Switzerland to boost military spending 25% in light of Ukraine war

Government backs plan to invest €6.8bn by 2030 but insists neutrality remains unchanged

Switzerland will increase its defence spending by 25 per cent by 2030 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The spending boost — to CHF 7 billion (€6.8 billion) — will bring Swiss military outlay to 1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) within the next eight years.

Key points of the investment plan include additional spending on cybersecurity, new equipment for the army and new F-35 fighter jets.

The vote by both parliamentary chambers ends a decline in Swiss post-cold war military spending, from 1.34 per cent in 1990 to 0.67 per cent in 2019.


Defence minister Viola Amherd said the additional funding would “close gaps in capabilities faster than previously foreseen” without undermining Switzerland’s traditional policy of neutrality.

“The foundations of our security policy are not in question such as the core content of neutrality, international co-operation, commitment to democracy and international law,” she said. “Neutrality gives us scope for international co-operations, which we are already cultivating and on which we want to be more active.”

Switzerland first decided on a policy of “everlasting armed neutrality” in 1647 and, in nearly 400 years since, has remained outside all wars and military alliances. Since 1990, however, it has been more closely engaged with Nato through its Partnership for Peace initiative.

Last month in Washington the Swiss defence minister indicated her ministry was assessing more flexible interpretations of neutrality that expand Swiss security options, including joint military exercises with Nato countries.

Ms Amherd said it was no longer credible to expect Nato neighbours to defend Swiss territory “if, for years, we haven’t been doing our homework”.

Parties on the left in Switzerland, including the Greens and Social Democrats, criticised the additional spending as a “blind rearmament reflex”.

But moves by fellow neutral states Finland and Sweden to join Nato has influenced the neutrality debate in Switzerland. Also focusing minds: this week’s Berlin backing for a €100 billion special investment fund in its military. Austria, another neutral, nonaligned state, has vowed to boost defence spending to 1 per cent of GDP.

Echoing officials from Stockholm to Vienna, senior security officials in Bern insist that Swiss neutrality was always a means to national security, never an end in itself. Europe’s shifting political reality was clear when, days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Switzerland mirrored EU sanctions on Russia.

The decision to freeze selected Russian assets and block airspace to Russian aircraft came after days of mixed messages. That sparked concerns that non-EU member Switzerland, citing its neutrality, would take a softer stance and leave a back door in Europe to sanctioned Russian politicians and oligarchs.

Switzerland is forbidden by law from supplying conflict parties. Its strict conditions on sales of Swiss-made arms has seen Bern refuse Germany permission to pass on machine guns and anti-aircraft tank ammunition to Ukraine. Denmark has been refused permission to pass on 20 Swiss-made Piranha III armoured vehicles to Kyiv.

While Swiss parties of the left have defended the status quo, pressure is building from Swiss centre and right-wing parties to adopt a more liberal approach to already-sold military equipment.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin