Conventional weapons

The uncontrolled proliferation, accumulation and use of conventional weapons can destabilise states and regions and restrict their peaceful political and economic development. The effects of this can also affect Switzerland. Switzerland participates in the relevant multilateral processes where it underlines the importance of international law, human security, sustainable development and global and regional security and stability.

Switzerland aims to strengthen international security and stability, reducing armaments to the lowest possible level. It also advocates compliance with and strengthening of international humanitarian law, particularly in relation to the protection of the civilian population.

One example is mines and cluster munitions. These weapons are indiscriminate and continue to pose a threat after the cessation of hostilities as they make entire areas of land uninhabitable. This is why Switzerland has acceded to the relevant conventions banning them.

Other conventional weapons include fighter aircraft, warships, tanks, heavy artillery and small and light weapons, such as rifles and pistols. Switzerland's priorities are transparency and export control.

International humanitarian law: Prohibition and restriction of conventional weapons 

Agreement on cluster munitions (Oslo Convention)

Switzerland ratified the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions on 17 July 2012. The agreement entered into force on 1 January 2013. The convention was negotiated outside the framework of the United Nations. It prohibits the development, production, use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Switzerland is implementing its obligations as part of the agreement. It is currently in the process of destroying its stockpiles of cluster munitions. Switzerland also amended its War Material Act after ratification. 

Swiss federal law: Agreement on cluster munitions 

Switzerland signs Convention on Cluster Munitions

Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Ottawa Convention)

Switzerland ratified the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention on 24 March 1998 and was one of the first states to do so. This convention was adopted in Oslo in 1997, also outside the framework of the UN. It bans the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines. The signatory states undertake to destroy their stockpiles of mines within four years of ratifying the convention and to clear all mines laid in their territory within ten years. Switzerland destroyed the last of its stocks of mines in 1999. It supports mine action programmes in over 20 countries.

Swiss federal law: Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction 

Press release, 4.4.2013 (Switzerland commits to the struggle against anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions) 

UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons CCW

The UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons entered into force in 1983. Two protocols are relevant to Switzerland:

1. The amended Protocol II on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices
The protocol entered into force for Switzerland in 1998.

2. Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War
The protocol entered into force for Switzerland in 2006.

Swiss federal law: Protocol II 

Swiss Federal law: Protocol V 

The CCW is a good means of addressing the issue of new and emerging categories of conventional weapons and their impact and exploring the need for action.

Attention has focused on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) in recent years.

Arms control in crisis

The control of conventional weapons in Europe is in crisis. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) of 1992 which reduced the arsenals of weapons in Western and Eastern Europe is no longer applied by several contracting parties. The Open Skies Treaty – that entered into force in 2002 – which permits the party states to carry out unarmed surveillance flights over the territory of other contracting states to collect data on military facilities is becoming less relevant. The contracting parties cannot agree on its amendment to take account of technological progress.

The Vienna Document of 1990 – a politically binding agreement on the exchange of information about  armed forces and military activities and the third pillar of this arms control regime – which has been amended several times, cannot replace the other two agreements.

Out of the three agreements, Switzerland has only acceded to the Vienna Document. This is a political agreement valid in the entire OSCE area.

The threat that led to the creation of these instruments no longer exists. The risks are now concentrated in regions further away from Switzerland, in particular in the South Caucasus and Ukraine. This arms control regime therefore needs to be strengthened and updated over the next few years.

OSCE Open Skies Treaty 

Ensuring military transparency – the Vienna Document

Last update 25.07.2023


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