Swiss seek to relax rules on civil war arms sales

Switzerland, a country famous for its neutrality, announced on Friday it wants to allow the sale of arms in countries in the grip of an "internal armed conflict", under certain conditions.

Swiss seek to relax rules on civil war arms sales
A SG 553 assault rifle, manufactured by Swiss Arms AG, in the hands of Malaysian Air Force Paskau commando. Photo: Rizuan/Wikimedia Commons
Causing outcry from opponents, the landlocked state said that “war materials” could be sold, but only if they were not used during an internal conflict. The Swiss government said in a statement: “The delivery of war material to a country involved in an internal armed conflict must continue in principle to be refused.”
However, it added, “it should now be possible to grant export authorisation if there is no reason to believe that the war materiel to be exported will be used in an internal armed conflict”.
The exemption “would not apply to countries plagued by civil war, like Yemen or Syria today,” the government said.
The economy ministry must now amend the ruling on war material, which will then have to be officially approved by the government. As it is a ruling, the decision of the government cannot be the subject of a referendum, ministry of economy spokesman Fabian Maienfisch told AFP.
Explaining its decision, the government highlighted the concerns of the Swiss armaments industry, saying Swiss arms exports “have declined more or less constantly for several years”.
The Swiss government said that in order to keep its “credibility”, the small country must have its own security and defence industry.
Opponents to the government were outraged by the decision and cast doubt over its motives. The Socialist Party accused it of wanting to “allow the export of war materiel to countries in the midst of civil war” to meet “the wishes of the arms industry, which has nothing to do with respect for human rights”.
The Greens said the decision was unjustifiable in the name of humanitarian law, stressing that the government was going to “sabotaging” the tradition of Switzerland facilitating behind-the-scenes exchanges during conflicts.


Germany fourth largest exporter of arms in world: report

Germany is the fourth largest arms exporter in the world, according to a report released by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute on Monday.

Germany fourth largest exporter of arms in world: report
The "U31" submarine model. Photo: DPA

The arms business is booming: the global arms trade grew by 7.8 percent in the period from 2014 to 2018 – and by 13 percent in Germany – compared to the years 2009 to 2013, according to the report.

SEE ALSO: Five things to know about guns in Germany

The largest exporters were the US, Russia, France, Germany and China. Together, the five countries accounted for 75 percent of all international arms deliveries over the past five years.

German exports during this time were mostly to Israel, South Korea, and Greece, reported the Institute, with a particular interest in German ships and submarines.

Graph created for The Local by Statista.

Arms exports continue to be a sensitive topic in Germany, and the country prides itself on having one of the most restrictive arms export policies in the world.

Furthermore, the trading of weapons abroad are subject to government approval, and foreign buyers have to sign an agreement pledging not to sell their purchase to any other countries or groups.

Still, this hasn’t stopped illegal exports, with employees of German gun manufacturer Heckler & Koch going on trial in May 2018 over thousands of assault rifles that were allegedly exported illegally to violence-torn Mexican states.

A German court fined the company €3.7 million in February and gave suspended jail terms to two of its ex-employees.

SEE ALSO: German gunmaker fined €3.7 m over illegal arms exports to Mexico

Conflicts abroad have also spurred Germany to prohibit or put a freeze on the sale of arms. In November 2018, the German government stopped all arms exports to Saudi Arabia as a reaction to the killing of the government-critical Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

At the end of 2018, German chancellor Angela Merkel signed an agreement forbidding the sale of weapons to any country directly involved with the war in Yemen.

SEE ALSO: Germany set on Saudi arms ban despite British warning

The country exporting the largest number of arms remains the U.S., whose exports alone account for 36 percent of the global arms trade.

“The USA has further consolidated its position as the world's leading arms supplier,” says Sipri weapons expert Aude Fleurant.

They had supplied weapons such as fighter jets, short-range missiles and guided bombs to at least 98 countries – far more nations than any of the others detailed in the report.