Experts believe that Switzerland, who have historically remained neutral during wars, are having their resolve tested during the Russia-Ukraine war.
Swiss neutrality legislation, which goes back to 1815 and was codified by treaty in 1907, states that Switzerland will not send weapons directly or indirectly to combatants in a war. Switzerland also has a separate embargo relating to selling weapons to Russia and Ukraine.
Switzerland is now facing a situation where they must choose between their neutral tradition and pressure from European neighbors.
Switzerland’s neutrality is supported by 90 percent of its 8.7 million residents.
“Being a neutral state that exports weapons is what got Switzerland into this situation,” said Oliver Diggelmann, an international law professor at the University of Zurich. “It wants to export weapons to do business. It wants to assert control over those weapons. And it also wants to be the good guy. This is where our country is stumbling now.”
A senior Western official, who did not want to be identified, said that many Western diplomats feel that Switzerland is chasing “a neutrality of economic benefit.”
“Everybody knows this is hurting Switzerland. The entire E.U. is annoyed. The Americans are upset. The resentment comes from the Russians too. We all know this is hurting us,” said Sacha Zala, a historian of Swiss neutrality at the University of Bern. “But it shows just how deep this belief in neutrality goes in our heads.”
The Hague Convention of 1907 was put in place to stop nations waging war against one another. Nations could sell weapons, but only if they were doing so to all sides.
Following this, Switzerland opted for a position of “armed neutrality.” The theory behind this policy is for Switzerland to remain neutral while still protecting itself.
Supporters of the Swiss weapons industry concur that the economic impact for this policy is minimal. The Swiss weapons industry hires 14,000 people, which makes up less than 1 percent of G.D.P.
“Armed neutrality needs soldiers, weapons, equipment — and an arms industry. Our neutrality has to be armed, otherwise it’s useless,” said Werner Salzmann, who is a member of the conservative Swiss People’s Party.
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