Switzerland inches towards Nato as neutrality is put to the test

Switzerland inches towards Nato as neutrality is put to the test
Switzerland has historically maintained a neutral status; its army did not participate in either world war. / Image: bne IntelliNews.
By bne intellinews May 17, 2022

Switzerland’s defence ministry is eyeing closer co-operation with Nato in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The defence ministry is compiling a report detailing the options for the future of Swiss security. This could see the Swiss military joining in with Nato exercises and backfilling munitions. Alternatively, it could take the form of high-level meetings between military leaders from Switzerland and the US-led alliance.

The report is scheduled for completion in September, and will then be submitted to the cabinet and parliament for discussion.

Defence Minister Viola Amherd said on a trip to Washington last week that Switzerland should collaborate more closely with Nato, but should stop short of becoming a member.

Switzerland is renowned for its cautious observation of military neutrality, which dates back to 1815. But this maxim could be undergoing a shift, according to Paelvi Pulli, head of security policy at the Swiss defence ministry. "Ultimately, there could be changes in the way neutrality is interpreted," she said in an interview last week.

Pulli added that neutrality was aimed at increasing Swiss security, rather than as an end in itself. Therefore working more closely with Nato would not contradict the underlying principles of the policy of neutrality.

Switzerland continues to produce most of its own weapons, but it purchased fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin last year, which are also used by some Nato countries.

A recent poll found that 56% of Swiss support working more closely with Nato. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, that figure stood at just 37% on average.

Sweden and Finland, also historically neutral countries, are both on the brink of applying to join NATO as a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Monday, 16 May, Finland’s parliament approved the country’s Nato application. It is expected that Sweden and Finland will make a formal joint approach to Nato on Tuesday or Wednesday during Finnish President Sauli Niinisto’s visit to Stockholm.

Russia had previously threatened retaliation against any decision by the nordic states to join Nato. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov had warned that "they should have no illusion that we will simply put up with it." However, an announcement by President Vladimir Putin on Monday indicated a possible change of rhetoric in favour of calm acceptance.

"As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries," Putin said.


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