Neutral Switzerland leans closer to NATO in response to Russia

Bern, – Switzerland’s fabulous neutral status is facing its biggest test in decades, with the Ministry of Defense leaning closer to Western military powers in response to ’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Ministry of Defense is preparing a report on security options that include joint military exercises with NATO and “refilling” ammunition, Paelvi Pulli, head of security policy at the Swiss Ministry of Defense, told Reuters.

The details of the political alternatives discussed in the have not previously been reported.

“Ultimately, there may be changes in how neutrality is interpreted,” Pulli said in an interview last week. On a trip to Washington this week, Defense Secretary Viola Amherd said Switzerland should more closely with the US-led military , but not join it, Swiss media reported.

Neutrality, which kept Switzerland away from both world wars during the 20th century, was not an end in itself, but was intended to increase Swiss security, Pulli said.

Other options include high-level meetings and regular meetings between Swiss and NATO commanders and politicians, she said.

Moving so much closer to the alliance would mark a departure from the carefully nurtured tradition of not taking sides as its supporters say helped Switzerland flourish peacefully and maintain a special role as an intermediary, including during the West’s resistance to the .

The idea of ​​full NATO membership has been discussed, but while and – countries that also have a history of neutrality – are about to join, Pulli said the report would probably not recommend Switzerland to take that step.

The report should be ready by the end of September when it will go to the Swiss Cabinet for consideration.

It will be submitted to Parliament for discussion and will serve as a basis for any decision on the future direction of Swiss security policy. The report itself will not be put to the vote.

The Ministry of Defense will also contribute to a broader investigation being prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That project will look at the adoption of sanctions, weapons, ammunition exports and the relationship with NATO from a neutrality perspective, the Foreign Ministry said.

Revives Swiss neutrality debate

The Swiss nation has not fought in an international war since 1815, when it adopted neutrality at the Congress of that ended the French Revolutionary Wars.

The 1907 Hague Convention stipulates that Switzerland will not participate in international armed conflicts, favor warring parties with troops or armaments, or make its territory available to the warring parties.

Neutrality, which is enshrined in the Constitution, gives Switzerland the right to self-defense and scope for interpreting the political aspects of the concept that are not covered by the legal definition.

It was last updated in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to enable a foreign policy based on cooperation with other countries in areas such as humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

The Ukraine conflict has revived the debate, now centered on the government’s decision to impose sanctions on Russia but to stop allowing the re-export of Swiss-made ammunition to Ukraine.

“There is a lot of concern that Switzerland can not contribute more to help Ukraine,” Pulli said.

Refilling – where Switzerland supplies ammunition to other countries to replace those sent to Ukraine – is another potential measure, Pulli said, in a change from government policy to date, although direct supply is likely a step too far.

President Ignazio Cassis has ruled out arms shipments to third countries in support of Ukraine, but, possibly to show a more expansive view on the issue, he has also said that neutrality is not a “dogma” and that failure to respond with sanctions “would have” played a role. the attacker in the hands. ‘

Growing support for NATO

Switzerland already has some links to NATO, while last year it was decided to buy Lockheed Martin LMT.N F-35A fighter jets that are being bought or already used by some NATO members.

Switzerland can not join any alliance due to neutrality. But we can cooperate and the systems we buy are a good basis for that, says Minister of Defense Amherd to the TV broadcaster SRF.

The measures under consideration would be a significant step closer for a country that did not join the UN until 2002 and which produces many of its own weapons.

Vladimir Khokhlov, spokesman for the Russian embassy in Bern, said such measures would lead to a radical change in Swiss policy. Moscow would “not be able to ignore” a possible renunciation of neutrality, which would have consequences, Khokhlov said. He left no further details.

The Swiss military advocates increased cooperation with NATO as a way to strengthen national defense, while public opinion has undergone a sea change since the Ukrainian invasion.

More than half of those surveyed – 56% – supported increased ties with NATO, a recent survey that found – well above the average of 37% in recent years.

Support for actually acceding to the Treaty is still a minority view, but has grown significantly. The Sotomo survey in April showed that 33% of Swiss supported joining the alliance, which is higher than 21% in the long run in a separate study from the ETH University in Zurich.

“It is clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed many views. This is seen as an attack on our Western democratic values,” said Michael Hermann of Sotomo.

Thierry Burkart, leader of the right-of-center Liberal Democratic Party, part of the ruling coalition, described a “seismic shift” in how people feel about neutrality.

Neutrality “must be flexible,” he told Reuters.

“Before Ukraine, some believed that there would never be another conventional war in Europe,” he said, adding that some had advocated the dissolution of the army. “The Ukraine conflict shows that we can not be complacent.”

Burkart said he supported higher military spending and a closer relationship with NATO, but not full membership.

But Peter Keller, secretary general of the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP), told Reuters that a closer relationship with NATO was incompatible with neutrality.

SVP is also part of the governing coalition and is the largest party in the Swiss lower house of parliament.

“There is no reason to change this successful foreign policy maxim. It has brought peace and prosperity to the people,” Keller said.

The Ministry of Defense does not agree. During his visit to Washington, Amherd said that the framework of the Neutrality Act “allows us to work more closely with NATO and also with our European partners”, the newspaper Tagesanzeiger reported.

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