EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland rejected a German arms delivery to Ukraine
Switzerland has repeatedly blocked the export of everything from weapons to helmets to Ukraine, even for non-military uses. Here’s why.
On Monday, news came to light that Switzerland had blocked a German weapons delivery to Ukraine, as it contained Swiss ammunition used in anti aircraft devices.
Switzerland vetoed the delivery based on its commitment to neutrality, which prevents any delivery of weapons or other items which could be used in combat to countries where an active war is taking place.
This is the case even if the items are in the possession of another country.
Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said the delivery “must be rejected by law”.
“Due to the duration and intensity of the fighting between Russia and Ukraine, both countries are involved in an international armed conflict” SECO wrote on Sunday.
Since then, it has emerged that Switzerland has blocked a wide variety of items from being exported to Ukraine, including helmets, protective vests, footwear and medical supplies.
More than 50 requests have been made by Ukrainian officials and other organisations based in Ukraine for the items, all of which have been rebuffed.
Even requests for non-military uses have been denied, with a delivery of helmets to a Ukrainian fire fighting brigade vetoed.
No export for countries at war
Switzerland’s commitment to neutrality is centred around a pledge for military neutrality, which falls only if Switzerland is attacked.
This pledge of military neutrality does not extend to political neutrality, which allows Switzerland to support sanctions efforts on Russia.
In late February, Switzerland announced it would join sanctions efforts on Russia, with President Ignazio Cassis arguing that by doing nothing, Switzerland would be “playing into the hands of an aggressor”.
Switzerland’s War Materials Act includes a strict prohibition on the export of weapons to countries at war.
Swiss legal experts argue that this prohibition extends further to include defensive items such as helmets and footwear.
According to legal analysis, Switzerland would only be allowed to export weapons or any other items to countries at war if Switzerland itself was under threat.
Other neutral countries have however taken a different approach, with neutral Sweden already sending anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.