Swiss to Soften Rules on Arms Exports But Won’t Help Ukraine

(Bloomberg) -- The Swiss government wants to be able to sidestep the country’s rigid neutrality to allow more weapons exports but will maintain a ban on shipments to Ukraine.

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Switzerland forbids arms sales to countries at war unless they are fighting under a United Nations mandate. Because of this, Swiss weapon manufacturers lost business even amid a global defense boom. Foreign sales fell 27% to 697 million francs ($770 million) in 2023.

The government in Bern will be able to override export restrictions in “exceptional circumstances” for a limited time if this is in line with “foreign-policy or national-security interests,” the cabinet proposed on Wednesday. Lawmakers had demanded more flexibility to bolster the Swiss arms industry, which plays a key part in the country’s tradition of neutrality and self defense.

It remains to be seen whether the move will be enough to convince customers in Europe, which are boosting defense spending as they race to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion.

About three quarters of Swiss weapons exports go to Europe. Germany is by far the largest market, buying almost 170 million francs worth in 2023, according to government figures.

Read More: Swiss Parliament Rejects Joining Russia Sanctions Task Force

The government has already said that it won’t use the exception to allow shipments to Kyiv. Switzerland has blocked Germany, Spain and Denmark from sending Swiss-made arms to Ukraine.

“The Federal Council stands by the values of Swiss neutrality and will continue to work toward ensuring that its advantages bear fruits,” it said in a statement last year.

In a separate decision Wednesday, the government also moved to make military cooperation with the European Union easier, announcing that a Framework for Participation Agreement will include joint peacekeeping missions.

Switzerland maintains that such an accord will not obligate it to participate in any operations, and it will instead decide on a case-by-case basis.

(Updates with decision on EU-Swiss peacekeeping cooperation.)

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