The movement to stop Switzerland’s F-35 deal

An F-35 makes a stop in Switzerland during the procurement process. Photo: Gunter Fischer/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty

Axios, October 5, 2021   |    Read Online

Switzerland will soon become the 16th country to possess advanced F-35 jets — unless activists manage to thwart the $5.5 billion deal by forcing a referendum.

Why it matters: An activist group called “Schweiz ohne Armee” (GSoA) is teaming up with left-leaning political parties to campaign against the purchase, arguing that the jets are too expensive and threaten the concept of Swiss neutrality. One month into their campaign they’ve collected more than 25,000 signatures — one-quarter of the 100,000 needed for a referendum, with 17 months still to go.

Flashback: A previous referendum on the government’s plan to buy new stealth aircraft passed last September by a margin of 50.1% to 49.9%, making clear how divisive the issue is for Swiss voters.

  • At that point, four aircraft were in consideration. Then in June, Defense Minister Viola Amherd announced that the government had selected the F-35.

The other side: Jonas Kampus, a member of GSoA’s secretariat, tells Axios that Switzerland has no need for “luxury fighter jets” — particularly those that mean U.S. intelligence would “always be in the cockpit,” as GSoA claims on its website.

  • He says his group is on track to hit the signature threshold. Amherd also expects another referendum but argues that it’s unnecessary: “The people have already said yes once, and now they are voting on the same thing again.”

The big picture: Switzerland is known for its neutrality, but it maintains a military — including through compulsory military service — for its national defense and internal security. Defense spending hit a 25-year high in 2020 at 0.8% of GDP.