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War materiel

Swiss hold prominent slot in small arms exports

It's impossible to know where war materiel might end up (Keystone)

It's impossible to know where war materiel might end up


Despite its neutral status and small population, Switzerland is a relatively heavy hitter in the field of small arms exports. According to a report published by a Geneva-based group, some of these weapons have ended up in conflict zones like Syria and Libya.

Small Arms Survey ranked Switzerland sixth in overall arms exports behind the United States, Italy, Germany, Brazil and Austria, and ahead of Israel, Russia and South Korea. Swiss small arms and ammunition exports amounted to $191 million (CHF172 million) in 2011, compared with $917 million in the US.

The report was presented at the United Nations in New York yesterday. Its authors say that the small arms trade has increased markedly in the past decade. The value of shares grew from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $4.5 billion in 2011.

Small arms include revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, and light machine guns. Small arms and light weapons’ ammunition ranges from cartridge-based bullets to rocket propelled, highly explosive projectiles.

The report traced how some of this war materiel found its way into conflict areas. For example, Swiss howitzers were found in Morocco in 2004, and Swiss ammunition appeared in Libya in 2011 after their export to Qatar in 2009. And in 2012, Swiss hand grenades were discovered in Syria – nearly a decade after their initial delivery to the United Arab Emirates.

However, Small Arms Survey praised Switzerland for its comparatively high level of transparency regarding weapons exports. Small Arms Survey is an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

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