‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly approved a proposal to spend CHF6 billion on new fighter jets. But when it comes to where not to buy the aircraft, the Swiss populace are a little more decisive.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don't want to buy American planes
F5 Tiger fighter jets of the Swiss Air Force (The "Patrouille Suisse") fly in formation. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Only four percent of Swiss voters want the government to buy the jets from the United States. 

The results come from a poll taken by Switzerland’s Tamedia news organisation

The vote however is not based purely on opinions of the US president.

Social Democrat councillor Priska Seiler Graf said the major issue was that US manufacturers retain important security codes which could jeopardise the use of the jets in “extreme examples”. 

“There is always a dependency on the country of manufacture. But the US does not disclose its software codes. I have already been reprimanded for my statements in this regard, but I stand by it: In extreme cases, this means that the Americans can change the software codes and we can no longer access our jets.”

Graf, who was against the fighter jet initiative, said she would prefer the Swiss government to buy the jets from a European manufacturer, reports Swiss daily 20 Minutes

Lewin Lempert, from the Group for a Switzerland Without an Army (GSoA) – one of the major organisations who opposed the ultimately successful fighter jet referendum – said the poll shows “we (Switzerland) don’t want Trump jets”. 

FDP Council of States Thierry Burkart said the government, rather than the people, should decide where to purchase the jets. 

“Where to buy is the wrong question. The DDPS must first complete the evaluation,” Burkart said. 

“We need the most suitable aircraft to carry out the assignment. In addition to the price, the aircraft's autonomy is also a criterion. A political assessment can then be made. Anyone who does not want to shop in the USA because of Trump thinks in the short term.”

The US leader is unpopular in Switzerland, as he is in much of Europe. Polls taken from 2016 and 2017 saw a 25 percent fall in Swiss opinions of the United States after Trump's election. 

While only four percent wanted the government to buy the jets from the US, 31 percent said the decision should be up to the government. 

An additional 28 percent said the jets should be purchased from a European company like Airbus or Dassault, while 24 percent said they wanted another alternative. 

11 percent said they didn’t know. 

Fighter jets: A ‘yes’ by the thinnest of margins 

On the ballot Sunday was a referendum on dishing out six billion Swiss francs ($6.6 billion, 5.6 billion euros) for new fighter jets, which squeezed through with a mere 50.1 percent of votes in favour.

The vote was far closer than expected, with under 9,000 votes nationwide deciding the question. 

This should put an end to a more than decade-long debate about replacing Switzerland's ageing fleet of jets, although another vote could be held once the government determines which planes it is looking to buy.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the people vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.


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KEY POINTS: Five things to know about Sweden and Nato

After decades of staying out of military alliances, Finland and Sweden are about to decide whether to apply to join Nato, as a deterrent against aggression from their Eastern neighbour Russia. Here are five things you need to know.

KEY POINTS: Five things to know about Sweden and Nato

The Nordic neighbours are expected to act in unison, with both expressing a desire for their applications to be submitted simultaneously if they decide to go that route.

A historic U-turn

For decades, a majority of Swedes and Finns were in favour of maintaining their policies of military non-alignment. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 sparked a sharp U-turn. The change was especially dramatic in Finland, which shares a
1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia. After two decades during which public support for Nato membership remained
steady at 20-30 percent, polls now suggest that more than 75 percent of Finns are in favour.

During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for assurances from Moscow that it would not invade. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Finland remained militarily non-aligned.

Sweden, meanwhile, adopted an official policy of neutrality at the end of the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century. Following the end of the Cold War, the neutrality policy was amended to one of military non-alignment.

Close Nato partners

While remaining outside Nato, both Sweden and Finland have formed ever-closer ties to the Alliance. Both joined the Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 and then the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997. Both countries are described by the Alliance as some of “Nato’s most active partners” and have contributed to Nato-led missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sweden’s and Finland’s forces also regularly take part in exercises with Nato countries and have close ties with Nordic neighbours Norway, Denmark and Iceland — which are all Nato members.

Sweden’s military

For a long time, Swedish policy dictated that the country needed a strong military to protect its neutrality. But after the end of the Cold War, it drastically slashed its defence spending, turning its military focus toward peacekeeping operations around the world.

In 1990, defence spending accounted for 2.6 percent of GDP, compared to 1.2 percent in 2020, according to the government.

Mandatory military service was scrapped in 2010 but reintroduced in 2017 as part of Sweden’s rearmament following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Combining its different branches, the Swedish military can field some 50,000 soldiers.

In March 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden announced it would increase spending again, targeting two percent of GDP “as soon as possible”.

Finland’s military

While Finland has also made some defence cuts, in contrast to Sweden it has maintained a much larger army since the end of the Cold War. The country of 5.5 million people now has a wartime strength of 280,000 troops plus 600,000 reservists, making it significantly larger than any of its Nordic neighbours despite a population half the size of Sweden’s.

In early April, Finland announced it would further boost its military spending, adding more than two billion euros ($2.1 billion) over the next four years. It has a defence budget of 5.1 billion euros ($5.4 billion) for 2022.

Memories of war

While Sweden has sent forces to international peacekeeping missions, it has not gone to war for over 200 years. The last conflict it fought was the Swedish-Norwegian War of 1814. It maintained its neutral stance through the two World Wars.

Finland’s memories of warfare are much fresher. In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union. Finns put up a fierce fight during the bloody Winter War, which took place during one of the coldest winters in recorded history. But it was ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.

A 1948 “friendship agreement” saw the Soviets agree not to invade again, as long as Finland stayed out of any Western defence cooperation. The country’s forced neutrality to appease its stronger neighbour coined the term “Finlandization”.