standing tradition of neutrality as a pro-Ukrainian shift in public and political sentiment puts pressure on the government to lift a ban on Swiss arms exports to war zones, a Reuters analysis writes. It presents various positions of the Swiss public on this matter.

Buyers of Swiss arms are legally prohibited from re-exporting them without permission Switzerland, which some representatives of the country’s powerful arms industry say is currently hurting trade. At the same time, calls from its European neighbors for Switzerland to allow such transfers to Kiev grew louder as the Russian attack intensified.

Also, two parliamentary security committees recommended relaxing the rules in this area. “We want to be neutral, but we are part of the Western world,” said Thierry Burkart, leader of the centre-right party FDP, who applied to the government for permission to re-export arms to countries with similar democratic values ​​to Switzerland. Reuters points out, however, that Swiss parliamentarians are divided on this issue.

Swiss neutrality ‘ahead of biggest test in decades’ “Seismic Shift”?

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“We should not have veto power to stop others helping Ukraine”

Under Swiss neutrality, which dates back to 1815, Switzerland does not send arms directly or indirectly to combatants in war. There is a separate embargo on the sale of arms to Ukraine and Russia. Third countries can theoretically ask Bern to re-export arms, but this is almost always refused.

– We should not have veto power to stop others helping Ukraine. If we do that, we’ll support it Russiawhich is not neutral, Burkart told Reuters. – Other countries want to support Ukraine and do something for the security and stability of Europe. (…) They cannot understand why Switzerland has to say no, he added.

More and more Swiss citizens seem to think so. According to the results poll published on Sunday, 55 percent of respondents are in favor of allowing arms to be re-exported to Ukraine. – If we had asked this question before the war, the answer in favor of re-export would probably be less than 25 percent. Talking about changing neutrality was taboo in the past, pointed out Lukas Golder, co-director of the company that conducted the study.

The Swiss political scene is divided

The Swiss government – under pressure from abroad, after rejecting German and Danish applications for permission to re-export Swiss armored vehicles and ammunition for anti-aircraft tanks – announced that it did not prejudge whether parliamentary discussions would take place. A spokesman for the Department of Economic Affairs, which oversees arms trade issues, said the government “adheres to the existing legal framework and will address the proposals in due course.”

Thierry Burkart of the FDP said he had received positive signals about changing the law from other parties in the fragmented parliament. Left-wing social democrats are in favor of changes in the law on the re-export of arms.

Meanwhile, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest party in the lower house, traditionally staunch defenders of neutrality, now appears divided. “Allowing arms to be delivered to a country in armed conflict is destroying the foundations of peace and prosperity in our country,” said party politician David Zuberbueler, quoted by Reuters.

Another member of the SVP, Werner Salzmann, who sits in the upper house of the Swiss parliament, disagrees, expressing concerns in the daily Aargauer Zeitung that the lack of changes to the regulations could cause additional damage to the Swiss defense industry, which also supports the campaign for changes in the law.

“It’s time for a change”

The sector, which includes the international concerns Lockheed Martin and Rheinmetall, according to government data, in 2021 sold armaments worth 800 million Swiss francs ($876 million) abroad, which places it among the top fifteen global exporters.

Having a strong defense industry has gone hand in hand with a tradition of neutrality, but the balance of that duality may now be in jeopardy, SwissMem, a trade association of machinery and electrical engineering manufacturers, said in Reuters.

“Some of our members have lost contracts or are no longer investing in Switzerland due to the current restrictions,” said SwissMem director Stefan Brupbacher. “Our current situation weakens our security policy, undermines the credibility of our foreign policy and hurts our businesses,” he said. And he added that “it’s time for a change.”

Main photo source: Mikadun / Shutterstock.com



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