Switzerland’s exports of war materiel are on the decline, yet there are some interesting developments in their distribution to 70 countries around the world.
On Tuesday, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco)external link released statistics on Swiss arms exports in 2016. Sales last year amounted to CHF411.9 million ($408.7 million) – down 7.8% on the previous year, and the lowest figure since 2006.
Just over half of the deliveries went to Europe, a quarter to Asia, and 11.2% to the United States. Exports to the African continent went up by 207% over the previous year – mainly on account of South Africa’s order for CHF51.3 million in war materiel – making it Switzerland’s second best customer for such goods.
Nuclear powers and rival neighbours Indian and Pakistan were also among the top five destinations for Swiss arms exports. Switzerland exported CHF34.5 million’s worth of arms to India, the bulk of which were missile fire control and guidance systems. Pakistan placed orders for CHF25.5 million’s worth of Swiss arms, mostly guns of different calibres.
Last year, France and the United States were the main buyers for small arms and light weapons from Swiss manufacturers. Overall, such exports from Switzerland increased by 28% over the previous year even as more export permits were rejected for reasons tied to international security.
The vast majority of the CHF4.5 million in SALW (small arms and light weapons) exports to France came in the form of grenade launchers. In addition, 3,626 of the more than 5,000 total weapons exported to France went to police forces, largely accounting for the more than 20 percentage point increase in Swiss weapons exports for police purposes compared to the previous year.
The United States received the second-most SALWs from Switzerland in 2016, worth about CHF4.3 million in total. More than half of US arms orders from Switzerland were revolvers and self-loading pistols, followed by machine guns and carbine rifles. Besides France and the United States, other top recipients of Swiss SALWs in 2016 were Slovakia and Germany.
Weapons dealers were the end recipients of about 60% of total SALW export permits issued from Switzerland in 2016, followed by police forces (26%), military (4.6%) and private citizens (3.2%). Those numbers have changed significantly since 2015, when weapons dealers received 79% of total permits and police got just 4.3%.
Whereas no export permits were rejected by Swiss authorities in 2015, last year saw 26 permit rejections involving countries such as Russia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for reasons related to global and regional security as well as human rights concerns and international sanctions.
Switzerland bans the export of weapons to countries where there is a major risk that the arms will be used to commit human rights violations. In other instances, the government decides on a case-by-case basis.