Swiss lawmakers look to boost arms exports abroad

Weapon shipments to Ukraine would nevertheless remain prohibited, according to the cabinet’s proposal.

Switzerland is looking to bypass its rigid neutrality laws and export restrictions in order to boost weapons sales, which play a vital role in the country’s economy, according to a statement by the Swiss Federal Council on Wednesday.
The legislative body formally opened consultations on the issue after Bern’s arms exports saw a significant drop last year, falling 27% despite the global increase in defense spending. About three quarters of exported Swiss weapons go to Europe. However, the country’s laws forbid any weapon sales to nations in conflict and also doesn’t allow third parties to transfer Swiss-made weapons to such countries.
The proposed bill, which was originally introduced last summer by the Security Policy Commission, would amend the so-called War Material Act to allow the Swiss government to override the restriction on exporting weapons to warring states in “exceptional circumstances.”
“The aim is to enable the protection of fundamental foreign and security policy interests in the event of extraordinary circumstances and thus to maintain domestic industrial capacity adapted to the needs of Swiss national defense,” the Federation Council’s statement reads.
It’s noted however, that if the amendment is adopted, the government would remain bound by Switzerland’s neutrality laws, as well as foreign policy principles and international obligations.
“The derogation authority cannot therefore be applied to exports of war material that contradict the law of neutrality in the context of an international armed conflict, nor does it provide for exports to countries that seriously and systematically violate human rights,” the statement reads, suggesting that Bern would remain barred from any weapons shipments to Ukraine.
Nevertheless, Russian Ambassador to Switzerland Sergei Germonin has previously warned that if any Swiss arms end up being supplied to Ukraine, it could lead to economic consequences for Bern, which could also lose its geo-economic status.

Switzerland’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Pascale Christine Baeriswyl, has argued that such concerns are unfounded and stressed that the export or re-export of Swiss weapons would remain impossible.
Throughout the Ukraine conflict, Switzerland has claimed neutrality on the issue, but has at the same time repeatedly condemned Russia’s military operation and has supported the West’s sanctions against Moscow. The country is also holding an estimated $14.3 billion in frozen Russian assets.
Switzerland is also set to host an international peace conference next month dedicated to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s proposed peace plan to resolve the conflict. However, no representatives from Moscow have been invited to attend the event.
Last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argued that Switzerland was no longer a neutral party and had “turned from neutral to openly hostile.”