Allow the transfer of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine

Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine has been raging for over a year. While the other European countries are supporting Ukraine both financially and by supplying weapons and ammunition, Switzerland, under the cloak of neutrality, is opposing the transfer of weapons produced in Switzerland to our neighbours, thus once again raising eyebrows. Permission for the transfer of Swiss weapons and ammunition would be the least Switzerland should do.

Mar 6, 2023
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The fact that Switzerland, as a neutral state, is home to a flourishing arms industry has long been a source of debate. In the summer of 2022, the export law on war material was amended so that RUAG and others would no longer be allowed to sell weapons to active warring parties. Also, weapons that have already been purchased may not be passed on. Such conditions are of course difficult to verify, as an investigation by SRF Rundschau showed: Swiss hand grenades had been officially sold to the United Arab Emirates years before for defence purposes and ultimately ended up with ISIS.
The amended export law is now in force, and so Switzerland rejects all requests from countries such as Germany, Spain or Denmark to pass on weapons and ammunition to Ukraine.

"The parasite in the heart of Europe"

However, this is about much more than just these export requests. It is about the signal effect of this general attitude of refusal and how Switzerland seems to rewrite its concept of neutrality again and again to its own advantage. 

At first, Switzerland did not want to adopt sanctions against Russia because it was a neutral state. When the Federal Council finally decided to adopt the EU sanctions, they were only half-heartedly controlled and, for example, only a fraction of the actual assets of oligarchs were frozen. 

Even in the case of aid payments to Ukraine, rich Switzerland has shown itself to be rather stingy and ranks lower than the other countries. And now it stands in the way of other countries when they want to support Ukraine with weapons and ammunition.

This behaviour does not go down well with our neighbours. Thus, the EU, the individual states as well as NATO are finding clear words: "Abstention is not an option for Switzerland". 

Others now even see us as an "eternal parasite in the heart of Europe". This is because Europe is currently standing together in solidarity and defending our common values of peace and democracy, as well as the European economy and common prosperity. Switzerland has benefited massively from all of this for quite some time, without wanting to do our part in its defence.

A great theoretical lever

Ironically, Switzerland could exert great influence on the war if it wanted to. "Approximately 80% of Russian commodity trading takes place through the Swiss financial services centres of Geneva, Zug, Lugano and Zurich," said the Swiss Embassy in Moscow in November 2022. It is precisely this commodity trading that is currently financing the Russian war machine.

The Swiss Bankers Association also estimates that the assets of Russian clients in Swiss banks amount to over 150 billion Swiss francs. "Real estate, holdings in unlisted companies, art, vehicles, ships and other assets are not considered financial assets and are therefore not included in the estimate.”

So Switzerland would have a lot of leverage and could turn off the money tap to Russia if it wanted to. Unfortunately, this lever remains a theoretical one, as Swiss politicians will not be able to bring themselves to the necessary transparency and the corresponding will to enforce it in the foreseeable future.

Time to take responsibility

In the longer term, Switzerland must live up to its humanitarian reputation and finally take responsibility. The hypocritical interpretation of neutrality, whereby we finance autocrats and profit from wars on the one hand, and appeal for peace in precisely these wars on the other, must end. Because currently Switzerland is anything but neutral; it is on the side of profit.

Unfortunately, Ukraine is now under attack and pragmatic solutions are needed. This brings us back to the issue of arms deliveries. If Switzerland itself does not really want to help, the least it could do is not to stand in the way of other countries. We are clearly of the opinion that Switzerland should allow the transfer of weapons and ammunition.

Schweizer Handgranaten landen in al-Kaidas Händen, SRF Rundschau
Switzerland drags its feet in tracking down Russian oligarchs' assets, Le Monde
Ukraine Support Tracker, Kiel Institut für Weltwirtschaft
Switzerland Becomes Stumbling Block for Western Military Aid to Ukraine, WSJ
Auf die Schweiz kann sich Putin noch immer verlassen, Spiegel
80% der Russen-Rohstoffe über Schweiz, die schaut weg, Inside Paradeplatz
Vermögen von russischen Kunden bei Banken in der Schweiz, Swiss Banking