Switzerland’s blood money
September 26, 2012, 6 Comments
Grenades in Syria. Tanks in Bahrain. Bullets in Libya. All Swiss made. And all used in the past year in domestic conflicts and civil wars. Not exactly the best advertisement for Swiss neutrality. Of course the Swiss government and arms’ manufacturers say that they were sold in good faith to third parties, and it’s not their fault if the products are then re-sold or misused. But how naive is that? Talk about sticking your head in the sand, and in the Middle East there’s an awful lot of sand to hide in.
When it comes to selling weapons, there are no shades of grey, just black and white. Life and death. So why does Switzerland, that famously neutral country that hasn’t fought a war in centuries, sell arms? The standard answer is that it’s supporting a domestic arms industry, which is apparently needed so that the Swiss armed forces can avoid being dependent on foreign powers (except for fighter jets, which are coming from abroad). But it’s not really about that, is it? It’s all about money, and jobs. Both of which are in very short supply and under constant threat in Switzerland, aren’t they?
Never mind that Switzerland is one of the world’s richest countries with one of the lowest rates of unemployment. If any country can, literally, afford to take a moral stand against the arms trade, it is Switzerland. But what are morals when money there is to be made? It’s something the Swiss have been doing for centuries, pretty much ever since September 1515 when they lost the Battle of Marignano to the French and decided to become neutral and give up fighting. Or did they?
On the surface, yes, but it in reality all the Swiss did was let other countries fight the wars while they made money by selling soldiers. Swiss soldiers, and not just one or two but whole battalions hired out by the cantons, complete with officers. They fought for anyone who would pay them and died for every king and emperor in Europe. One of Switzerland’s most famous monuments, the mournful Lion of Lucerne (pictured above) commemorates the hundreds of Swiss guards who died defending the French king at the Tuileries Places in 1792. These mercenary armies were abolished by the Swiss government in the 19th century so that the last remaining Swiss Guard is the one in the Vatican City.
So instead of selling their men, as that just wouldn’t do these days, the Swiss now sell their guns, and bullets, and tanks, and grenades to 68 different countries, earning a tidy CHF 873 million last year. Not a lot compared to Britain, China or America, but none of those countries profess to be neutral or hold themselves up as impartial mediators in conflicts where their arms are killing people. How hypocritical. How sanctimonious. It’s a wonder the Swiss President, Eveline Widmer Schlumpf, could keep a straight face at the UN this week when she talked of innocent people dying, “caught in the crossfire between the Syrian army and the armed opposition.”
Every time Swiss weapons turn up in ‘forbidden’ places, the government acts surprised, investigates and blames someone else. Those naughty foreigners, buying our arms and then breaking our rules by doing whatever they want with them. How dare they! Whether is bullets via Qatar, tanks via Saudi Arabia, or most recently grenades via the UAE, it’s always someone else’s fault that they get used in conflicts. Can anyone in the Swiss government, or in Switzerland, truly believe that these weapons are bought for peaceful purposes?
If Switzerland can be bold enough to give up nuclear energy, surely it can find the moral fibre to stop selling arms and exporting death? Until it does, then Swiss jobs will appear more important than Syrian lives. Until it does, then Switzerland’s offers of mediation and condemnation of conflicts, and indeed its own neutrality, are all tainted – with blood money.