Putin pushes impartial Switzerland to beef up army with £11bn military request

Switzerland’s armed forces have asked for billions in funds to introduce upgrades to their meagre military following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

With the European security order indelibly changed, the famously-impartial Switzerland are looking to prepare for the worst.

Lieutenant General Thomas Sussli, Switzerland’s Chief of the Armed Forces, has called for nearly £11.7billion (CHf 13 billion) to boost the military in three key aspects.

Speaking earlier this month to a press conference at Kloten barracks, on the outskirts of Zurich, Mr Sussli said Vladimir Putin’s illegal full-scale invasion of Ukraine had created a “caesura (gap) in Europe’s security”.

But the Swiss government is yet to be convinced, having postponed an original plan to increase the military budget to one percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 2030 to 2035.

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Mr Sussli urged the government to lend “political legitimation” to the need to make security more central in Switzerland.

The nationa’s Federal Council, the top governmental body, recently decided to postpone an original parliamentary pledge to increase security investment, which would have covered the request of £11.7billion, owing to a longstanding commitment to military neutrality.

But Mr Sussli has said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced Switzerland to be prepared for when the “legal obligations of neutrality have fallen”.

He said it was imperative Switzerland focused on modernising its defence capabilities, intensifying international military cooperation and increasing its use of new, innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence.

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If necessary, nothing must come to hinder the political will to cooperate, whether at the level of material, organisational or procedural, Mr Sussli said, particularly with NATO forces.

He said: “Interoperability (of military systems) cannot be developed when needed but must be anticipated.”

He added the army must also increase its use of technology to obtain more complete and better information. Digitization, robotics and artificial intelligence will allow it to act more quickly and reduce the risks incurred by the military, he added.

“Ukraine is clearly showing us that the cyber domain has become the first line of defence,” said Major General Alain Vuitel, the head of Switzerland’s Armed Forces Cyber Command project, to the same press conference at Kloten barracks.

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The third axis concerns development in limited and well-defined stages, rather than a broad reform. The army thus intends to increase its ability to adapt to rapid changes and unpredictable factors in the international security context.

But some in Switzerland, including parliamentary figures, remain unconvinced of the need to boost military spending.

The group for a Switzerland without an army (GSsA) accused the army of wanting to “squander” billions in public money.

While it should be working to promote peace and prevent war, the Swiss army is “preparing for an imaginary war of aggression in hazy threat scenarios”, it said, adding that the climate crisis, which is the greatest security threat, was not being taken into account.

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