The Swiss will vote on November 29 in a referendum, the result of which is binding for the government, on whether there should be a ban on war material export from and transit through Switzerland.
Launched at the initiative of the GSoA (Group for a Switzerland Without an Army) the public initiative gathered over 100,000 signatures in 2007 which meant the government had to arrange a referendum. It will be the third time the Swiss vote on this issue: in 1972, 49.7% voted in favor of the ban, but in 1997 the support had faded to 22.5%.
GsoA compiled a report for the May 2009 meeting in Barcelona, Spain of the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) in which it stated that “Swiss arms exports reached an all-time high in 2008, more than doubling the average figures of the previous years. According to SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute], Switzerland ranked as the 13th most important arms exporting country. Switzerland took the second place if arms export figures were weighted in relation to the population.”
The government opposes the ban, arguing that exports are vital to the Swiss arms industry, which in turn plays an essential role in the defense of the country. GSoA argues that military exports represent just 0.4% of the total value of Swiss exports so a ban would have little effect on the Alpine nation's income and suggests the armament industry could convert into green technologies and energies “that are likely to provide more sustainable jobs.” It adds that exporting arms “is incompatible with the promotion of human security and of a stable global community” and is contrary to Swiss foreign policy which officially pursues conflict resolution, peace consolidation and the prevention of armed violence.
Although Switzerland doesn't jump to mind as an arms exporter – chocolate, watches and finances are forefront in most people's minds – there are some areas in which Swiss companies have a leading position such as in anti-aircraft artillery (Oerlikon Contraves), armored personnel carriers (MOWAG), trainer aircraft (Pilatus), small arms ammunition (RUAG) and special-forces rifles (Swiss Arms/SIG).
GsoA has also gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on whether the government should buy new fighter aircraft. The vote will occur in 2010 or 2011 (see Ares 6/12).