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Swiss government wants to keep control of weapons exports

The government wants to retain control of weapons exports in connection with peace-keeping missions. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

The Swiss government has rejected calls to allow voters and cantons to set conditions for weapons exports.

A people’s initiative collected enough signatures in 2019 to force a nationwide vote on the issue. It proposes enshrining rules for war materiel exports in the constitution, which would take this responsibility away from the government.

On Friday the Federal Council (governing body) issued a counterproposal that would give parliament the power to adjust the rules for selling war materiel abroad. But the government would retain control over weapons exports for peace-keeping activities, primarily UN or OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) operations.

Parliament itself rejected taking responsibility for war materiel exports in 2019. But now the government insists that this policy would “safeguard Switzerland’s foreign and security policy interests”.

“This would mean that Switzerland would go much further than the regulations in the international arms trade treaty or the EU’s instructions to its member states,” stated a press releaseExternal link.

Opposition to Switzerland’s war materiel export policy started in 2018 when the government said it would ease certain restrictions on weapons exports – a stance it was forced to retract following public outcry. There has also been unease at reports that Swiss weapons have on occasion turned up in war-torn countries via other states.

Last November voters threw out a separate initiative that wanted to ban the Swiss National Bank, pension funds and foundations from holding shares or lending money to global companies which generate more than 5% of their annual sales from war materiel.

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