Switzerland is increasing its military cooperation with NATO in an effort to strengthen ties with Western powers, according to a new policy document. The country’s military leaders have been advocating for closer integration with the US-led bloc for some time, but lawmakers in Bern are concerned that this move could undermine Switzerland’s long-standing neutrality.
Currently, Swiss troops participate in some foreign training exercises, but the new report states that the military will expand its bilateral and multilateral training cooperation with NATO countries as much as possible. While the Swiss air force and special forces already engage in joint exercises with NATO, the report calls for the involvement of ground troops as well, to align with NATO doctrine.
In addition to closer cooperation with NATO, the report also recommends Switzerland’s participation in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) defense framework and the European Sky Shield Initiative. These initiatives aim to enhance defense capabilities and promote joint defense efforts among EU member states.
The report justifies these measures by citing “the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine” and the belief that a period of peace in Europe is ending. However, it is worth noting that Switzerland has maintained a policy of neutrality since 1815 and did not align with any side in either of the World Wars. Despite imposing sanctions on Russia and providing economic aid to Ukraine, Switzerland has refrained from supplying weapons or allowing other countries to send Swiss arms or ammunition to Ukraine.
The push for closer collaboration with NATO has sparked concerns within Switzerland’s political landscape. The Social Democratic Party and the Swiss People’s Party argue that any cooperation with NATO jeopardizes Switzerland’s centuries-old tradition of neutrality. Opponents fear that increased integration with NATO could lead to pressure from the alliance to abandon Switzerland’s neutral stance and align more closely with its goals and policies.
Swiss Defense Minister Viola Amherd and army chief Thomas Sussli have been vocal advocates for greater Swiss participation in NATO exercises, including Article 5 drills, which involve a collective response to an attack on a member state. However, their enthusiasm has raised eyebrows in Bern, with some politicians warning that NATO could demand more from Switzerland in the future, jeopardizing the country’s neutrality.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has expressed reservations about Switzerland’s participation in the bloc’s drills, citing Switzerland’s restrictions on the re-export of arms and ammunition to Ukraine. Stoltenberg urged Switzerland, along with other partners, to allow the re-export of arms and ammunition as a gesture of commitment to NATO’s goals and principles.
The debate over Switzerland’s neutrality and its future relationship with NATO is ongoing. While some argue that closer integration with NATO is necessary for Switzerland’s security and defense interests, others insist that maintaining neutrality is an essential pillar of Swiss identity. The outcome of these discussions will shape Switzerland’s foreign and defense policies in the years to come.