On July 4th, 2023 historically-neutral Switzerland announced its plans to join the European Sky Shield Initiative, which was originally launched by Germany. On October 13th, 2022, Germany and 14 NATO partners announced the initiative to “create a European air and missile defense system through the common acquisition of air defense equipment and missiles by European nations.” The original members were: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, and the United Kingdom.
At 0840 EST on 7 Jul 23, Switzerland and Austria signed their declaration to join the initiative, followed up by an official announcement by the Swiss government at 0900 EST. Their announcement reads below:
“This will make it possible to exploit economies of scale, improve interoperability, and therefore enable cooperation in training, maintenance and logistics. The focus is thus on economic considerations and the benefits of a coordinated approach at European level.
Each participating country controls the extent of its participation. As part of this MoU, Switzerland will now examine in which areas it will strengthen cooperation; e.g. to improve synergies in the Patriot GBAD system through the exchange of information or cooperation in operations and training. This can also lead to cost savings.
It is possible for neutral states to participate in many areas. Switzerland and Austria have set out their terms regarding neutrality in an additional declaration, stating, for example, that they will not participate or be involved in international military conflicts. With the signing of the MoU, Switzerland and Austria are joining the 17 European states already participating in ESSI.
Switzerland, Germany and Austria have also signed an agreement to work together more closely in military research and development. By ramping up its cooperation with the German and Austrian authorities, Switzerland will be contributing its expertise and exchanging experiences and technological skills that will help in the evaluation of future military systems, for example in the fields of sustainable energy and robotics.”
This is significant because these will be the first non-NATO countries to join the Initiative, especially Switzerland which has maintained a policy of strategic neutrality. Even as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in February 2022, the Swiss government had to be diplomatically bludgeoned to send 2B USD in humanitarian aid to Kyiv.
Sky Shield aims to create a common air defense for European partners, especially Germany which relies on legacy air defense systems for short range intercept. The Germans hope to leverage partner buying power to create strategic depth on allied territory and achieve wholesale prices on modern air defense systems for all ranges.