Swiss weapons export numbers explode in 2019

Saudi Arabia and Turkey among purchasing countries as Swiss weapons exports increase by more than half in 2019.

Swiss weapons export numbers explode in 2019

While other European countries have imposed bans and reductions in recent years, figures from January to end September 2019 show a 60 percent increase in Swiss weapons exports on the previous year. 

The total year-to-date arms exports are CHF496 million, an increase on the same figure in October last year which was CHF299 million. 

Already after just nine months, Swiss arms exports are higher than the total amount in 2015, 2016 or 2017. 

Swiss newspaper Le Temps reports that the figures were “released discreetly” by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) as an update, with the usual year-ending figures released by the agency in February. 

Of concern to critics has been many of the names on the list of recipients. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait are some of the importing countries engaged in controversial military activity or who possess questionable human rights records. 

The topic of weapons exports has been an increasingly fraught one in recent years, with public criticism growing across several European countries. 

France and Germany both indicated this week that they would halt arms sales to Turkey after its invasion of Syria. 

Denmark remains the largest importer of Swiss arms, purchasing CHF107 million worth per year, with Germany (CHF84 million), Bangladesh (CHF54 million) and Romania (CHF34 million) next on the list. 

The United States, the world’s largest arms exporter, was fifth on the list, with imports of 27 million so far in 2019. 

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No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home

On Monday, Switzerland imposed the working from home requirement. It includes the army as well.

No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home
barracks are not as posh as one's own home. Photo by AFP

As part of Switzerland’s mandatory military service, new conscripts must undergo 15 to 18 weeks of basic training.

The exercises were supposed to begin on January 18th, but thousands of recruits who were scheduled to report to their assigned barracks got a reprieve of sorts.

To decrease the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the barracks, the army has decided that recruits should do their basic training  at home for the next three weeks.

“It's quite new”, Swiss army spokesperson Daniel Reist told the media, adding that “it is the ideal solution” during the pandemic. 

As a result of this unprecedented measure, some 5,000 of this year's 15,000 recruits will undergo their training from the comfort of their homes.

Reist said that each soldier received the learning module covering subjects such the operation of their service weapon, information on bacteriological and chemical arms, military regulations, and health protection.

“We leave them the choice of when to do their lessons, but they need six hours of telework each day”, Reist said.

Four hours of physical activity a week is also included in the training.

Though left pretty much to their own devices, the recruits won’t be able to slack off as their superiors can monitor when the person logs on and off.

And this theoretical knowledge will be tested when the recruits arrive at the barracks after three weeks home.

READ MORE: Swiss army 'on the front lines' in coronavirus battle 

Nor all the troops will be deployed at the same time, however.

The physical entry into the recruit school will be “staggered, in order to ensure that any conscript who tests positive for Covid-19 is optimally supported and that appropriate isolation and quarantine measures can be taken”, the Federal Department of Defense said in a press release

The first group, consisting of medical personnel who could be called upon to support the troops already mobilised with civilian personnel in Swiss hospitals, begin their service on Monday.

Those who are training from home will be called up on February 8th.

But not everyone is impressed by the new system.

“I can see that we have to make unconventional concessions right now, but I'm skeptical. Military service has a practical and social character which can’t be replaced by e-learning “, said Stefan Holenstein, president of the Swiss Society of Officers.

Despite its neutrality, Switzerland has compulsory military service. After undergoing basic training at the age of 19, Swiss are then required to spend several weeks in the army each year until they have completed at least 245 days of service.

Conscription is for men only but women can volunteer for any post.

READ MORE: Switzerland to get 24/7 fighter jet protection from 2021