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Switzerland accelerates to close ranks with NATO

The Swiss Armed Forces released the latest policy document recently, which makes it clear that the country will further strengthen its ties with NATO in defense and security, join the European defense system and reinforce military force buildup.

Hyping up security threats

The 50-page long policy document states that Switzerland must reviewits strategic security environment and that the Swiss Armed Forces will accelerate military modernization and arms upgrading processes. It is analyzed that Switzerland’s clamor of security threats is to create momentum for strengthening arms buildup. The document extensively elaborates on the cooperation between Switzerland and NATO, claiming that “collaborating with NATO is the best choice for Switzerland.”

In addition, the document also argues that the Swiss Armed Forces should coordinate with the armed forces of other countries instead of fighting alone. The Icelandic Prevention Model (IPM) is the prioritized option advocated by the Swiss Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS), which refers to integrating a certain number of military units into NATO’s unified management and maneuver in exchange for actual combat experience, that is, joining the International Military Staff (IMS) of NATO or becoming part of its multinational forces.

It is worth mentioning that the Swiss military top brass had approved the document. Head of DDPS Viola Amherd stated that the document results from an accurate assessment based on national security, and collaborating with NATO is the only way forward for the country. Senior Swiss officials contend that the country should increase participation in NATO military exercises, including those under the framework of collective defense rights pertaining to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Abandoning the principle of defense neutrality

In July 2023, the DDPS endorsed a statement of intent to join the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI). The joint air defense initiative initiated by Germany aims to establish an independent collective air defense and missile system in Europe through the unified procurement of air defense equipment and missiles by European countries. It also promotes cooperation in training, maintenance, and logistics. Switzerland’s bid to join the initiative is seen as inconsistent with its traditional neutral principle.

The document proposes that Switzerland should expand bilateral and multilateral defense cooperation and military training to the greatest extent possible and involve its army in the joint training and project construction of NATO to adapt to the standards and principles of the organization based on the “breakthrough achievements” made by its air force. The document clearly describes that Switzerland will gradually join the defense mechanism under the framework of the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defence (PESCO) of the European Union (EU).

In 2022, Switzerland signed a contract with the US to purchase 36 F-35A fighter jets and five MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems valued at USD 8.7 billion, which is reportedly aimed to benchmark with weapons and equipment of NATO. The country’s military moves reflect that it is gradually discarding the principle of defense neutrality.

Intensifying arms race in Europe

Switzerland’s defense transformation will add more uncertainties to the escalated arms race in Europe.

First, as NATO continues to expand, the “neutral Europe” area is getting increasingly contracted. Following Sweden’s application to join NATO and Finland’s successful accession, Switzerland’s promotion of military integration with the organization may cause other European neutral countries to follow suit, further exacerbating regional security risks.

Second, it may open up arms sales channels, casting a shadow over the regional situation. Germany and Denmark had previously negotiated with Switzerland to procure tanks and gun ammunition from the latter in order to relieve pressure on NATO arsenals and expand the supply channels. It will bring a negative impact to regional situations if Switzerland liberalizes arms exports.

Third, Switzerland’s participation in the ESSI is not conducive to European defense autonomy. France believes the initiative fails to adequately safeguard European sovereignty due to high dependency on US and Israeli air defense systems. With the initiative’s expansion, France, Germany and other countries may be confronted with aggravated contradictions and divergences in the European defense autonomy concepts.

Source: China Military Online



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