Could Switzerland Break Its Neutrality for the ESSI Project?

The European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI) project, aimed at fortifying the air and missile defense of , might soon welcome into its ranks. This move will mark a significant milestone for Switzerland, as it continues to uphold its right to self-defense despite its neutrality.

A Closer Look at ESSI

The ESSI project was initiated by Germany in October 2022 and has seen seventeen nations express their intent to partake. The project's primary purpose is to develop a multi-layer system for air defense, incorporating defensive systems like IRIS-T SLM, Arrow 3, and Patriot PAC-3. Notably absent is the Franco-Italian SAMP/T, which didn't make the cut.

Ten nations, including Belgium, , Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, , the , the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, have gone beyond expressing intent and have signed a memorandum of understanding, effectively laying the groundwork for a formidable European missile shield.

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Switzerland’s Potential Inclusion

Switzerland's inclusion in the ESSI project has been anticipated since the Swiss authorities expressed interest in July 2023. The Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sports in Switzerland has cited the country's right to self-defense as the motivating factor behind this interest.

On April 10, the Swiss Federal Council green-lit a “declaration of accession to the protocol of agreement” for the ESSI project, a step that underscores Switzerland's interest in joining. Although Switzerland is aligning itself with the ESSI project, it will retain the freedom to decide the depth of its involvement.

Switzerland’s Proactive Defense Strategy

Prior to expressing interest in the ESSI project, Switzerland placed an order for the Patriot PAC-3 system with GEM-T interceptor missiles, a deal worth .2 billion. This was finalized in March 2023 as part of the Swiss Air 2030 program. With this acquisition, Switzerland stands to gain from global cooperation, experience, and cost sharing when using the Patriot system.

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Next Steps

The Swiss National Council and the Council of States are set to deliberate on Switzerland's potential accession to the ESSI protocol. Provided that no significant objections surface, the declaration of accession is expected to be adopted definitively, marking Switzerland's official commitment to the ESSI project.

The ESSI project has the potential to streamline acquisition projects for air defense systems across Europe, resulting in potential cost savings and better interoperability. Switzerland's anticipated inclusion will, undoubtedly, be closely watched.

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