by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich
Under pressure from outside and the compliancy of the NATO turbos at home, the Federal Council has shockingly quickly and radically dismantled the status of Swiss neutrality that was carefully built up over centuries. Few remnants of the law of neutrality have been left standing: No right of passage or overflight for war transports, no delivery of Swiss weapons to warring parties. In order to undermine this last shred of Swiss neutrality, absurdities are being outdone. But the Federal Council remains steadfast.
The first trial balloon was a Canadian transport plane loaded with weapons that wanted to fly over little Switzerland at the end of March if it was to save one’s life. Shortly before, on 11 March, the Federal Council, in accordance with the law of neutrality, had banned overflights for military purposes by the parties to the conflict and their supporters. Quickly, an overflight request was organised by NATO member Canada and then – with the support of the Swiss mainstream media – a huge fuss was made about the authorisation rejected by the Federal Council. But at least this time the Federal Council stood firm.
The current issue is Switzerland’s obligation under neutrality law not to supply weapons to a country at war. Some time ago, Switzerland sold Germany 12,400 rounds of ammunition for the Gepard anti-aircraft tank and, as usual, demanded a non-re-export declaration. Germany wants to supply this ammunition to the warring party Ukraine. The Federal Council had already rejected the request from Berlin in June because it contradicted the law of neutrality. Instead of respecting the clear answer from Bern, the German Minister of War, Christine Lambrecht, tried to wear down the Federal Council with another letter dated 21 October. In doing so, she got the second rebuff she deserved from the Federal Council.
Delivery of lethal tank munitions “for humanitarian reasons”?
At the end of October, politicians and the media on both sides of the border outdid themselves with adventurous “justifications” for Switzerland’s having to allow the transfer of lethal ammunition “for humanitarian reasons”.
According to Minister Lambrecht, Ukraine needs the ammunition “to protect its grain deliveries to developing countries from Russian attacks”. The chair of the defence committee of the German Bundestag, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann: “If Switzerland doesn’t help protect grain exports, then it is indirectly helping Russia to starve the poorest countries.” (Radio SRF, Echo der Zeit of 31 October 2022) On the same day, the “Blick”: The deployment of the Gepard in Ukraine was “so to speak a humanitarian action” (!). Such cynicism culminates in the statement of the former Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin: “... this ammunition could save human lives in Ukraine” (“Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 7 November 2022).
Are our heads completely twisted? Everyone knows that weapons for Ukraine prolong the war and prevent a negotiated solution. Switzerland must not take part in this, fortunately the Federal Council remains steadfast here.
Who is starving the poorest countries?
A large part of the grain ships does not even sail to Africa or the Middle East, but deliver their cargo in European ports – according to an AFP report of 7 September 2022, 85 out of 87 ships. So those who “starve the poorest countries“ are us solvent Europeans! It is more than shameful that Russia has now agreed to send the urgently needed grain to the poor countries itself free of charge instead.
The Federal Council explains the Swiss way:
right of neutrality and humanitarian aid
In its press release of 3 November, the Federal Council explains why Switzerland cannot allow the transfer of Swiss war material: “In the Russia-Ukraine relationship, Switzerland applies the law of neutrality, which is part of customary international law. On the basis of the principle of equal treatment under the law of neutrality, Switzerland cannot agree to a request for the transfer of war material of Swiss origin to Ukraine as long as the latter is involved in an international armed conflict.” On the other hand, the Federal Council will expand its humanitarian aid to Ukraine in addition to its existing commitment: On 2 November, it approved a “Winter Aid Action Plan” in the amount of CHF 100 million “to support the people of Ukraine”.
It is good that the Federal Council is standing up for Swiss neutrality here. The federal popular initiative “Preservation of Swiss neutrality (neutrality initiative)”, launched on 8 November, will once again pave the way for our country to fully respect Swiss neutrality, without any ifs or buts. •
Professor of International Law Marco Sassòli, University of Geneva
“International neutrality law obliges Switzerland not to supply weapons to a country at war. But Switzerland is not obliged to prevent another country from transferring Swiss munitions. However, it has required a non-re-export declaration from Germany. If Switzerland now lifts this so that a warring party like Ukraine can receive weapons, it is circumventing the law of neutrality. Because what is at stake here is the core of the law of neutrality.”
Has the Federal Council recourse to emergency law to enable the delivery of ammunition?
“For emergency law, there needs to be an emergency situation. I don’t see what that would be for Switzerland. Nor, by the way, for Ukraine: the 12,000 rounds of ammunition from Switzerland hardly make a decisive difference.”
Should certain countries be allowed to pass on Swiss weapons in future? A corresponding amendment to the law is being discussed in parliament.
“The non-re-export declarations are something that makes sense. Without them, Swiss weapons would end up in all wars. To demand declarations only from certain countries and not from others is delicate [...]. It could lead, for example, to India not being allowed to supply Swiss weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in the Yemen war, but the UK would.”
Source: “Ammunition for Ukraine:
‘This is about the core of the right of neutrality’”.
Tages-Anzeiger, 29 October 2022. Interview: Charlotte Walser
ds. What are we to make of Theodor Winkler, who “worked for many years as a high-ranking advisor in the Swiss Military and Foreign Affairs Departments”, recommending in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 31 October that Switzerland should “not be stingy” in its support for Ukraine? The international community expects Switzerland to make “contributions of a magnitude that go far beyond the cohesion billion”. In addition, the Swiss financial centre would be required to cooperate closely.
What Bern offers Ukraine will determine “the tone that the West adopts towards Switzerland”. It was therefore important that, in addition to all the practical things that had been thought of so far, the support package signalled a willingness to take the lead on selected strategic issues and to secure generous funding. Switzerland must signal that it is ready to assume responsibility.
You have to savour that slowly: The tone the West takes towards Switzerland depends on how much Switzerland is willing to pay. Isn’t that what is called blackmail?
“Some of the expected demands,” warns Winkler, “are likely to pose considerable problems for the Federal Council – for example, the demand not only to freeze Russian oligarch funds, but to confiscate them in order to finance the aid to the Zelensky government”. He also said that the pressure on the DDPS to “provide military aid to Ukraine” would increase in the coming months. He therefore advises Switzerland to “proactively anticipate these inevitable demands with a balanced and convincing concept of its own”. This concept must recognise and take up the strategic interests on the Ukrainian side. Thus, Switzerland should determine the priorities it wants to set within the framework of the Western aid strategy.
What do you think: Should Switzerland, in anticipatory obedience, offer its “own concept” in order to forestall blackmail and make the “West” friendly? •
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