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Switzerland loses quarter of its arms exports due to refusal to supply Ukraine

Switzerland loses quarter of its arms exports due to refusal to supply Ukraine Photo: Switzerland accounts for a quarter of arms exports (Getty Images)
Author: Liliana Oleniak

Arms exports from Switzerland fell by more than a quarter last year. Critics blame the country's neutral stance, which has blocked re-exports of Swiss weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, according to Reuters.

Exports of military equipment fell by 27% to CHF 697 million ($788 million), the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) reported.

Despite its longstanding neutrality, Switzerland is a major arms supplier, ranking 14th in the world in 2022, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In 2023, Switzerland exported military equipment to 58 countries. The largest buyer is Germany, followed by Denmark, which signed large orders for ammunition and wheeled armored vehicles.

Reasons for decline

SECO did not name the reason for the decline in exports last year, but the Swissmem industry association said that Switzerland's ban on arms re-exports played a role.

According to the country's neutrality law, Bern cannot approve requests for the transfer of Swiss-made military equipment to Ukraine as long as it is involved in an international armed conflict.

"Some companies have lost orders because of concerns about the Swiss regulations, while others are considering investing less here," Swissmem director Stefan Brupbacher tells Reuters.

In 2022, Spain, Denmark, and Germany were denied permission to re-export arms to Ukraine, which strained relations and caused concern in the Swiss arms industry, which includes multinationals Lockheed Martin, Rheinmetall, and many smaller companies.

Swissmem is confident that the Swiss arms industry is export-dependent and cannot rely on the demand of the Swiss military to survive.

Brupbacher says that a "dogmatic interpretation" of neutrality blocks the re-export of Swiss arms and ammunition that other countries bought several years ago, and many countries do not understand Switzerland's position.

"We want the need for re-export permit for all countries which adhere to similar international conventions on weaponry as Switzerland to be lifted. It has nothing to do with the legal definition of neutrality," he says.

Switzerland has been adhering to a policy of neutrality since 1815. At the same time, it has expressed its support for Ukraine and provides humanitarian assistance.

In May 2023, Bern took a step towards supplying Ukraine with weapons. However, amendments to the law were blocked in the lower house of parliament.