The key instruments for restricting conventional weapons in Europe consist of arms control and disarmament treaties as well as confidence- and security-building measures. The major conventional weapons systems include battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, anti-tank guided missile launchers mounted on vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, armoured vehicle-launched bridges, combat aircraft and attack helicopters, as well as warships and submarines.
The system of conventional arms control that has existed in Europe since the end of the Cold War is based on three pillars:
- the Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures,
- the now suspended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, and
- the Open Skies Treaty.
Within the framework of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Switzerland currently participates only in the Vienna Document regime, but considers conventional arms control to be a central and indispensable part of the cooperative European security architecture.
In view of technological developments and changes in the way warfare is conducted, there is significant pressure for the above-mentioned treaties to be brought up to date. The current tense geopolitical climate is nonetheless putting a strain on this process.
The Vienna Document
Since 1990, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, with the Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, which was last updated in 2011, has had a unique politically binding agreement by all 57 OSCE participating states to build transparency and confidence in Europe. Its geographic scope of application covers the whole of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, as well as the territory of the participating states in the Caucasus and Central Asia, including adjacent territorial waters and airspace. The regime includes, among other things, an annual exchange of information on armed forces and major weapons systems. Switzerland is committed to the full and correct implementation of all treaties and to preserving the achievements of arms control thus far (the 'acquis').
Open Skies Treaty
The legally binding Open Skies Treaty allows for observation flights with certified carrier aircraft and sensors (cameras, video cameras, infrared equipment, radar) over the territories of the participating states to detect military installations and troops. It entered into force on 1 January 2002 and covers an area of application from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
Switzerland has not yet acceded to the Open Skies Treaty, although in 2002 it signed a transit agreement allowing participating states to fly through Swiss airspace and to make stopovers in Switzerland, on the basis of which Switzerland was granted observer status.