According to RFERL and Swissinfo Ukraine is facing a shortage of 35mm gun ammo for the Gepards donated by Germany because said ammo is apparently manufactured in Switzerland. It looks like the Swiss parliamentarians are looking to relax these restrictions though.

I'm curious however when did Switzerland become so strict in their arms/ammo exports. According to various (including Swiss) sources, they happily exported armaments and ammo to Nazi Germany, during WW2. So roughly when did the Swiss adopt these stricter export laws that hinder exports to countries like Ukraine?

1 Answer 1


The first change in Swiss law on arms exports came via a Federal Council decree of March 28th 1949. This decree doesn't appear to be available digitally, but is described by Sabine Widmer as follows:

This Decree confirmed the already existing general ban on the export of weapons and other so-called war materials. However, the Defence Technology Division (DTD) of the FMD, could, after consultation with the FPD, exceptionally grant export permits. Behind the scenes, the general ban on arms exports was softened almost immediately. The Swiss arms industry lobbied the Federal Council to liberalise its policy, arguing that exports were necessary to maintain the independent and technologically advanced armament industry that was essential for Switzerland’s national defence. Many FMD members shared this view. In practice, a procedure was established whereby companies had to request permits both for the fabrication of specific war materials and for their export. Applications for export to countries where armed conflicts were taking place or threatened to break out were not to be granted. However, this restriction was treated rather flexibly. Thus, exports to warring parties might be authorised if there was a written guarantee that the arms delivered by Swiss firms would not be used in the conflict. Nevertheless, the Federal Council introduced export bans or restrictions for specific states and regions, notably Israel and the Arab countries in 1955, South Africa in 1963, and Rhodesia in 1965.

In 1972, in response to a popular initiative "for the reinforced control of arms industries and for the prohibition of arms exports", a law on war materiel was passed in June. Again, this doesn't appear to have been digitised, but is partially described by Le Temps - ironically describing how Switzerland exported arms to Pinochet in Chile.

The Federal Law on War Material (of 30 June 1972) states in Article 4 that "trade in war material" is prohibited "except with the initial authorisation of the Confederation". However, Article 11 states that no permit shall be issued "to territories where armed conflicts have broken out or are threatening to break out or where dangerous tensions exist"; or "if it appears that deliveries of war material to a given country are likely to compromise the efforts of the Confederation in the field of international relations, in particular with regard to respect for human dignity, humanitarian aid or development aid."

This law was updated in 1996, again, in response to a popular initiative "for the prohibition of the export of war materiel". This version is digitised on the Swiss federal website, and this law is the one referred to in the June 2022 statement from the Federal Council regarding sending war materiel to Ukraine.

  • Yeah, the last law has a hard prohibition in art. 22a (2nd list point "a") against sending any materiel to a country engaged in an internal or international armed conflict. There's an exception for UN mandates and the like, but I guess NATO doesn't quite quilify. Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 23:01

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